Ravi K. Sawhney
Director of Business
RKS Design Inc.
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
The role of product development is to fulfill the complete consumer experience. That may start with how a product looks, but it leads to how a product feels, sounds, and makes you think. This consumer-to-product introduction is similar to making new friends — you don't want someone to feel awkward about themselves.
Industrial designers call designs emotional if they turn heads and somehow differentiate themselves from products with similar functions. If a product looks as if it would feel good in a person's hand, they may pick it up. If it does feel good, the product affirms the person's expectations and leads to a series of more compelling interactions, such as testing a few buttons, examining a readout, or making a purchase.
These interactions involve more than appearance. A lot of design work focuses only on a first impression or delivering a "wow" factor. But a positive impression followed by a series of bad interactions quickly turn to disappointment. Some designers then say the hero's journey has ended unsuccessful.
The MiniMed Insulin Pump provides a successful and instructive case history. Insulin pumps previously attached to a diabetic's torso were unwieldy, unattractive, and looked like medical equipment. The MiniMed, however, was designed from the first-person perspective because members of the RKS design team wore body-mounted insulin pumps for three days (pumping saline instead of insulin) to understand how the pump is used and how to address ergonomic and usability issues. It also won a award for its design.
The MiniMed lets diabetics carry an attractive device that looks more like a pager. Of course it works well. But it was successful because it no longer carried the stigma of having a medical device attached to the wearer's body. As designers, we say the product fulfills the consumer and successfully completes the emotional journey from expectation to fulfillment. We have learned how to map this "journey" and come to know the consumer.
In this case, part of the map is a four-quadrant grid. The bottom horizontal runs left to right from low utility (such as a paper clip) to high utility (a multifunction knife). The top horizontal spans pure beauty (the Mona Lisa) to functional and beautiful (an Enzo Ferrari). On this map we rate and position competitive products to get an idea where the product under development stands.
The first phase of development brings team members and client together where we map a product into its competitive landscape (on the map), develop consumer profiles and personas, and identify the right set of emotions and affirmations for the consumer's journey. Developing consumer profiles tries to describe the characteristics of the people the product will appeal to. One segment, for example, might be affluent single males. Knowing a few of these real people we can also know their hobbies or pursuits, what they drive, and how they dress. This information provides clues for what might attract the segment to buy the product under development.
While development starts with anticipating consumer needs, it ends with a cost-effective and manufacturable product. To do that, designers must combine market research with expertise in the underlying technology, materials, and manufacturing processes. Most companies are only skillful at one or two areas. To succeed in a global market, product-development firms need expertise across all these disciplines. That takes a team, usually one with people in different cities. Hence, finding a way for a far-flung team to collaborate is one key to success.
For example, our development process is set up to encourage interaction, so there are no serial interactions that hand pieces over the proverbial wall. Instead, development has stages.
Each project-development stage involves the team moving forward at the same time. Think of it more like a rugby team moving down the field together, rather than a relay race where the baton is passed between individuals. This eliminates compromises, such as when a project enters it engineering phase. Having engineering (and engineering software) involved from the beginning fuses the design vision, requirements, and engineering. There can be no disparate parts of the process. Otherwise, the design will fail. Collaboration is the way to share ideas and tap the team's experience.
By taking what's called a dynamic-modeling-based approach to 3D product development, different designers can work on the same problem and introduce new ideas. A final solution represents a variety of perspectives that lead to a better product.
Our experience is that development cycles take a relatively short nine-month average. Getting the most out of that period means designers must examine as many variations of a design as possible. They struggle with this idea or task of creating many design variations. But doing so means examining many iterations to see where the ideas lead.
CAD software lets us create many different initial iterations of a single product and gather comments from potential users, other designers, manufacturing engineers, as well as clients. The CAD program has facilities for collaborating with groups and individuals at distant locations so the same review can be conducted long distance and with many individuals. Later, we can cut physical prototypes from renshape in a couple hours for similar reviews. On one occasion, we cut four different and interactive prototypes based on design reviews and in the space of one day.
Many iterations and lots of input give an advantage over a firm that may be tolerant of the first design that comes up. That happens when a designer does not have the right tools to do multiple iterations.
From our experience, the person or team that creates the most variations of a design in the least amount of time is the most successful. That only comes from continual development, analysis, and redesign. The most useful CAD programs are those that handle that continual loop.
WHEN IS A PRODUCT DONE?
A product is ready when it meets the requirements and acceptability of the consumer. But don't ask designers or engineers if a product is ready, because their high level of expectation usually means they are never satisfied. "Ready" is a management decision. Managers must know when a product has reached the threshold. And even when a product seems ready, design and innovation of great products does not cease. Further refinements or changes based on feedback from customers may push designs in other directions. This learn-and-iterate cycle should become ingrained within the development process.
Creating the right emotional response
Developing products to create the right emotional response is key to attracting users and giving them confidence the product will deliver what they expect. People think emotional designs are for strictly stylistic devices, such as automobiles or furniture. But it applies to even the most unusual items, such as medical respirators. These, for example, require safety, utility, and reliability. If designed to look like art, a patient may not come to trust it. We don't want to be delighted by a blood pump. We do, however, want to feel confident that it will keep us alive.
We call this emotional response to a product PsychoAesthetics. It's the fusion of design, science, and experience that creates the right emotional response in the consumer. It's not how you feel about the design, it's how the design makes you feel about yourself.
Psycho-Aesthetics lets us position the competitive landscape in ways that reflect how consumers see things. It identifies clustering, and market openings that are unfilled at the time. It does this by focusing on the consumers experience levels as opposed to just plotting features versus aesthetics.
The tool works in ways we did not think possible. Its goes so far as to map consumers themselves and then identify zones of opportunities.
Putting emotion to work
Psycho-Aesthetics combines design, science, and experience to create the right emotional response in a consumer. That response is triggered by how a product looks, feels, sounds, and how it makes the consumer feel. The Wave guitar is a product that came from the Psycho-Aesthetics design method.
Electric guitars are global, cultural icons. Our mission with the Wave was to create a guitar that worked well and brought innovations to the music industry. It's intended for musicians from novice to expert. The Wave plays like every other guitar yet feels and sounds different and distinct.
While taking guitar lessons some years ago, I couldn't find an appropriate guitar stand. I approached one of our designers, Paul Janowski, and suggested we design a stand. He half-jokingly replied, "Let's design a guitar."
After mulling the idea over, we posed the project to the design team and went to work. Fifteen pounds of illustrations later, a design emerged based on the human skeletal form. Designers refined it further and generated a prototype.
Dave Mason of the 1970s band Traffic brought a professional-working-guitar-player's perspective, and was key in making the RKS guitar an instrument demanding players could appreciate. The Wave guitar has since found its way into the hands of some of the world's most renowned musical artists.