Advice for Makers: 3 Methods to Make More Impactful Products

Posted by Mike, on August 31, 2016

The process of product creation is deeply personal. A prospective client can say to a group of 30 product engineers and designers—show me the smartphone of the future!—and get 100 conceptual variations in return, each with signature flair of its creator.

Design thinking starts with asking the right questions. Rather than ask what the smartphone of the future will look like, we could ask—why a smartphone? How will we do in the future what we do now with smartphones? What will we need and want to do in the future with this product?

The next step is to think of many good possibilities. Although it may be impossible to think of every option, we should strive to consider all of the best options against one another before we focus on one. It's best to consider possibilities in parallel rather than in series. 

As we consider and develop ideas, these will generate and morph into more ideas, especially when we prototype and experiment. The more we explore with prototyping, the more we discover new and better ideas, which is why it can be critical to prototype and experiment as early as possible with concepts. 

While this could seem like a never-ending quest for greatness, doors of potential and promise open when one person simply thinks differently, and puts his or her own spin on something otherwise common.

Below, we share three methods of design-thinking our engineers and designers use to increase innovation.

1. Pull on a Natural Curiosity and Desire to Learn

Serial inventor Beulah Louise Henry (“Lady Edison”), clock-maker John Harrison, and software engineer Donna Auguste all have one big thing in common outside of being incredible creators. 

When you look at the childhoods of each, you will find records of tinkering at an early age, finding objects that made each curious, and picking apart components to see how each item operates.

This is a common thread that binds inventors across centuries. Many credit his or her own professional creativity to a lifetime of curiosity, including SmartShape engineer Greg Weisberg, who shares this advice for budding makers who want to learn and grow fast:

“Take stuff apart. There are so many clever little details hidden away by engineers and designers in even the simplest of products. You can get a ton of experience just by dissecting old junk and putting it back together, possibly in new and improved ways.”

Consider this thought against what you are currently trying to design, and begin to question:

  • How has this product been made in the past?
  • What about its common design or engineering is inefficient?
  • How could the design or engineering be improved for a better end product?

2. Embrace Failure as an Opportunity to Build Something Better

As the great Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Failure shouldn’t be seen as time to get discouraged. Rather, in the spirit and levity of Edison, it should be a time to take a step back and get curious about why your initial approach was unsuccessful. It’s a time to recognize that the failure is simply a part of a process to an even better approach.

As SmartShape designer Pete Whitworth says:

“You have to ideate, prototype, revise – again and again— in order to achieve true product innovation. So, fail early, fail fast and fail often.”

Failure simply challenges and pushes your creative muscles toward new boundaries. Instead of feeling the frustration when something doesn’t work quite right, give your failed approach the benefit of fresh eyes and a new perspective. Consider the following:

  • What about the failed approach made the product less useful?
  • What does the end user want this product to be?
  • Why am I designing this product in the first place?

3. Make Products You Could See Yourself Using Every Day

Revisiting why a product exists can be the most powerful design exercise of all. As designers, engineers and general creators we strive to create something new, or improve something old, all for the betterment of those who will ultimately use it.

To do this well, inventors of all shapes and sizes should consider the following question posed by SmartShape designer Brian Milliff, and force themselves into the shoes of the end user before taking his or her next step:

“What if everyone only made things they were forced to interact with on a daily basis?”

With this question in mind, there’s no doubt your approach to design changes, with renewed focus on the following:

  • What does the end user need this product to be?
  • What about the current design or engineering of the product makes it troublesome to use?
  • How can I create the best user experience possible with this product?

Take the Time to Explore Your Product’s Options

It’s unlikely that the first idea you have for what a product will look like and how it will function will be the final concept. Do any of the methods above push you to take the time to question, consider and design deeper?

Are there any other approaches that commonly give you the needed perspective to push yourself in better directions?

Share your own thoughts and advice for thinking through product possibilities in the comment section below.