You’re Not Designing One Product, You’re Designing Two
Everyone wants to design the next iPhone, the next Nike Air, the next Oakley sunglasses that change the way people use a whole class of products and make millions of dollars. There are hundreds of blogs, thousands of books, and entire college majors and R&D divisions dedicated to make exactly that easier for people to do. And yet, surrounded by rows of sharpened sketch pencils, boxes of expensive design software, and whirring, cutting-edge 3D printers, sometimes it’s hard to even know where to start.
The next time you’re stymied by how to begin a new consumer design, don’t think of yourself as creating ONE product to fulfill your design brief, but TWO; an inside product which delivers the technical requirements, and an outside product which wraps around it to deliver the aesthetics and user experience requirements.
You can think of any product this way. The sleek outer styling of the luxury car you’re designing may promise power and acceleration, but it’s the engine and drive train inside that actually deliver that. The electronics inside your new headphone concept may deliver the purest, most beautiful sound by any objective standard, but it won’t find a market unless the outer styling successfully conveys that message to the people looking for it.
This idea comes from a great, if short, blog post on ProductDesignManagement.com. which says that all product attributes fall into two categories.
|Objective Doesn’t depend on personal opinion||Subjective Depends on personal opinion|
|Quantifiable Can be measured||Non-quantifiable Cannot be measured but evaluated|
|Rational There are rules||Emotional There are no rules|
|Clear Direct problem-solution relations||Vague Indirect problem-solution relations|
|Performances Oriented Affect mainly the product’s performance||User Experience Oriented Affect mainly the product’s user experience|
|Evolutionary Minor Differences between products||Revolutionary Major differences between products|
|Partial/ Affect the products components||Holistic Affect the whole product|
|Basics The product’s basics||Front The product’s front|
Simply put, hard attributes are the ones you can usually measure, while Soft attributes are the ones you can usually feel. Your teakettle needs to hold 8 cups of water while it boils? Hard attribute. It needs to feel elegant to look at and use? Soft attribute.
The original blog post (which is worth reading) essentially stops there, but let’s go a little farther and explore what this means, tactically, during your design process.
Let’s say you were designing some ski goggles. But not just any ski goggles; these are fifth-generation, Internet-of-Things, GPS/WIFI/Bluetooth-enabled goggles with a built-in heads-up video display. You didn’t even know products like that existed, but now you’re tasked with designing a newer version of them. Like any project, it’s going to have some horribly inaccurate initial concept image and a list of conflicting design requirements. Taken as a unified whole, that might be a daunting list. Where should you even start? How do you find a person who can design all that at once? And where do you test it to see if you passed? If you follow the two product philosophy and break it into hard and soft attribute lists, your project will help you determine who is responsible for each feature. It’s easy to imagine a set of electronic components that could meet the requirements of List A, and some other, separate outer frame that meets the requirement of List B. It’s easy to see how List A can be tested in a lab, but how List B must be tested in focus groups. It’s easy to decide that List A should be given to a team of mainly electrical engineers, while List B should be the domain of mainly industrial designers. This is the first big benefit of this outlook.
Splitting Your Product Into Hard- And Soft-Attributes Makes It Obvious Who Should Work On What
Many companies already do something like this, with a modular or sub-system approach to design. But if you apply the two product mental filter to your designs, you will start to see different interactions emerge. In our ski goggles example, we want Wi-Fi and GPS integration, which will take software, and we also want the “most fun goggles on the market” which is a user experience that is definitely related to the software. The software becomes a critical link between the two sides of the design, and should be reviewed from both hard and soft angles.
In our luxury car example, if your soft goal is “Power and Elegance”, then your AC unit better have enough power to cool the car quickly on the hottest days, but the buttons that control the AC unit better have an air of elegance too. In this case the buttons and how they feel to the user’s touch become the critical linkage between the hard and soft sides. This is the second big benefit of this outlook.
Splitting Your Design Into Two Products Makes It Obvious How The Hard- And Soft-Attributes Interact
The next time you want to really understand the product you’re making, split your long list of requirements into two categories, one for your hard product and one for your soft. Put one list on each side of a whiteboard and try to explicitly document how each hard requirement supports a soft one, and vice versa. And if you find a soft requirement that is not directly supported by a hard aspect…uh-oh! In our example, we can draw some links between the hard and soft sides, except for Appealing To Younger Users. Maybe our outer case design will be enough to cover that, but do you want to bet the product on it? Or should we do something with the electronics that will help make that more likely? For instance adding the ability to share video via social media? Lighter batteries? Choosing and defining these links is where the real product design takes place.
Most consumer products fail because of some mismatch between these two sides. Drawing the links between your hard and soft products will help you find those missing keys. Which leads us to our last benefit of designing two products instead of one.
Knowing You’re Designing Two Products Instead Of One Helps You Choose The Right Tool At The Right Time
The soft product designers (which usually go first) will probably start with pencil and paper sketches, and then move to some organic, sub-D, surface modeling system. The hard product designers might start in Excel (to make a list of needed components) and then move into some sort of parametric engineering CAD system like SOLIDWORKS. There are new technologies and workflows that let you jump this gap easier than before. To see an example of the “Two Products, Not One” workflow in action with as little hassle as possible, watch the webinar below.