Companies that manufacture sophisticated, highly-engineered products focus much of their attention on performance attributes. This is especially true for companies whose products are sold to other businesses as opposed to consumer products. In creating the product definition, we ask questions like: What do customers need in terms of performance and are we capable of supplying that? What are competitors doing and how do we gain competitive advantage?
But are you ignoring the importance of what the product will look like? Is the industrial design of your product an afterthought? If so, you may be missing an opportunity. Take the Apple® Ipad®. What do you think of when you see this product? Does it evoke a feeling of quality? What else do you think of when you see this product?
We attach meanings to the products we buy and what the product looks like is just as important as what it will do. This is true not just for consumer products, but for industrial products as well. Whether we like it or not, customers buy our products to fulfill a utilitarian need and to satisfy emotional needs. (An excellent reference on these concepts is Design Driven Innovation by Robert Verganti)
Now, I am not saying that manufacturers of industrial products necessarily need to spend the money that Apple does on industrial design, but you absolutely need to consider what the design of your product will communicate to your customers and prospects. It is also important that the industrial design and marketing of the product be integrated. The look of the product should flow through all the marketing. In companies that place high value on industrial design, the Marketing or Product Management function is integrated with project teams early in the development. Of course they help support the development from a technical standpoint but also assist in establishing the design that will ultimately translate to the marketing, branding and positioning of the product.
In a future post, I will talk about the choice between using internal or external resources for the industrial design.
What do you think? Do you believe industrial design is important for industrial products? In your market or industry, do you believe it is a) more important, b) just as important, or c) less important as the technical specifications?
New Product Visions is a consulting company that helps organizations improve the effectiveness of their new product development processes. We specialize in small to mid-sized companies that manufacture highly engineered products. Contact us today about how we might help you!