Product Design & Development: A Complete 2024 Guide

Product Design
Product Design & Development: A Complete 2024 Guide
Article by Jelena Relić
Last Updated: March 28, 2023

Design and development are two key roles necessary to create any product.

After talking to the experts at Delve and doing extensive research on product design vs. product development, we identified the core differences between the two. Aside from making the distinction, we will also explore how each role works in unison to bring a product from concept to market.

From start to finish, each phase of the product's lifecycle needs careful coordination between these two disciplines for a successful outcome.

What is Product Design?

Product design is the process of creating and developing a product, including its aesthetics, functionality, usability and ergonomics. No matter the type of product design you have in mind, the process consists of several key stages, which we will discuss later in this article.

Working with engineering teams to develop product prototypes that match the customer's requirements or industry standard is essential in product design. To ensure all requirements are met, the product designer has to work on visualizing ideas, sketches or illustrations, building physical models for user testing or working with CAD programs to illustrate 3D designs.

“At its most basic level, a product is a solution that’s sold to fulfil a need.” says Dave Franchino, President of the leading product design and innovation agency Delve.

However, to fulfil a need, successful product design requires an eye for detail and an understanding of how people interact with objects. To achieve this, you have to keep up with the latest product design trends while following the core product design principles.

With so many responsibilities and even more expectations, many businesses nowadays choose to outsource product design.

If you choose to hire a third-party product design firm, they can help you come up with an effective product design strategy, ensuring all product design ideas are brought to life, ultimately supporting your business’s bottom line.

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What Is Product Development?

Product development is a multi-stage process of creating, designing and bringing new products to the market. It can refer to the development of physical products, such as consumer goods or industrial products, or digital products development, such as software or mobile applications.

Successful product development requires collaboration between different teams, including product management, design, engineering, marketing and sales, among others. The goal is to create products that are functional, user-friendly and meet the needs of the target market.

The product development process consists of activities such as materials selection, tooling and manufacturing processes, safety assessments, cost analyses, life-cycle management and usability studies.

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Product Design vs. Product Development: 7 Key Differences

Product design and product development are often seen as two sides of the same coin as they contribute to the process of bringing a new product to market. Both roles overlap each other, but they have their own distinct set of challenges in bringing a new product to market:

  1. Product design focuses on creating the aesthetic elements of the product, such as its shape, size, color and texture, while product development is primarily concerned with ensuring its functionality and usability.
  2. Product design involves creating sketches or prototypes from which to work from, but product development requires detailed technical drawings and specifications for each element of the finished item.
  3. The designing process often includes testing the product on users or through surveys; product development, on the other hand, involves extensive prototyping and rigorous quality assurance procedures.
  4. When it comes to the end user experience, design helps convey brand messaging while developing facilitates optimum performance capabilities.
  5. In terms of cost-effectiveness, product design can help reduce unnecessary costs by streamlining the manufacturing processes, while proper development makes products more cost-effective due to better use of resources such as time and materials.
  6. From a scalability point of view, product design helps make products easily scalable for upgradation or customization purposes, while development helps ensure that production is increased without compromising on quality standards.
  7. Both processes require different kinds of skill sets: designers need creative thinking abilities while developers need technical knowledge and analytical skills.

In a nutshell, product development is a much broader process than product design as it dives deeper into the nuts and bolts of how a product functions, starting from ideation to manufacturing and marketing.

10 Stages of Product Design

The product design process involves a wide range of tasks before the product is ready to be launched on the market for consumers to purchase:

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Defining the product
  3. Executing the user research
  4. Sketching
  5. Prototyping
  6. Specifications compilation
  7. Getting the factory samples ready
  8. Testing the samples
  9. Starting the development/production process
  10. Assuring quality

7 Stages of Product Development

The product development process differs from one industry to the next, but it essentially comes down to:

  1. Idea generation
  2. Market research
  3. Planning
  4. Prototyping
  5. Sourcing
  6. Estimating costs
  7. Marketing

3 Product Design Best Practices to Follow In 2023

Delve outlined some key best practices that can help brands of all sizes, industries and incomes design and develop a product that will resonate with their target demographic successfully.

1. Determine the Rationale and Realities of the Product

Before you pull the trigger and start designing your new product, take the time to understand what your product should look like logistically.

What will it solve for users? How will you create it? What features does it need? How much will it truly cost you to produce?

According to Delve, successful product design sits at the elusive intersection of “feasible,” “desirable” and “viable,” with the end-user at the center.

“Feasible” means the idea is technically possible, it works safely and effectively and can be mass-produced reliably and economically.

“Desirable” looks at the user experience and whether the concept truly fills a need for the consumer and has legs from marketing, sales, and usability perspective.

Finally, there’s “viability,” which means evaluating what will be necessary for business success, such as market size and pricing.

Of course, each of these pillars of product design are interconnected and balancing all of these considerations is critical to success. For instance, a personal jetpack might be technically feasible and desirable to end users, but if they’re only willing to pay $200 for it and it costs $500 to manufacture, it’s going to fail.

“At Delve, one of our primary techniques to strike the right balance is using multidisciplinary teams that come at a challenge from multiple angles,” says Franchino. “We also use rapid prototyping to iterate and pressure test ideas through all three lenses (Feasible, Viable and Desirable) to gain valuable early feedback that helps direct the development process.”

2. Create a Relationship with the Product End Users

It is also crucial for brands to build a close-knit relationship with the consumers who will be using the product. This will help them understand which features consumers really desire and have a better grasp on the market, ensuring that they create products that are truly helpful and find success quickly.

“Develop an intimate relationship with the end users of your products – and don’t be overly distracted by the people indirectly interacting with your products such as distributors and sales. They are crucial to your success but not sufficient to drive innovation,” advises Franchino. “Instead, keep your focus on the end user because lasting success involves deeply understanding their needs. You also need to be able to clearly articulate your product’s value proposition in a meaningful and differentiating way.”

Plus, as we mentioned above, product design always involves trade-offs. Brands need concrete processes in place to navigate them effectively, because elements such as risk, price, features, function, time to market and other items need to be balanced strategically in order to pull off a successful product design project.

3. Understand Your Brand, Your Mission and Your Place in the Market Thoroughly

Although not exclusively, many of the world’s best brands are built by products. And a product is one of the most intimate connections a user can have with a brand, according to Delve. However, it is also one of the least curated, meaning you can shape the experience quite a bit, but total control is unlikely.

So, before you launch a product design project, it’s important to truly understand the role, power, and value of your brand. Does the product you’re considering fit your brand’s job and your customer base?

“Throughout development, it’s important to understand the appeal of your brand and make sure the product mirrors those qualities through visual brand language for physical products, interaction design for digital, and service design,” shares Franchino. “And, of course, the overall experience needs to be designed to reinforce your customers’ positive view of your brand.”

4. Figure Out the Relation Between Design Thinking and Product Design

You may have heard about a process called “design thinking” in passing – particularly when people discuss product design. So, how do these two ideas relate?

“Design thinking represents a really powerful and structured methodology for attacking product design where there’s not one single correct solution,” says Franchino.

Essentially, design thinking is a way of viewing a project from the consumers’ perspective – whether that’s designing a new product, overhauling business operations, developing a marketing campaign, or something else.

This shifted point of view aims to naturally place a higher emphasis on user experience and functionality. When executed properly, it results in successful campaigns and products.

“Design thinking involves a discovery phase where the designer intentionally tries to distance herself from preconceived notions and look from a fresh perspective. The process supports recognizing the possibilities to reframe a challenge – that we might not be thinking of solving the right problem,” says Franchino. “Reframing can lead to innovative solutions that are more meaningful to users. The next steps in the methodology involve a rapid succession of ideation, prototyping, and testing with users to quickly iterate concepts. This is how we bridge the gap between the great idea and producing the reality.”

If you’re thinking of testing out product design within your business, stepping into the design thinking process listed below could help you release a better, more well-rounded product on the first try.

  • Empathize – what are your users’ pain points?
  • Define – what is the problem you want to solve?
  • Ideate – what features and functionalities will solve the problem?
  • Prototype – build the product.
  • Test – does the product work well? Make adjustments and continue testing until it’s ready for market!

5. Measure the Success of Product Design

No matter what product you design – whether it’s digital or tangible or anything in between – you can measure its success and determine if you created a product that is beneficial to your target audience. But it takes an ongoing commitment.

“To succeed over time, it’s critical to stay in touch with your users,” shares Franchino. “Be willing to bypass the traditional channels, such as distribution and sales numbers, and figure out how your products are truly resonating with the users that buy them.”

Franchino states that communicating with customers may require some formal effort, particularly through ethnography and observational research.

And unfortunately, the expensive realities of re-tooling and manufacturing changes make physical product development after launch more difficult.

The automotive industry is a great example of this in action. They addressed the need for change and evolution through vehicle model updates – every three years, there’s a refresh and every six years there’s a major redesign.

It is much easier to change digital products after launch to improve the experience, Franchino says.

Brands can also use a tool called “road mapping” to help a product evolve to continually meet users’ needs.

“Road mapping involves having a vision and planning for how your product evolves over time – features, functions, tooling, and manufacturing by understanding the need to update products,” says Franchino. “For a company like Tesla, it involves keeping the bulk of the physical end of the product the same but updating the digital experience. It feels like the product is new again without trading out the physical design.”

Finally, successful product design is a team sport and requires not just great products but distribution, sales, support, advertising, marketing, and other assistance. It’s not just a one-department job. In the digital world, products need the support of several teams across many departments in order to thrive in the commercial ecosystem.

For instance, according to Delve, packaging is often an important part of the process for many products. Thus, testing it right along with the product can make for a better product experience.

Additionally, marketing departments should be consulted early in the product design process to ensure that they fully understand the product, are on the same page, and are enthusiastic about promoting it.

“Many great products wither on the vine because they lacked organizational and marketing support,” warns Franchino. But this can be avoided with strategic collaboration from the get-go.

Why Is Product Design Important?

Businesses that invest in design can achieve much in return. For starters, they generate 32% more revenue and 56% more shareholder returns, on average.

Looking at the bigger picture, product design is essential to business success as it:

  • Reduces development costs
  • Enhances brand identity and recognition
  • Helps identify customer needs and preferences
  • Creates competitive advantage over competitors
  • Attract new customers while retaining existing ones
  • Allows companies to respond quickly to market changes
  • Reduces time and effort required for product development cycles
  • Provides feedback on product development from the users’ perspective
  • Creates opportunities for collaboration with partners and affiliates in the marketplace
  • Increases user satisfaction rates by creating easy-to-use and aesthetically pleasing products

Why Is Product Development Important?

Product development is an important part of any business’s success and involves the complete lifecycle of a product, from ideation and research to launch and marketing. As such, it is essential as it helps businesses:

  • Encourage creativity and collaboration among team members
  • Identify new opportunities in the market and stay competitive
  • Boost revenue by introducing value-added services
  • Stay ahead of the competition
  • Enable efficient market entry
  • Build customer loyalty
  • Refine their products
  • Grow
Why is design thinking critical for business growth?

3 Top Examples Of Product Design In Action

These are some of Delve’s most successful product design and development projects:

A continuous glucose management (CGM) system tracks Type 1 diabetes

1. The Dexcom G6

Delve worked with Dexcom to design a continuous glucose management (CGM) system.

This product tracks and provides important data that helps people with Type 1 diabetes better manage their condition, which can ultimately prevent complications and prolong lives.

“The process of applying the sensor used to be scary and painful,” says Franchino. “But we worked closely with Dexcom and users to design a one-button, quick and painless application.”

2. The Ascender from Ciari Guitars

"A cool-looking travel guitar that fits into a backpack that can be easily stowed in an overhead airplane bin was the dream of an entrepreneur,” shares Franchino. “The engineering that Delve executed – which involved in folding a guitar in half without it completely going out of tune – was tough enough, but we also had to consider the aesthetics, the physical feel of the guitar, and its manufacturability at a price point that would be appealing to musicians."

Digital Product Design SafetyNet Design Concepts

3. SafetyNet

Of course, digital platforms can comprise product design as well. Delve collaborated with SafetyNet to create a direct-to-consumer payment security insurance product.

This product filled the need for working-class people who worry about the ability to pay their bills should they lose their job, get sick or injured.

This was a crucial niche to fill, as around 40% of Americans currently can’t come up with $400 to cover an emergency expense.

Product Design vs. Product Development: Key Takeaways

Product design and development are essential parts of many businesses' revenue models. Whether it is a tangible item or a digital platform, modern brands need to build custom products that captivate consumers and facilitate growth.

By following the basic tenets of proper product design and development – identifying goals, learning what consumers want, building user-friendly products that achieve objectives and marketing them the right way – businesses like yours will be sure to find long-term success in the market.

Are you seeking a product design agency to build your next great idea? Contact Delve for a custom quote HERE.

Product Design vs Product Development FAQs

Is product design part of product development?

Yes, product design is one of the many parts of product development. Product design teams usually work with development teams to ensure that the product meets its quality expectations while still being cost-effective to manufacture. Furthermore, it is essential for product designers to remain engaged throughout development so they can provide guidance or troubleshoot any issues that arise during the build process.

What comes first, design or development?

Generally, product design comes first as it helps developers understand what they are building and how it fits into the customer’s expected use cases. It also gives them the information needed to create a precise development plan that can be used as the foundation for their work.

Simply put, a well-designed product is much easier to develop.

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