What makes a product desirable, and another not?

How does the design of one iron / skateboard / cell phone cause people to throw down money with enthusiasm while corresponding products of a slightly different design cause people to cringe in distaste? Consumers can be finicky, so how do you know, as a designer, that you are speaking to the desires of your target market?

It’s something I hope to explain with clarity while I’m at my next job interview with design directors / internal design review with business leaders. Any advice or recommended readings are welcome!

I find the most difficult part of NPD is properly defining the problem. If that is wrong, all potential solutions will be wrong.

The next difficulty is making the subjective objective. At my current place of employment, we measure desirable by what we call the “excite-o-meter”. Yes, pretty stupid name but our folks in the field take it quite seriously and have developed methods to quantify a qualitative measure.

The outcome of an exciting solution to the right problem is simple, it is called sales. My last launched product in February hit $1MM/month in sales last month, technically making it the most desirable product our company has ever launched. But a different product (not mine) coming out in Feb 2018 is likely to crush those numbers. :frowning:

Thanks iab, real quick, what does NPD stand for? Congrats on your successful product! I like your description of how your team measures the subjective and assigns objective metrics to direct the design.

new product development

Here’s some good reading material;

Thanks everyone. Looks like this topic is back on the forum. I will post some of my findings in a couple of days before leaving this topic alone.

I think your option one would lead towards a sterilization of the impact of good design. It reminds me of architecture inspired by the International Style that was soon adopted by government housing programs as a way to stay on trend and save money at the same time. However, it failed to speak to the desires of the end users.

Now let me contradict myself a little. Apple was trying to get into the home market at least since the release of the Macintosh, but they never really dominated that market until after the iMac. Why is that? The first iMac was built to a lower spec, and the design certainly aimed at reducing offense. Instead of hard edges and NASA beige, it came in a plump candy colored package.

I think it’s more than reducing offense though, it is speaking to the desires of your target market. A few years ago, I went to buy my first longboard. I was mostly concerned about the mechanical aspects of it, how I felt while standing on it, and how it handled. I had never boarded before, so it was all new to me, and I’m a naturally cautious shopper. However, after learning to ride, I’ve realized there is hardly any difference between the boards. I realized that if I were to buy a second board, I would base my decision purely on how the aesthetics of the board speak to me.

I have a feeling many markets including consumer electronics, home appliances, sports equipment, and transportation weigh heavily on how the aesthetics speak to the end user. I’ve talked with a couple design directors that really wanted to know what I thought of this question because they were in markets where consumers would make a split second decision of whether to buy their product or the competitor’s product base on their impression of some aesthetic or mechanical feature.

I talk about this all the time with clients. To provoke love, you also have to provoke hate. To create something that is universally loved is not really possible. Not immediately. That usually happens over time, the Eames barks lounger took time. To create something that has an immediate cult following you have to probably also be comfortable with some people really not liking it. And that is OK. If your business plan requires you to capture 10% of a market, it literally means that 90% of people can hate it… as long as they are not the demo/psychographic you are targeting… realistically you want a lot more balance.

The Pontiac Aztec provoked a lot of feelings, almost all negative. You can probably more realistically shoot for 20% of people loving it, 10% of people hating it, and the rest being distributed in a nice bell curve in-between. The key if for the right type of people to really be attracted to it?

So, to refine the question. How do you get the right people to be attracted you your design.

First, who are those people and how do you define them? Are they the typical consumer of the brand you are working on or a new consumer you hope to pull away from a competitor. Study them. Do they shop in the retail channels you primarily do business (if not, it gets harder, no matter the design). Do they trust your brand (if not it gets harder, no matter what the design)? What are the other things in their life? What are the priorities in their life? What are the things they aspire to?

Once you understand the target person, you can start to build an aspirational persona and build a world of other products they have and desire. Analyze those products. Are they functional or emotional buys? What about them makes them desirable to the persona? Build a list of design principles all of these products obey.

Now, you can start exploring and evaluating design directions based on those design principles.

It is not a precipice science, it doesn’t work all of the time… and there are many other factors that influence success like brand perception, retail distribution (even if you are in the store, are you in front? on a display? How does that look and work?), marketing spend (does anybody even know this exists?)… but, doing this work at least gives you more of a chance, and the confidence the organization needs to take a risk.

I find otherwise you are trying to a shoot a moving target with a blindfold on… and it becomes very easy for the company to decline making more progressive solutions because they don’t have the mental framework to see anything but risk.

In the end, people want to join something they can believe in, agents of change, and then take the journey.
So if a brand steps up with a new approach or philosophy that appeals to a specific group of people and has deep impact, it is likely to stay even if in the beginning the steps are hard. The story is paramount, then design is the part of communicating the vision and making the ideal tangible. Apple’s success was always in perfecting all aspects of a product, and putting the end user central. Left alone the business approach, I have always enjoyed their aesthetics and user interaction and hope they continue expanding on that with breakthrough innovations.

Design Research and Design Thinking have become so important, I feel like I have forgotten the essence of what it means to be a designer. I am just as excited about the advancement of our field as anybody else, but I feel like I’ve forgotten the language of our founding. A pet peeve of mine is when people talk disparagingly about “reskinning” a product. I believe and hope that there are meaningful and complex reasons as to why the appearance of a “skin” of an object can make all the difference. There is something more about the intuition and eye of a designer in the process. Maybe it’s something right under my nose that is already absolutely apparent. I’m probably preaching to the choir on this, but consider this question -

Through design research, designers learn about the target market and hopefully find insights that weren’t noticed before. However, going back to the first iMac, do you think Apple designers actually found in their research that people wanted a lollipop(jk) for a computer? I don’t think they did, I think they realized the mass market they were shooting for wanted something more fashion forward, more inline with lifestyle brands, maybe even more colorful, but how did they know this form was the most desirable form that embodies all that understanding?

How come it didn’t end up with a colorful version of this? Would this have revolutionized the industry and taken the consumer market brand language with it?

How did they know it needed to look like this to be desirable?

This is a forum, so hopefully nobody cares if I keep complicating this topic, but I have a tangential question…

Is there an object that no matter the function, people desire it simply because of the form and aesthetic beauty?

The only thing I can think of right now is actual plant-life - flowers, trees, and such. My wife doesn’t care if flowers clutter up her counter space and do absolutely nothing, other than look pretty. In fact, there have been studies that concluded environments that include plant-life will improve the psychology of the people interacting in that environment. Even if the plant life is nothing more than elaborate wallpaper.

There are desires being met by these objects, and I’m going to find out what they are and how to design for them. (yeah, I probably already learned all this in school, but maybe I can find new insights by re-examining)

Don’t confuse research with validation. If they tested the iMac design in focus groups and surveys I’m sure it would have done poorly. I think those kinds of design validation exercises tend to dilute products and confidence. But if they took the time to study the core Mac user, what their interests and tastes were, I think they could feel confident that something bold was the right fit, especially adding in the context that at that time, Apple was tine, with a hard core following of mainly creatives. Compound that with being on the verge of going out of business and needing something that would capture mind share as much as market share, and it was the right decision… design research doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to be a 6 month, multi-million dollar exercise. It can be a couple of weeks of guerrilla interviews, intercepts, and trend scrapes… and of course it is easy to justify the iMac in hind sight. It also takes a leader who believes in the brand to make decisions like that.

How about this…why does EVERYTHING on the LeManoosh blog make me drool with desire?

I just read the article about the beautiful chair by Benjamin Hubert on Core77. No mention of the delicious way the chair back curves into the seat, the soft finish, or elegant stance of the legs - just the story of the materials. I remember as a freshman in design school, seniors telling me that by the time I graduated, I would need to be able to explain the reason for every curve of my design. Do designers really do this? Do we even have the language to do this?

It’s ok, you can tell me just stick around and read up on what everybody is talking about :slight_smile:

Yeah so you want people to desire your products, to have a certain bond or attachment with them.
Aesthetics is one factor, and the other one is meaning / a story they get involved in. A product simply fits a person on a feeling-level, it resonates and interacts involving the right emotions, thoughts and lifestyle surrounding the product experience, or it doesn’t. Then there are models of emotion and human values that can help in discerning what type of product design intention will fit the market.
For a start you can read a few groundwork papers by Pieter Desmet in Delft. Ruth Mugge is another researcher who is more of this time perhaps and focuses on the role of personalization in how it affects the product-person fit.

I love this question. It’s so broad that it’s hard to answer. But I’ll take a swing:

Physical products communicate to us. The fingerprints of the designer and the manufacturer are all over them. The product may communicate “Fun!” or “Serious.” or “boring…” or whatever, but everything you can see communicates an emotion or thought. Going back to the iMac analogy above, the shiny blue iMac says many things, two of them are: “Different and Simple”. Its blue color is “different” than the beige boxes that were prevalent and it’s “simple” because it was one monitor/computer instead of a discrete monitor and computer.

So how does this relate to desire? When a person buys something they are fulfilling a need/want. Do you want a desk lamp that’s clean and orderly, or do you want one that is hip and expressive? Do you want something that with a specific color-temperature? Do you want something that’s easy to adjust? The customer might not even know themselves. The customer will purchase whichever product fulfills what they want.

However, for many product categories, the products all physically say the same thing. Most power tools communicate a similar level of “rugged.” Most phones communicate a similar level of “simple.” When all the products are physically saying the same thing, then a customer decides what they are buying based on branding/features/software, etc.

And there is no hierarchy here. Desire for the physical object doesn’t always drive the decision making. Someone may desire a trusted brand over a superior feature set or physical design. They may desire a certain feature that trumps brand/design. A physically compelling design doesn’t always translate into a purchase.