Today’s consumers have high expectations. They have more access to information, a larger array of goods and services to choose from and greater skepticism about brand promises than ever before. No wonder so many research and design teams are struggling to keep up.
To be successful in this ever-more demanding marketplace, brands must create new products that disrupt the status quo and not meet, but exceed, consumer expectations. What does it take to bring inspired products like this to market? You need to shift your mindset and fully integrate teams across the three traditionally distinct disciplines of design, engineering, and business.
The goal of inspired design is to create products that consumers find desirable. That means design teams must create new products that offer not only functional value, but emotional value, as well. Functional value tends to be binary; however, emotional value is multi-faceted and typically serves as the driving force behind how consumers differentiate between which goods and services to purchase.
To keep the design team focused on desirability, make sure your organization embraces experiential, hands-on research methodologies. For example, many companies use a process called observational research to learn deep insights into what their customers are expecting from the products they buy. As the name implies, observational research involves watching users interact with a product (yours, a competitor’s or an analogous one) so that you can see when/if problems arise. Often, observational research reveals issues that customers don’t (or can’t) articulate, and so it can be enormously beneficial for identifying improvements and gaining a competitive edge.
After employing user exploration processes like observational research, the design team should move on to concept creation, then market testing, and finally, implementation of a prototype.
While design teams are focused on desirability, engineering teams must direct their attention to feasibility. After all, even the most desirable product cannot make it to market unless it is robust, repeatable, and affordable (for both the consumer and the company that produces it).
As essential components of inspired product development, the engineering and design teams must work collaboratively. Mirroring the design team’s flow, the engineering team’s work should start with technology exploration and then proceed through technology creation, function testing, and finally, technology implementation. Of course, this level of integration requires an organizational environment that's inclusive and cooperative, but at the same time, diverse and vibrant. I have seen over and over again that when teams are motivated and excited about the work they are doing, they want to share their enthusiasm with customers. Conversely, if they aren’t excited about the work they're doing, it can be difficult, maybe even impossible, for design and engineering teams to think about how to improve customer satisfaction.
In short, an inspiring culture is the foundation of products and services that are better designed and better engineered. Without it, there is little incentive to bring new ideas to the table.
Naturally, the business as a whole must be focused on viability, on making a profit. And ultimately, that viability is the result of the successful integration of the design and engineering missions. (Or to put it another way, Desirability + Feasibility = Viability). But in addition, inspired product development depends on critical contributions from the business team, namely market exploration, followed by the creation, testing, and implementation of a unified business model.
To work effectively together, design, engineering, and business teams must overcome a variety of challenges, including language barriers, communication bottle necks, and credibility issues. Moreover, there has to be a shared understanding that if you want to create products that people find truly innovative and worthwhile, you have to be willing to try, fail, try again, fail again, and just keep going. In the end, that's what creativity is all about, and companies that nurture it understand that there is no one recipe for success. Instead, these organizations work to integrate their design, engineering, and business teams so that together they are empowered to deliver extraordinary results, the kind that exceed expectations, improve the bottom line, and maybe even change the world for the better.
About Matthew Kressy
Matthew S. Kressy, founding director of the MIT Integrated Design & Management (IDM) master’s degree, is an expert in product design and development. As an entrepreneur and founder of Designturn, he has designed, invented, engineered, and manufactured products for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. As IDM director, Kressy leads curriculum development and teaches the program’s primary and required courses. He is also lead instructor for the new MIT Professional Education summer course, Design-Driven Innovation, which takes place July 8-10, 2019