The product design process: 5 crucial steps – in action

The product design process being explored by the D2M team.

Have a look around you. Every product you see has gone through a product design process – that chair, those shoes, this computer or phone.

You might be thinking: ‘But my product is unique, shouldn’t my product design process be unique too?’ While your product may be one-of-a-kind, the core principles of a good design process still apply.

“You’re already inventing a product – luckily, you don’t need to reinvent the process too.”Emma Charlesworth. Senior Product Designer, Design 2 Market[1] 

See the Tatty Head Twist ‘N’ Treat take shape

At Design 2 Market, we help inventors design and market all kinds of products. We’ve created baby equipment, textile-based products, handheld electronics – and products for our furry friends.

The final product: Three Tatty Head Twist ‘N’ Treat dog treat dispensers lying on grass.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the five key stages of the product design process. Along the way, we’ll demonstrate each step with the Tatty Head Twist ‘N’ Treat dog treat dispenser. Just one of the many products we’ve helped to design and market.

What is a product design process?

A ‘product design process’ is the series of steps you take to turn an idea into a sellable product. In the simplest terms, it involves identifying market opportunity, defining a problem, developing a solution and testing it.

Sticking to a tried and tested product design process will hugely increase the chance that your product will be commercially successful. Why? Because a good product design process revolves around your prospective customers.

The 5 crucial steps every product design process needs

Although we’re calling them steps, It’s important to remember that the product design process isn’t linear. After reviewing each stage, you might circle back to any of the previous steps. And, as you’ll see, ‘testing’ crops up at every stage in some form.

[Hyperlinks to the steps in the article]

  1. Understand your audience and competition
  2. Define your goals
  3. Ideate, conceptualise and develop
  4. Prototype your product
  5. Test, test and test some more

What makes a good product design process?

  • User-centricity: For a product to be commercially successful, people have to want it and use it. So, to design a successful product, you need to put your target audience at the heart of every decision you make.
  • Continuous improvement: Don’t expect to get everything right on the first try. Constantly gather feedback, learn and make improvements as you go.
  • Innovation: A good product design process will encourage you to think differently to your competitors and solve problems in creative ways – while keeping you on a structured path.
  • Simplicity: Try not to overcomplicate things. Constantly ask yourself ‘is there a simpler way to do this?’. Remember – ‘keep it simple, stupid’. (We’re not being rude, it’s a real design principle.)

The KISS principle

“Keep it simple, stupid (KISS) is a design principle which states that designs and/or systems should be as simple as possible. Wherever possible, complexity should be avoided in a system—as simplicity guarantees the greatest levels of user acceptance and interaction.”

The Interaction Design Foundation 

Step 1: Understand your audience and competition

All processes start with defining goals, right? Not so fast. In the product design process the end users come first.

If you have a product idea in mind and colourful pens to hand, we understand if this feels like a step backwards. And it is. A lot of the product design process is about working backwards from your customers’ needs and your goals. You’ll still need those pens though.

“Before you start planning what your product does and what it might look like, you need to consider the people using it.”

Alistair Patterson, Senior Product Designer, D2M

You may see this step called ‘empathising’. It’s all about putting yourself inside the mind of your target audience and answering questions like:

  • Who will use your product?
  • What problems are they experiencing?
  • How are they trying to solve this problem currently?
  • Which other products might they use to solve this problem?

Get to know your audience – thoroughly

The biggest mistake you can make in the product design process is trying to design a product for everyone. Your aim at this step is to build a detailed picture of your specific target audience. The deeper your knowledge is, the better equipped you are to solve their problems.

Use a range of data collection methods: Use questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, online forums and observation. Immerse yourself in their world, don’t just hear what they say, see what they do.

Nail down the demographics: Be as specific as you can and define these elements: Age, life stage, gender, marital status, income level, where they live, type of employment/position, hobbies.

Capture what your audience is thinking and feeling: What are their needs, desires and goals? What are their problems, fears and frustrations?

Visualise your findings with customer personas: All this research isn’t for filing away once you’ve defined your goals. It’s for sticking on your wall and reminding you, throughout the product design process, to put your end users first.

Step 1 of the product design process: A diagram showing a customer persona for the Tatty Head dog dispenser.

Competitor research: Keep your enemies closer

In a way, this is an extension of audience research, as it’s the products and solutions your customers might use instead of yours. Knowing who your competitors are, is important for a number of reasons:

  • Finding gaps in the market and establishing your niche
  • Working out your market share goals
  • Developing a marketing and pricing strategy

Create a comparison chart: Browse shops and the internet to get to know the products that will be your competitors. Make a list of the key features and functions and compare your competitors with each other.

Identify strengths and weaknesses: Consider the physical products and the brands behind them too. What do the products and brands do well? What could they do better?

Step 2: Define your goals

Now you can use the research you’ve gathered in step one to define what you want to achieve. In a team, shared goals, quite frankly, stop anarchy further down the line. Your goals are there to keep everyone on the same page and working towards the same thing.

Write a project brief and value statement

Imagine you’re asking someone else to come up with ideas for your product. They’d need a brief – so write yourself one. Aim for less than one page and summarise:

  • The audience and their pain-points
  • The benefits your product will give to your audience
  • What your product does at a high level

Push yourself to distill this even further into one sentence. This is known as your value statement. There are different approaches to value statements out there, but this is our favourite:

For [enter your target customer] who [enter their needs or wants], our [enter your product] is the only [enter your product type] that [enter the benefits your product provides].

Value proposition for the Tatty Head dog treat dispenser:

For dog owners who need to train and treat their dogs on the go, our treat dispenser is the only dog treat carry-case that helps you improve your dog’s recall skills.

…And there’s your first advert for your product. You know what to do – stick it on the wall.

Plan your business goals

Think like a business. What revenue and market share do you want to achieve? How will you measure performance? Set KPIs (key performance indicators) early on.

When you’re setting your goals, remember ‘SMART’. This means making sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and have Timescales.

By combining our experience, current market data and your dream, we can help you accurately define your business goals.

Step 3: Ideate, conceptualise and develop

At Design 2 Market, we kick this stage off with an innovation workshop. We like to bring our team of ingenious product designers together with our clients – and not just the creative ones. You never know where innovation might come from.

Come up with loads of ideas

This is where you can let your creativity flow – without constraints. If you’re working with a team, try working separately at this stage. Then you can critique each other’s ideas with fresh eyes.

  • Aim for quantity: Don’t hold back. If you think an idea is too crazy, sketch it anyway. If you love an idea, great, but don’t stop.
  • …not quality: You don’t need a masterpiece. As long as your ideas are captured as notes or pictures, that’s enough.
  • Avoid judging your ideas: Don’t throw anything out. Save any criticism or evaluation for later.

What dog can resist that rattling sound?

At the ideas stage, the owners of Tatty Head chose an ergonomically friendly and aesthetically pleasing bone shape. They decided the material should be hard – so the treats rattle – transparent and the lid should stay connected.

Step 3 of the product design process: An early sketch of the Tatty Head dog treat dispenser.

Review ideas and decide on your chosen design

Get the team together and review each other’s ideas. If you’re working alone, it’s hard to be subjective, so bring in other people into your product design process – even better if they’re your target audience.

  • Combine and refine: Consider merging ideas that complement each other or solve different problems.
  • Refer to your goals, brief and value statement: This will help you to be strict. If a feature or function doesn’t align with the brief, it goes.
  • Prioritise and rank ideas: It may help to use a scoring system where you assign points for (for example): simplicity, aesthetics, function and feasibility.
  • Gather feedback and iterate: Reach out to your target audience and ‘go back to the drawing board’ however many times it takes to reach your final concept.

Visualise and develop your final concept

This is where rough sketches become detailed images and virtual 3D models. These computer-aided design (CAD) visualisations are useful for six reasons:

  • Product styling: Deciding on the form (shape), aesthetics (how it looks) and materials (what it’s made from)
  • Design engineering: Working out all functions work
  • Making changes to your design
  • Testing your concept with your target audience
  • Sharing with stakeholders and prospective investors
  • Acting as blueprints for the prototype

One treat will do…

As the Tatty Head concept developed, the team added the innovative function that would give the product its name: The Twist ‘N’ Treat.

Instead of removing the lid, you simply twist it and it dispenses one treat. No more keeping your dog’s nose out of the treat bag, or dropping all your treats in the grass.

Step 3 of the product design process: A 3D CAD visualisation of the Tatty Head dog treat dispenser, showing the ‘one treat’ dispensing function.

Step 4: Prototyping

A prototype is a physical creation of your concept. Prototyping allows you to handle your product – feel it, see it, use it and, most importantly, test it with your target audience. It’s a great way to keep costs down by fixing issues or making improvements on your design before manufacturing.

The prototyping step is a journey in itself, starting with a very simple model and progressing through to an accurate final product. For example, there are six stages to our prototyping process at Design 2 Market.

At the prototyping stage, you’ll:

  • Choose suitable materials and consider sustainability
  • Assess the size and scale
  • Test the functionality, safety and user experience
  • Consider durability and aesthetics
  • Plan for scalability and compliance

The Twist ‘N’ Treat goes handsfree

Through the prototyping process and user testing, we discovered the easiest way for dog owners to carry the dispenser.

We developed a neoprene sleeve (the best material for rainy days), branded with the Tatty Head logo and attached to a clasp for your belt.

Step 4 of the product design process: The prototype for the Tatty Head dog treat dispenser

Step 5: Test, test and test some more

Testing isn’t just about making sure your product is safe and doesn’t break (although that’s a big part of it). As we’ve seen, user experience testing – in context – is critical too.

Step 5 of the product design process: A dog and his owner testing the Twist 'N' Treat.

Types of product design testing

The testing your product needs will depend on what kind of product it is, but here are a few types to give you an idea.

Functional testing: Do all the functions work as they should?

User experience testing: How do people interact with your product? Do they have any difficulties?

Aesthetic testing: Does your target audience like how your product looks? Would they prefer different options (colour, size etc.)?

Durability testing: Can the product withstand repeated use over time? What about being dropped or left in the sun or rain[28] ?

Material testing: Are the materials suitable and of good quality?

Safety: What are the potential safety hazards? Does the product comply with all safety standards and regulations?

The Twist ‘N’ Treat goes down a storm at Crufts

The Twist ‘N’ Treat debuted at Crufts in 2019 and has continued to gain popularity since, especially through Instagram. Tatty Head now offers a range of colours and combo boxes which come with treats.

A very happy dog showing off a blue Tatty Head Twist 'N' Treat dispenser.

Proving that customers will always surprise you, word at the dog park is that dogs are carrying their own Twist ‘N’ Treats. (Just remember to take it off before he runs off to see his mates.)

Browse Twist ‘N’ Treats by Tatty Head

Got an idea? Let’s chat.

At Design 2 Market, we have extensive experience at every stage of the product design process. Beyond the steps explored here, we provide services in:

Whether you have the glimmer of a product idea or a full-blown brief, contact us today to see how we can help bring your vision to life.

Book your call now

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