Built to last — How to create meaningful products

Photo by Nikhil Mitra on Unsplash

Let’s start off with a provocative statement that might offend many creatives and engineers: Creating innovative product and service ideas is not that difficult. Why? There has never been a greater variety of available technologies and frameworks that can be combined creatively to build innovative products. In this practice, it’s unfortunately rarely the human need that is at the center of attention, but rather the creative combination of new technologies and marketing.

Combining new technologies creatively is easy. Creating a meaningful product is the real challenge.

If you consider the environment in which many engineers work, this is quite easy to understand. They usually spend most of their time isolated from the users of their inventions and are occupied with the complex systems they work on. Designing for someone whose life realities revolve around completely different problems requires not only great empathy, but also the opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of your target group.

Exposure drives insight

For this reason user experience designers often do qualitative research within the targeted customer group. By participating in the practice of the people for whom you want to design solutions, you gain rich knowledge that you can turn into solutions for their problems. If we discuss this topic with small and medium enterprises we often get responses like: “We have neither the experts nor the resources to set up such a process professionally.” The good news is that it doesn’t need a degree in psychology to take the first basic steps in the right direction. Empathy is part of our human nature.

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Therefore, I recommend to anyone who is involved in product design to spend as much time as possible with the users of their products to understand what drives them and what problems they face in their everyday life. When your company matures you can create even more impact if you hire professionals who have experience in dealing with interview partners, conducting field studies and usability testing. Trained professionals help you to gain richer, more valid insights and can make them more actionable for your company than a beginner. As already mentioned, budgets for these activities are not yet available in every company, which usually leads to products and services being developed at a high cost that are not in line with the actual demands of the market.

Start by building on scientific findings

Having no budget for conducting research yourself should be no excuse to dismiss the human centered design process altogether. Try to start at the most accessible level for your corporation instead. On the macro level, there are some basic human motifs known from science that influence our overall sense of happiness. If you focus on fulfilling these basic needs and consider them in your design process right from the start, you have already done more than most competitors.

An empirically derived set of basic needs that you can use as a starting point looks like this:

I experience autonomy in situations where I can make decisions independently. I feel free from pressure or external forces.

I feel competent when I perceive myself as particularly capable and efficient in solving difficult tasks.

I feel fully loaded and in excellent physical condition. I have a strong feeling of physical well-being.

I have regular, close contact with people who care about me and who mean a lot to me, on the contrary to the feeling of loneliness and meaninglessness.

I have the feeling to be an important part of a larger whole, to find myself and to develop myself continuously.

I am able to afford the things I desire. I own beautiful things.

I do and experience new things regularly. Intense physical satisfaction and enjoyment. I find new sources and ways of stimulation for me.

My life is structured and predictable. Established routines help me to shape my everyday life effortlessly.

I am popular and respected and have influence on others, contrary to the feeling that nobody appreciates my advice or is interested in my opinion.

Grow and professionalize

After deciding for a need you want to design for there is broad portfolio of qualitative and quantitative tools available in order to dive deeper into the experience world of your customers and better understand their wishes and problems. Again, you can start with a single method and gradually add further possibilities of gaining knowledge.

When you have reached this milestone you will quickly realize that well executed user research takes up a considerable amount your time. You will have to decide wether you want to hire someone to do it for you. If you cannot yet utilize a research team full time, you can outsource this work to an external service provider you trust. Outsourcing the testing of your ideas can also helps with the validity of your research results. In research it is best practice to avoid having the designer of a solution to perform the testing in order to prevent the unconscious manipulation of results. Everyone who has ever been in the situation can relate to how it feels when your new product is criticized by test users. It is hardly possible to conduct the test yourself without bias and influencing the test user. For this reason you always need to keep the reason for user testing in mind:

We don’t test to prove that we’ re right, but to find out what works for the end user.

To sum it up

The overarching goal for all your product design efforts should always be to enrich the life of your customers in a meaningful way. Products that do not follow this simple principle have no long-term success on the market. If you follow this philosophy, you can make your brand a lasting part of your customers’ lives and set yourself apart from the competition.

“Price is What You Pay; Value is What You Get” — Warren Buffett

Who delivers a lot of value can also justify a high price. If you don’t deliver any value at all, you shouldn’t even offer your product for free.

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Source for the basic needs listed above

What Is Satisfying About Satisfying Events? Testing 10 Candidate Psychological Needs by Sheldon, Elliot, Kim and Kasser

Thanks to Tim Pierick (hide) and Guy Gretschel (show)