Product developers and designers bring new, exciting products to the market faster than ever before. However, the preoccupation with ‘new’ – technologies, materials, product categories – often comes at the cost of a poorer aesthetic appeal. But it shouldn’t – and it doesn’t have to.
Good product design is about functionality and form. But just as beautiful design doesn’t make a great product by itself, a one-sided pursuit for new functionality will often lead to missed opportunities – and, according to Henrik Jeppesen, Founding Partner at Attention, an inferior product:
“We’re seeing a massive focus on user experience, and that’s a good thing. Ironically, though, it’s often condensed to functional capabilities, more or less disregarding the visual and tactile experience inherent in any product design.”
Individual taste – a real thing or just an excuse?
With more than 25 years of experience in industrial design – from consumer products to industrial machinery – Henrik Jeppesen has discussed the value of better design countless times. And one of the recurring concepts he meets is the notion of ‘individual taste’.
“Individual taste is just that: Individual”, Henrik says. “You can’t claim to make informed design decisions based on individual taste – unless you’re developing the product for yourself or another specific individual. Of course, you can design for specific markets or audiences with different preferences. But then you base your design on research that is at least somewhat objective, instead of basing it on subjective taste”.
In Henrik Jeppesen’s experience, the reference to ‘taste’ is sometimes based on a misconception of what good product design is about. In other cases, it seems more like a bad excuse to not really put an effort into better design. Either way, it leads to inferior products – and, ultimately, missed opportunities.
Don’t reduce design to an add-on
According to Henrik Jeppesen, there’s also a tendency for some product developers to get caught up in some kind of ‘anti-design’ logic: “The reasoning sometimes seems to be that spending resources on creating a more aesthetically appealing design makes the product less honest – as if to hide flawed functionality”.
Shorter product life cycles and more frequent updates are also commonly used to argue that it’s not viable to allocate substantial resources for developing compelling product designs. But that’s just as flawed as the anti-design logic, Henrik Jeppesen explains:
“Both examples suggest that the aesthetic appeal of a product is basically an add-on to the actual product. And that kind of thinking is probably one of the biggest obstacles if your goal is to develop great products.”
To avoid that fallacy as a product developer, it’s necessary to treat design and visual appeal as an integrated part of the product development process: “If you don’t address aesthetics from early on, it’ll always appear like an add-on – and an added cost”, Henrik Jeppesen concludes.
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