Reflection Point: Product Design

“Good design is like a refrigerator — when it works, no one notices, but when it doesn’t, it sure stinks.” -Irene Au

Chances are, when you hear the term “product” you think of a physical item, the culmination of a process, or the tangible things that you use on a day to day basis. You might think of good or bad products that you’ve used before — those windshield wipers that didn’t work, the cleaning solution that removes any stain, the phone that you can’t keep your eyes off of. It is easy to use a product and decide in an instant whether it is right or absolutely wrong for you. So what is it that causes you to make that choice? What makes a product good, or even great?

The products that we use to solve our everyday problems can have both tangible and intangible qualities. The iPhone I use allows me to be in contact with my family, friends, and coworkers. But that iPhone also serves a social purpose — which is why me and many others want to buy and show off the newest model, with the newest technology. Personally, it is the intangible qualities that tend to attract my eye to a new product — hence the danger of personalized social media ads to my bank account. But, in the end it is how that product lives up to my daily use that really makes it shine. It is the to-go cup on my personal blender that makes that “just right” amount of smoothie, it is the public library app that sends my e-books directly to my e-reader with one click — it is those little things that make life just a bit easier.

It wasn’t until I started learning about product design through my coursework at Designlab that I realized how many products I engage with on a daily basis. How every experience I have of a “thing” likely took hours, days, and weeks of a designer’s time to research, build, and iterate on. Product design is the ultimate creative problem solving exercise, it is thinking of not only how the user experiences the good parts of a product, but how they engage with the errors, the “forgot passwords,” the small little pieces of an item or technology that might cause them some friction.

In my journey to learn product design, I find that I am more aware each day of how tangible and intangible products shape my habits, and the habits of those around me. Whether good or bad, I know that I would be hard-pressed to be without my phone, or my MacBook because of all the ways they allow me to work, live, and learn about the world around me. What a different world it would be if there wasn’t an app or website that spoke to every aspect of our lives.

Now, whether or not I hate or love the products that I use everyday, I know that there is a person, or a team of people behind that product. It might even be a team of budding designers like me, who are still learning, but nonetheless, eager to champion the needs of all kinds of users and find solutions to their big problems. Because we all know that as long as we have problems, we will always have creative and exciting new products to build.

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