Why You Should Design Products for Yourself and No One Else

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Design for yourselfIf you’re interested in becoming an entrepreneur or an inventor and making money from something you thought of and designed then there is one thing you need above everything else before you can begin: an idea that you can work from. If you hope to make money from a product then of course you need to first design that product and this means coming up with something you know will sell and that fills a gap in the market. In other words, you need to know who you’re designing for and this will be a great place to start when you come up with your product.

The good news is though that this question shouldn’t be a hard one and if you want to design something that will be the best work you’re capable of and that will sell well then there’s only one audience you should consider – yourself.

That’s right – rather than looking at the biggest target demographic, or the demographic with the most dispensable income, you should think solely about what you want from a product and you should try to ‘scratch your own itch’. Here we’ll look at why.

Work With What You Know

If you were ever to write a book then a piece of advice you’d find often cropping up is to ‘write from experience’. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a science fiction novel unless you happen to live in the year 2050, it just means that if you want your book to have heart you should include a love story or a character arc you can relate to. This way it will be more real and you’ll be able to inject more heart and emotion into your story.

In a way, product design is the same. If you come up with a great product that could help the police force but you’ve never worked on the force yourself, then you’re likely to find that you make all kinds of mistakes and miss all kinds of important features without realising it. There might be laws or regulations that prevent your product from being viable, or you might overlook a design flaw that would make it impractical in the field.

Oculus Rift was built because their founder wanted to make it happen for himself

Oculus Rift was built because their founder wanted to make it happen for himself

By designing something that you need in your line of work, or for your daily routine, you can make sure that it exactly fits the specification and that it will be highly useful for people like you. This is also a perfect way to come up with ideas for products and inventions in the first place – you simply look at your daily routine and ask what would make life easier or more pleasant. Coming up with ideas for a lifestyle you don’t understand is of course a lot more difficult and impractical.

A great example of someone who scratched their own itch is Chase Jarvis, the owner of Creative Live. Having found that there was very little information available while he was trying to learn photography; Chase decided to create his own site to provide free tutelage and his passion and obvious enthusiasm helped it to really take off. The Oculus Rift which was recently bought by Facebook was built purely because Palmer Luckey had a thing for creating virtual reality headsets and was willing to put more time into the project than any other company as a result.

Validation

This then leads you on nicely to the next stage which is validation – very hard to do if you’ve designed something for runners but you’re a couch potato but much more practical if you happen to be a runner yourself. If you’re an entrepreneur then you won’t have access to structured focus groups, so running an alpha test yourself is the best option and this way you can iron out bugs and spot areas for improvement much more efficiently.

Extra Benefits

Of course one other reason to design for you is that it means you’ll be creating something useful that you can then use which is of course a huge benefit. Let’s say you create a device that helps you to complete your daily workload faster – this way even if it doesn’t sell you’ll still get to benefit from an optimised work routine and it will still save you money as a result. Alternatively even if it isn’t a productivity aid, you’ll at least get to enjoy the product (as well as the process of creating it) and this too means there’s no way it can be a completely ‘failure’.

Passion

Finally, by designing something that you understand and will be likely to worth with on a regular basis, you’ll be more likely to put more effort into its creation and much less likely to find yourself getting bored and giving up. If you can’t get passionate about your project then it will show in the final product – so work within your areas of interest and you’ll do much better work as a result.

What if You Can’t Choose?

But what if you can’t choose what you build? What if you are a manager in a wider corporation or you’re working for a client or in a B2B world that’s otherwise unfamiliar to you, and you’re forced to meet certain design specifications?

In that case you want to surround yourself with people who do know the subject and are passionate about that topic if possible. You can do this by hiring, but also by using focus groups, crowdsourcing and surveys. You also want to make sure you immerse yourself in that world as much as possible and learn everything you can about it, try using the products or services currently available and see where their weak points are. Try as well to find something to like about the product, even if it isn’t what would normally attract you.

But at the same time you need to ask what you can bring to the project: do you have particular skills or knowledge that you can use to make the product unique and give it an edge over the competition?

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  • Greg – thank you for the article, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with the approach you propose, and would really not recommend it to any budding product people.

    Wouldn’t this approach simply result in a product that is designed for a target market of one: you? How much of your own time, effort and money would you spend designing, building and testing something BEFORE you start to investigate whether there’s anyone else out there who shares your particular problem?

    If anything, your advice at the end of the article to immerse yourself in that world is what you should be doing first, before way before you start to pick up the tools. If at the very least you can confirm that the problem you have and want to solve is shared by others, then you’ll know there is some point to designing and building a solution.

    Similarly, you’re going to learn a great deal more by understanding the perspective of when, where, how and why others experience the problem, and more importantly whether it matters sufficiently to them that they’d be willing to part with hard cash to have someone else solve their problem for them.

    If they wouldn’t, then stop before you make a expensive mistake.

  • Norbert Mocsnik

    “There’s another way besides research, analytics & head-scratching to define a design problem: life experience. Immerse yourself in a domain.” — @rjs https://twitter.com/rjs/status/349259845364490240

  • Rasmus Goksor

    Interesting post but I believe the magic of product development is that products live in the minds of people. If you want to catalyst change, you need to have your customers join in your vision of change. This happens only when you meet your customers, share in their user experience of your product, and invite them to be part of the product. Read more here http://bit.ly/1mJHfIO

  • davidlocke

    What Greg is doing by serving himself is serving the geeks. Notice that Oculus Rift is not a consumer product. To become a consumer product, you have to serve others, rather than yourself.
    Software is a media. Thus, it has a carrier layer and a carried layer. Developers are carrier centric. They don’t have the skills to immerse themselves in a domain other than software and hardware. This is where products fall short today. Observing by ethnographers is professional. Observing by others is not. To immerse oneself in a domain doesn’t get the job done. The carried layer will be shorted by such observation, but less so than when serving ones self.
    A product gets a technology adopted. Each phase in Moore’s technology adoption lifecycle requires a different, and alternating focus on the media architecture. The tech enthusiasts are carrier focused. The early adopter is carried focused. The IT horizontal is carrier focused. The consumer is carried focused again. There is no one way that will work in all situations.

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