12th Oct 2012
What do the Apple iPad and the BioLite camping stove have in common?
The answer; they have both struck gold with a product idea and design which has seen them turn their consumer’s mindset from 'I would like' into a 'I need!'.
And for any product-led or even service-led business, turning that 'want' into a 'need' is the Holy Grail of success. If you can achieve this, then a healthy balance sheet is soon to follow.
But how do you achieve this?
It starts with a fantastic design
The first element that strikes you about these and other 'must-have' products is their fantastic design. Just looking at these products makes you want to reach out and touch them, or to zoom in on your computer screen. Apple made hundreds of Ipad prototypes, until designer Jonathan Ive suggested curving the underside, which makes you want to reach out, pick it up and hold it.
I am a designer of commercially-viable products and have helped take hundreds of great ideas to market, but it's not enough to just have a great idea. A new product must have a unique selling point and the design of that product must help you understand what that is.
Over 200 years ago American sculptor Horatio Greennough stated that "form follows function" and maybe back then it was phrase worth following. Now though, designers must arrive at an 'elegant' solution. Every detail needs to be considered, from a function point of view but also in how it relates to the user experience.
One of the most common mistakes are businesses jumping in with an idea before a design has been properly thought through. By this I mean companies can push ahead with an idea to get it into production before they have really explored it fully. There may be further innovations that could be made to improve the consumer experience and it is also vital to test whether it will be a commercially viable product or not.
Cost cutting choices made in the final stages, such as the materials to be used in production, can also prove a false economy in the long term.
Clients may also find themselves becoming too close to a project. They will come and brief us to "make this solution happen". But to deliver innovative product solutions it is best to brief a designer on the problem that needs solving. Then a designer can take a fresh approach, offering new insights, and will have a far better chance of innovating a unique solution.
Does your product instantly tell the consumer what it is? You may be surprised by how many product designs fail to do this and so fail to grab the consumer. Why would they buy and engage with a product they cannot understand? Where is the 'I need this because...' moment?
With must-have products you instantly know what you are getting, what it's for and why you should have one. Every part included is necessary and there for a reason. It is clear and simple. For example, in the case of the iPad it is a framed screen - no keyboard, nothing, just a tablet. It screams "interact with me".
Your customer sets off on a journey to find your product by learning about it through 2D or digital media flung at them through advertising or PR. When designing your product if you incorporate the brand values, then the consumer journey will be simple and pleasant.
Only when your customers agree as one group on the nature of that journey do you have a brand. You can help that happen by ensuring you have good design from the outset - designing a product and then deciding how to brand it is very risky. When done correctly the branding and communication is as elegant as the product’s design.
I can recall the first time I picked up an iPad. It is so common place now that the product is taken for granted, but when I first picked one up it made me smile. I expected it to be a nice bit of kit but it felt better than I expected. I convinced myself "I need one", but I don't need it; it's just great design and branding that convinced me I did.
Know no limits
Do not be afraid of any limitations your product may have. If you have a truly great product, design and the communications to match then consumers will want and use it despite knowing them. For example, I may have an Ipad but I still use other equipment and brands at my place of work and serious computing power with very sensitive touch screen for design drawing. But the fact still remains I knew all the limitations of the iPad but felt I needed one anyway.
Disrupt your market
Are you thinking of bringing out a new product into an existing, saturated market place? Then don’t be afraid to disrupt your market by turning the 'traditional' on its head. Just because it has always been done a certain way does not mean it is the best way to do it. When it comes to new products, innovation and spotting a clear gap and market for your new product idea is the basis of success.
The BioLite is a great example of this. I am an external examiner of students work and every year I see a camping stove design. However, I have seen nothing like the BioLite before. It is a camping stove that changes the very essence of how a stove is operated, beats any cheap and heavy gas bottled competitor.
It also looks beautiful. Each part is both necessary and beautifully designed and it tells me just why it is so different. It can be lit without gas, just fire, and you can get a hot cup of tea in four minutes, all this while it charges your phone at the same time. Amazing.
Can it get any better? Well actually yes it can. If you buy one then you are also helping people around the developing world. They are using Bio Light home fires which are more efficient and less polluting than traditional fires so are healthier and also getting a burst of electrical power at the same time.
I now do not really care about the price because I have decided that the next time I go camping I am having one. This product, like Apple before it, has through its strong design, communication and diversification turned my thoughts from 'I like' to 'I need'.
While very different, these companies are making profits - one for its shareholders and one for the third world – as they have both achieved their objectives by getting the basic principles of product design right from the start.
Stefan Knox is the founder and managing director of Bang Creations International