Facilitating a sustainable product design process

As the world wakes up to the reality of limited natural resources, climate change and the limitations of technology, buyers are looking for products that offer deep dialogue, build relationships, address real issues and solve real problems. In order to sell to a well-informed audience, designers and marketers will need to literally think outside the product packaging box! Human-centered design allows for a holistic approach to the design process.

A human-centered approach to design goes beyond buzz words like empathy marketing and personalized service – you need to dig deep to discover the core values of your customer and what drives them.

While conducting research for this blog, we came across an article by MDG advertising that quotes Philip Kotler saying, “Human-centric marketing is defined by brands that approach engaging their current and prospective customers via advertising and marketing tactics as whole human beings with hearts, minds, and spirits.”

Keyword: whole human beings!

Most marketing and design teams in this digital age fall into the trap of looking at marketing data in bits and pieces and forgetting about the human attached to the data. You end up missing the forest for the trees! So, the first step in any human-centered design journey is to understand your user – but more on that in the next section.

In this blog, we will explore how human-centered design is evolving in a mobile first world by first understanding our ‘user’ – aka the people who use the products we design. We will look at how the design process is applied across different applications from industrial to studio design. We will also look at what the human-centred design process looks like in action throughout the product design lifecycle. Finally, we will look at human-centered marketing applications and how running effective design critiques can help you cut through the clutter of automated design & marketing to build meaningful products that people can use and love for a long time.

Understanding your user

Most designers start their product design journey by building a target audience profile. However, you want to go beyond vanity metrics, superficial demographics & analytics gimmicks. Look at the following ‘profile’

Female. Single. 25 years. Marketing Professional. STOP!

Instead of jotting down superficial numbers and data, build a detailed, layered buyer persona based on qualifying behaviour, needs and thought processes in addition to age and gender data. The numbers you look at should be meaningful, applicable, and most importantly, help you understand the needs of these people so you can design a better product.

While buyer personal and customer journey mapping is crucial to the content creation process, it can also help designers and agencies design and sell better products. Hootsuite has a great article on building a great buyer persona, if you are interested in further reading.

Considerations for the product design process

After you figure out what your buyer needs, there are two main considerations – design and development – often offered as a package by design agencies. For those familiar with the agency process, you may already have burned your hands getting designers to understand your brand message only to turn around and have to find a third party developer that you then have to on-board with your idea all over again when you are ready to offer your product to the world. Instead of wasting time bringing professionals up to par with your vision, there is a simpler way to accomplish your digital outreach goals – work with a multidisciplinary agency that has experience facilitating creative exchange of ideas between different professionals from writers to designers to brand managers.

Multidisciplinary agencies can offer you well-rounded expertise at surprisingly low rates. The best part? Your agency will already know a whole lot about human-centred marketing and design. So, when the time comes to take your product to the market, you don’t have to scramble to find someone new to help you finally start cashing in on all your hard work.

Today, people who shop online are savvy. Simplistic marketing campaigns, fear mongering and ‘Me First’ marketing can no longer sell people junk exponentially.

Thinking outside the packaging

Depending on your service or industry, there is one thing you should know before diving deep into a product design project. Product design is sometimes confused with (and certainly overlaps with) industrial design and has recently become a broad term inclusive of service, software and physical product design. Industrial design is concerned with bringing artistic form and usability, usually associated with craft design and ergonomics, together – in a large scale manner. Historically, this type of design has been used mostly in mass-produced goods but with the evolution of 3-D printing, we are starting to see smaller artisanal design studios using the industrial design methodology for smaller batch products.

There is an interesting footnote here. At the intersection of industrial artisanal product design, you get this rather fruitful zone for the cross-pollination of concepts such as material design, engineering design and circular product cycles – particularly when matters of functionality, utility or sustainability are being considered. As the demarcations between different design disciplines blur, we are starting to see some very unique products, services and design principles emerge. The more products and concepts are tested against multidisciplinary ideas, the more robust and appealing they will be to an audience hungry for ‘real’ products in a fad-oriented, influencer-dependent world.

Creating human-centered, sustainable products in a rapidly changing world requires designers to think hard about how human-centered product design is relevant to the global market today.

Being user-centric in 2021

Robust product design goes through a rigorous problem-solving process where the design team tests and retests how the product will be used to improve the end user’s quality of life, environment and satisfaction.

At Vantage, part of our orientation for new staff involved in learning tech terms like ‘user base’ and ‘targeted performance’ and reframing the language to reflect our humanistic approach. All too often, people visualize the user in some clinical context, coming up with formulaic audience profiles. Real human beings need creative solutions. So, your products need to have the ability to pivot quickly in a world that is rapidly converting against consumerism. Despite and maybe even because of machine learning creeping in our markets and material world, a human centered approach is becoming a novelty – and hence, a valuable commodity. That’s why everything under the sun is being marketed as ‘artisanal’ these days!

Another reason why human-centered design is the need of the hour is because of the collaborative nature of good product design. Product designers work with other professionals such as engineers, craftsmen and marketers to bring a product to life. A lot of thought is put into how a product should look and function. Considerations at this stage range from usability to mechanical and technical design to aesthetics and much more. Human-centered product design allows you to step ahead of formulaic processes and account for how the product will be utilized in the real world.

A classic example of design evolution is your ketchup bottle. Over the years, the bottle has changed its shape and size. What started out as a big bottle is being sold as smaller bottles for easier use. Then there are the small sachets that are easy to cut and pour. The design of many bottles or pouches has also changed so that the packaging doesn’t take up much space. Today, forerunners line Heinz are scrambling to get on the circular economy wagon because direct-to-consumer supply chains and 100% recyclable PET bottles offer a new opportunity for growth. So, they’re designing ketchup bottles to make the circular economy great again.

Okay, so that was one example. If FMCG is not your thing, what about beauty? The beauty industry has exploded since pioneers like Michele Phan started publishing their first Make-up tutorials on YouTube. However, in recent years, the beauty industry has come under constant scrutiny with additional pressure to offer sustainable, cruelty free, natural products for hordes of loyal consumers. Today, every business in the industry is clamouring to rebrand themselves as a zero-waste offering. Since we are on the topic of fashion and beauty, did you know that ladies jeans and pants are void of pockets so as to sell ladies purses? These ideas worked a few decades ago and as users are changing, so is the way these products are designed. Behold! The boyfriend jeans with baggy pockets – an ode to sustainability.

At the end of the day, the following quote from Peter Drucker rings true for us.

People like the idea of sustainability and cruelty free products. While the drive towards greener product design is commendable, what drives the market is perception and satisfaction. Call us puritans, but we believe that true sustainable, human-centered design goes beyond superficial bandaid solutions to address deeper issues to offer truly meaningful solutions in terms of consumer sentiment, utility, climate impact and plain old common sense.

Looking beyond branding and influence

Okay, so you need to offer meaningful design solutions to products that need to survive in a world waking up to issues of sustainability and fair-trade. So, what if you already have an ethical product idea that checks all of the above parameters, how do you go about bringing the final design to life?

First things first – branding doesn’t end with designing of the name, website or logo of the company. No doubt, these things are major aspects of your marketing strategy but they may not even create an impact if your product doesn’t solve a real problem for your users. In order to sell effectively, your product needs to be well designed and presented, including its packaging. Product packaging is often the first thing the consumer sees and many people make purchasing decisions primarily on product design, especially when faced with many options.

What are you more likely to purchase, an attractive red box or a dented grey plastic package of cereals? If you want people to choose your product over the products of competitors, then you should seriously consider the message you want your packaging to convey. When I am standing in what seems like an irrationally long aisle at the grocery store, staring at hundreds upon hundreds of the same product, the only deciding factors for that purchase are pricing, packaging and the actual ingredients.

All of your background research culminates in a single solid product when it meets the following criteria.

Today more than ever, social sentiment based on economical, ecological and technological preferences is constantly altering how people feel about products.

Faking influence is also a thing of the past. As technology and people have evolved, there is an increasing realization that not all the glitz and glam on social networks is real. We have literally come across hundreds of businesses that get away on the ‘green revolution’ bandwagon, selling higher ticket items even though the product has not changed one bit.

However, when your users feel cheated the fallout can literally wipe out a loyal following your brand has built over a number of years. That’s why fads, trends and band-aid solutions only work for a short while. The human-centered design process offers a powerful framework for building trust, nurturing relationships and co-creating a powerful product ecosystem with your audience – a system that can stand the test of time. Let us explore how this process can be applied to every product design for effective branding.

Application of human-centered design for effective branding

Human-centered design requires attention to several factors such as environmental, social and economical considerations. A closer into what motivates consumers and how to influence them to make the choices you need them to make. Humanisation.com points out four drivers creating a need for a human-centric design, here is our take on their ideas!

Bridging the automation gap

There have literally been 100s internet of things applications mushrooming all over the world over the past decade. However, there is still a gap in usability, delivery and aesthetics when it comes to most product platforms. As marketers and designers, we need to constantly look for ways to improve the ease of use while shortening the delivery process on both ends.

Putting expertise on a pedestal

The world has become both simpler and more complex as technology steers many of our workplace decisions. There is now a growing need for niche-specific expertise. It is no longer enough just to have a general idea of the industry you are targeting. Selling organic baked goods? You need to brand your products beyond just a clean-good bakery and specialize – maybe you are better than other bakeries at making sprouted bread? Maybe you have access to the best artisanal cheese? Think like the person that is going to buy your product.

Super customer

Look, mobile-forward platforms are the future. That much is no longer up for debate. With mobile platforms and social networks, product design and marketing strategies have evolved as a response to changing customer tastes and needs. Overly simplistic marketing tactics no longer work because our customers are no longer satisfied with simple minded pitches. People’s needs are complex and evolving, internet users are savvier than ever before. So, instead of appealing to the masses with a simplistic message, you want to appeal to a few super customers who will champion your cause because they are so happy with your product.

Product design and packaging design are no longer limited to considerations about color, artwork and some fancy text. For businesses looking for product longevity in this brave new world, a holistic approach is paramount.

Applications for design agencies

Sometimes a great product idea starts with a problem someone is looking to solve for their audience. Maybe it starts with a simple insight into the life of your customer and the environment they are in. Perhaps you can see a gap that no one else is addressing at the moment. Regardless of how you start your product design journey, some elements of the interdisciplinary process will remain the same. This application is projected in Banathy’s Process Lens categorizing different interdisciplinary processes to ensure a holistic and balanced approach for a design problem.

Design agencies

 

Banathy’s process lens

While Banathy offers an organizational approach to design, commercial design teams can benefit by merging this approach with the traditional design process listed below. Having standard protocols for working with various product design challenges can help teams consider the project from all angles and steer clear of superficial solutions. In the present concept of sustainable, human-centered, interdisciplinary design, the following interdisciplinary framework can serve as a useful guide for product design.

Analysis

When a new design-related problem arises at the Analysis Stage, the design teams may create a new artifact or redesign the existing object. The philosophy is that a design project must be sustained, supported and monitored to aid its adaptation and development. But what does this mean for commercial product design? For users and redesign, this means that you take into consideration functional user requirements competitor analysis product life cycle using a customer focused approach

Conceptualization

At the conceptualization stage, observations collected during the analysis stage can be cemented into benchmarks and prototypes that experts from each discipline will validate as part of the project. Conceptualization aims to resolve issues within a constraints-based context. In practical production design terms, this is where you get into use case development, customer profile creation, low fidelity prototypes as well as design task analysis.

Design

The design phase transforms the prototype up to a level which will closely replicate the end-user experience. This phase facilitates product development through mutual problem solving, knowledge sharing and reflection on experiences. Human-centered products commerce is the stage where you get into higher fidelity prototyping, usability testing, digital engagement, multiple iterations as well as life cycle implementations.

Production

In the production phase, the validated prototype is constructed and prepared for delivery. Being a part of the product management team means that this is where you would monitor issues that derail the health of the project, streamline productivity and facilitate feedback exchange within the team.

Delivery

This stage establishes or further develops the existing marketing and communication mechanisms to promote and raise awareness of the product as it gets released into the market environment. Marketing team seeks out relevant users so that they can implement relevant go-to-market strategies.

Closure

In this final stage, the team conducts a post-project evaluation to reflect upon and discuss how the product ‘behaved’ in the real world environment. The insights are recorded and consumer reviews are taken into account for future product improvement. The process concludes with contracts being closed and reallocating resources to new opportunities.

Organizing this interdisciplinary framework through a rigorous approach is valuable – regardless of whether your team is large/small, experienced/inexperienced, well-funded/bootstrapped. In fact, adopting the above approach helps blur lines between producers and consumers, offering each person insight into the thought process of other stakeholders.

Applying intersecting paradigms to product design

As consumers are starting to buy artisanal products in favor of industrial produced goods, it may be tempting to think that ‘sustainable’ production will allow product managers to skip the creative process of design planning to determine product, form, features and packaging. In fact, many corporate entities looking to cut costs and increase profit margins see this change as a way to slash design cost and still charge more for ‘green products’. This approach may fly under the consumer radar for a while and fool some people, some of the time.

However, this can also be an opportunity to apply principles learned in industrial design to make truly artisanal products more widely available. From CAD mapping to choice of materials research and everything in between, concepts learned from industrial design can be applied to artisanal products to help improve planning, research, production and sales.

Of course, when you work in an interdisciplinary environment, you also have many stakeholders compared to when you work in silos. Bringing various paradigms to the table from industrial production to human-centered design can actually be a great way to tap into multiple streams of expertise. The Soft Systems Methodology actually offers a great way to organize a design team using the CATWOE analysis.

CATWOE analysis is the process of gathering requirements and structuring the design problem to research the perspectives of various stakeholders. This technique allows teams to explore stakeholder perspectives and capture the information gathered to effectively manage transformation

Catwoe analysis

Regardless of whether your appeal is industrial or artisanal, packaging plays a major role in product design as it is the last point of influence and also the first point of sale for the company. Following an interdisciplinary input process with all stakeholders can enable design teams to understand the user better – and design products that resonate.

Standardizing the human-centered approach

There are a million ways to consider human needs at the end of your product life cycle, but without a simple, formal process to move your product towards human centered design, your product will be left with large blind spots in the user experience. A human-centered, interdisciplinary systems approach may not result in a quick and dirty implementation, but this approach is effective and necessary – read on to see how you can synthesize all these interdisciplinary theories into a simplified, yet robust three-step process for rigorous product design!

The Vantage Design Worldview

Theoretical frameworks are great for helping us understand the intricate details involved in the design process. However, we can discuss these theories to high heaven, but unless they are implemented in your design process, leading product design transformation will be like building sandcastles in the air. Here is a simplified process we use at Vantage that incorporates all of the above frameworks into a single, usable, minimal workflow.

If your product has gone through the above process and the associated testing, your team is likely to receive valuable feedback in the final stage. Products usually fail because of a lack of rigour and due diligence in the design process. We believe that a lack of standardized design & marketing process is a bigger barrier than lack of funds when it comes to successful go-to-market campaigns.

design product reality check

Design in action

Now that you have the basic theoretical knowledge, let us walk through the design in action step-by-step. The following steps consider all of the above theoretical frameworks to bring these ideas to life in a practical environment.

To illustrate, we have designed a fictional use case study. Our hypothetical character Nikki, is a founder of a start-up “Drink Fit”. We will be navigating the situation from the perspective of one of the senior designers on her team. We know Nikki has a knack for great go-to-market campaigns and encourages critical discussions within the team. However, funds have been tight lately and “Drink Fit’ is stuck in the Watch & Plan stage.

How the idea came about

Nikki had been toying with the idea of a sustainable, organic farm-to-table product offering for a few years before she got into the whole entrepreneurship thing. As part of a community supported agriculture initiative, she had been having conversations with her friends in the sustainable agriculture space for a while. While she saw a lot of businesses cropping up as ‘organic food stores’ the idea of a zero-waste setup really intrigued her. However, most businesses needed plastic or aluminum packaging. Although she had contacts with farmers in place, the shelflife of the product and sustainability of product packaging was a challenge.

Since organic, fermented drinks are notorious for having a short shelf life before tasting ‘off’, Nikki needed a product packaging solution that was portable, and yet maintained the flavour of the beverage. Nikki approached her design lead, let’s call him Ron, with her product packaging problem. The real challenge came when trying to design a great looking, compact, sustainable and food-safe container that was easy-to-transport and mass produce. After a detailed CATWOE analysis, they figured that since ‘Customers’ are the key stakeholders in any environment, they would run a quick and dirty social media poll to see what their already existing audience responded to. By crowdsourcing the packing idea, they were able to make out that their customers were completely against PET packaging even if it is 100% recyclable. Some people were actually okay with bamboo-based tetra packs. However, the team was not sure if this would be a viable option for mass production and transport. Some people suggested glass bottles, but recycling would be an issue.

At this stage, they used Banathy’s input processes to think about what already works and what can be practically achieved using analysis and conceptualization. By observing customer responses to their Instagram stories, the ‘Drink Fit’ team was able to understand their behavior. One of the bottlenecks with the Bamboo Tetra Packs they discovered was that supplies were too small to match their need. Throughout the Analysis and Conceptualization stages, the ‘Drink Fit’ team continued to actively seek customer input.

How to tackle a volatile market

With a few basic conceptual sketches, the research and development team for ‘Drink Fit’ conducted some market research into competing brands already out on the market. As the economy had tanked over the past year, market research was a valuable tool to understand the new and existing products that are on the market – and see how these products were doing to map their own path for ‘Drink Fit’. At this stage, they saw a gap in current market supply and demand for indigenous fermented drinks. While Kombucha, Kefir Water and other products had already started to see a drop in sales, there were many users looking to try local ferments, but either did not have the time or the resources to procure such products on their own. After the team pinpointed a general area of consumer interest, they set about reaching out to local experts to see which of these products would be shelf stable with minimum additives.

Thom, the marketing and design lead designed a survey for the target audience – health conscious adults between the ages of 23-30. These pre-qualified individuals were then invited to be part of a brief focus group to gather information about their taste and packaging preferences. A growing demand for sustainable products was noted at this stage of building and testing the product. Some customers were interested in exchanging glass bottles for future discounts as part of a recycling program. Others were interested in the completely recyclable bamboo packaging – but were not keen to pay extra for the limited edition packaging. Research found that even though sustainability was important to consumers, convenience was still a major driver of purchasing decisions. By blending the problem structuring and problem solving methodology, the ‘Drink Fit’ team decided to test out wide mouth glass bottles with biodegradable cork covers. The bamboo option was interesting but would not be a viable option out in the real world.

Finding customers for testing

While ‘green’ products are hyped up on the market today, the team learned that customers are so used to the convenience of plastic products that when it came down to the actual purchase, the most easy to handle product actually won out over the more sustainable products. At this point, a small pilot had been arranged across a few local grocery stores. So, a digital sketch of the product and its packaging was created. After going through the process of hand-made sketch and creating virtual prototype designs, the third step is to make a physical prototype. Along with the help of her developers, created a formula for a beetroot Kanji that was shelf stable, tasted great and looked great in a glass bottle.

Initial results and feedback among the target sample were encouraging. The product size was decreased after the first round for better portability. Nikki then took her product samples to wellness centers, yoga studios and a couple of gyms across the city. They offered mini-versions of the ‘Drink Fit” product in 100ml miniatures free of cost in limited quantities at these facilities. A social media campaign helped them grab the attention of like-minded health-conscious young people through collaborations with these health centres.

A physical prototype is a rough model of your final product that can be caused by anything that’s handy and suitable to describe your product. The prototype can be low fidelity, medium fidelity or high fidelity. Better the fidelity, better the product reception. This is why, in Nikki’s case, the feedback was immediate and positive – the product was well conceptualized and high-fidelity. They even came up with a personal backstory for the product hidden behind the peel-off brand label to create that extra connection with their consumers.

How to handle mixed reviews

While mostly positive, many reactions to the prototypes were also mixed. User experience is generally the attitude and emotional feedback from users after they use the product. Our well-designed path to purchase guides users through the product journey in an honest, empathetic way. Some people complained about the drink being too salty, while the others said the tetra-pack wasn’t easy to use. A few samples of glass bottles were also delivered to select customers that signed up via social campaigns and contests. While they managed to get the health benefits of their beverage across, bottles were getting damaged during transport and not many customers cared to carry empty bottles around after use, so the ‘recycle’ part of their campaign was essentially failing. Since we already know that the “Design” stage in Banathy’s process lens stresses the importance of individual and collective documentation to facilitate learning and planning, that’s what the team did at this point. They documented all this feedback.

The compliments were acknowledged and the complaints were noted. Nikki was inspired by the story of Anuj and “Raw Juices”. She learned from Anuj that feedback was a precursor to potential business growth if they could channel all this feedback properly. Word of mouth spread the news of a kitschy, yet homegrown ferment that was healthy and low on sugar. The prototype was tweaked based on user feedback, and a token deposit system was put in place to help ‘Drink Fit’ fans stay on track with their recycling.

Going big while staying green

All eyes lay on Thom as marketing was next in line to step up. Product design and development work together. When the product was in its initial phase, Drink Fit had to appeal to the masses. The responsibility was to ensure that the brand was in unison with the sentiments of the target audience. That includes taking care of the climate degradation, sustainable products, and zero-waste ideals. However, in the real world, unless you have deep pockets, such a wide net would spread their resources too thin, sinking the product before it even took off.

When Drink Fit started producing in larger quantities, Nikki faced more complex issues. At this point, the bamboo boxes were really getting damaged in transport, with users complaining about the taste changing over time. The team had to make a decision to stick to the glass bottles with the recycling program offered as an add-on. If you look at the “Weltanschauung” factor in the CATWOE analysis, it is clear that our worldviews and beliefs drive our purchasing decisions. If customers think ‘Drink Fit’ is helping them live a healthier, more sustainable life, they will be more likely to make that purchase.

Design is an evolving process.

Even after the delivery and closure stage, you will need to periodically evaluate product design in order to see if the product is working the way you intended it to work when it goes to market and ‘lives’ out its life cycle in the real world!

The Drink Fit team used theoretical frameworks to guide their design and marketing process. While it is entirely possible to design products without the use of these frameworks, using them certainly helps streamline the design process. After about six months on the market, Users started to provide feedback saying they would love to have. Access to their own probiotic fermentation kits. Just goes to show that the marketing and design process does not end with the sale. So, they went back to the drawing board to design a new product. If they did not have a standardized process to Release & Manage the product, such feedback would have been overlooked, and an opportunity for growth would have been missed.

Marketing in a complex world

Too often marketers and product developers working in silos at large organizations miss the connection between product design and brand strategy. Products can suffer growing pains if they are conceived, gestated and born into the world without a guiding brand voice. To ensure a clear brand voice for Drink Fit, Thom had to create real, relevant audience profiles to analyse the buying patterns of their target audience. The team had brainstorming sessions to ensure that their stakeholders were all excited about the product. The market research team had brought to the table competitor strategies and activities to compare and contrast with their own approach. What they learned was that a great product alone was not enough. There were ‘sustainable’ products on the market that were literally the same terrible products repackaged. Then, there were products that were far better quality, sourced from the right ingredients – that were struggling to take off. What they learned was that brands need authentic storytelling in place to help them connect with their audience. Here are some factors to consider if you are looking to launch a product using an authentic voice.

Empathy

Brand strategy always starts with a thorough study of the target audience, which means understanding what makes them tick. If you have been reading the article all along, you know that understanding customers to build empathy is critical. Their needs, expectations, pains and preferences need to be considered. When a brand really ‘gets’ their people and absorbs their point of view into the planning process, they can design more meaningful products. Hopefully more successful products, too. Empathy marketing is about looking into personal nuances (even at a macro level) to see how products impact their environment upon delivery. Therefore, their arrival or integration warrants advance communication and planning.

No secret that the ‘Drink Fit’ audience is health and environment conscious. Showing empathy by interacting with users at an early stage helped potential customers feel heard – and resulted in loyal early adopters that helped take their brand message forward. Feedback from the audience also helped them develop a label that had small pieces of interesting comma value adding wellness-related content that users look forward to reading every time they made a purchase. They also used these labels as a launchpad where the consumer could scan the QR code and start a conversation about fitness. Think about it this way. Drinking a refreshing fermented beverage after a session of yoga would be a no-brainer for a lot of people. While these strategies do not cost a whole lot of extra money, the engagement that they generate helped ‘Drink Fit’ stand out against a sea of processed beverages on the market.

Purpose

Brand strategy synthesizes the business strategy, purpose and product positioning of the company into a distinctive brand message. A clear brand purpose helps the team to focus on a common goal and a common language to share their message. Over the long months it takes to build a product, it’s tough to stay true to the emotional impact you hope your product will deliver – unless you have a unified brand purpose. Consider the CATWOE analysis when asking questions about your brand purpose. Are the “Actors” focused on carrying out your solution? Will the activities planned be helpful in “Transforming” inputs and outputs?

In the early days, Thom suggested that tieing up with a major fast-food corporation will no doubt bear them profit, but would it not be against what the consumers believe about the ‘Drink Fit’ brand? Initial sales may lead to controversy – so they went the free samples route at wellness centres with great results. Brands have to ensure that their brand voice is in tune with the purpose for which the product was launched. While your brand message and purpose can evolve over time, these discussions help brands steer the market with integrity and authenticity to build consumer trust.

Dialogue

Ever make a mistake using an app? How can it be a mistake if you happen to press the wrong button on a confusing UI interface? When a user gets derailed in an app, it is usually because the app itself is too complicated or the navigation is deranged. In other words, it’s not your fault, Citizen User!

So is it ever appropriate for a sensible brand to write the word ERROR in a dialogue box? Let’s talk for a minute about the word “dialogue”. In a sense, the product is a dialogue with a user. A human being. The “Delivery” phase of the Interdisciplinary design model allows customers within the environment to seek the product out and prepare for its arrival. So, when ‘Drink Fit’ samples are passed out at wellness centres, there is a buzz within the community talking about this great new product.

Brand strategist reality check

Running effective design critique

Great design directly connects customers to your brand. Just like every other process, product design needs to go through effective design critique. Design critiques offer an iterative process for feedback, reflection and subsequent action. Facilitating an effective design critique is a great way to establish connection, nurture dialogue and improve your products within your internal team, with other teams within your organization and even with your target community as a whole. Here is an effective way to run a critique that offers valuable feedback about your market performance while still offering a positive environment of growth for all involved.

Evaluate The Context

The initial step before starting any critique is that a presenter provides a brief summary of what they are working on. This is to offer prior knowledge about what you do and why you are discussing the product or design. Evaluating the context for the critique can guide your stakeholders with a high-level summary, anticipating big issues ahead of time and establishing an open platform for respectful discussion. This will also help key stakeholders offer authentic and critical feedback in an issue-based discussion. While summarizing the project you can also ask the presenting parties to discuss the stage of the design process the team is currently at – as well as the solutions you have considered. You can also outline the type of feedback you are looking to rule out.

Assign Critique Facilitators

It is important that every meeting should have a presenter, a notetaker and a facilitator. The presenter is the primary designer who created the work. His/her job is to present the context and content of the critique. The notetaker is the one who helps to jot down the ideas and actionable takeaways for the group. Lastly, a facilitator enables the presenter to have a successful critique by enforcing pre-established guidelines for a productive, amicable, growth-oriented session. The facilitator is charged with the task of keeping everyone working within the time constraints agreed upon. They may also set periodic reminders to help everyone stay on track and respect the objective of the present critique.

Ask Critical Questions

When conducting the design critique, make sure that you avoid ‘design by committee’ by keeping the conversation focussed on questions that help the team evolve. The focus here should be moving towards product design solutions and away from opinions or blame assignment. Here are some questions that may help at this stage.

  1. Does this design of the product effectively convey its utility to users?
  2. Is there a better way to infuse a particular element into the product?
  3. Is the product information being sufficiently conveyed with a clear message?
  4. Does our existing branding adequately cover our range of communication?
  5. What can we remove because it is distracting?

Design critic

The evolution of human-centered design

Everything boils down to one aspect, that brands revolve around consumer satisfaction.

And your customer is a human being.

Initially, you may face some resistance when you try to introduce any rigorous design, development and evaluation processes within your organization. However, your products will be so much richer for it. At Vantage, we believe that the above process will ensure faster customer acceptance. So, in the long run, instead of wasting two years trying to figure out your product market, you spend six months organizing your own product design process and another six months using targeted funds (regardless of how much money you have) ensuring quick product adoption. Effectively, you save both time and money in the long run. If you do your research right, the product might just end up selling itself. The Interdisciplinary Design Framework, Banathy’s Process Lens, CATWOE analysis from the Soft Skills Model as well as our own in-house streamlined process at Vantage offer guidance and insight into how you can organize your teams to put out human-centered, sustainable products in the world that offer longevity as well as functional and aesthetic appeal.

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