Lessons from a founder: tips for successful product design

Coming up with an idea for a product is the easy bit - it's the designing of it that can be a complicated and costly process. At a recent ideaSpace event four founders offered their insights on how you can build a successful product that your customers are going to love...

Igor Drokov, CEO and Co-Founder of Anidium, a medical technology/digital health startup (based at ideaSpace West). Previously, Igor designed and delivered consumer electronics products to millions of online banking customers worldwide.

  • If you’ve never been involved in product design, Dieter Rams ‘Ten principles for good design’ is a great place to start.
  • It’s never too early to think about manufacturing. The cost of change increases significantly once a product enters transfer to manufacture, so design with the manufacturing process in mind. Igor has many examples of when component decisions in the design phase had to be re-visited during transfer to manufacture, which could have been avoided by giving it more consideration earlier in the design process. 
  • You need a ‘Jony Ive’.Designing a product requires a multitude of decisions and trade-offs. You need someone to understand the trade-offs and make decisions at a system level, looking at the whole picture. If you haven’t got someone else to do that, it has to be you.

Sebastian Concha, Founder of Naif, offering flower infused drinks to the retail sector (based at ideaSpace City).

  • When it comes to food and drink, don’t believe market research. After exhaustive consumer research, Sebastian learnt that:
    • What you like is not what people like
    • What experts like is not what people like
    • What people claim to like is not what people like to buy!
  • Find the sweet spot between what’s already on the market and what’s outside the average person’s comfort zone. In food and drink, people tend to be much more conservative than consumer research might suggest – perhaps as a result of a primitive survival instinct to avoid the dangerous unknown. So, if you base designs on consumer research, there is the risk you may overreach in terms of how far away a product is from the ‘norm’. The trick is to develop a product that is unique but within the limits of someone’s comfort zone. 
  • If nothing else, consumer research does appeal to your investors. It may not prove all that useful when it comes to designing the product itself, but it will serve to substantiate your business plan. 

Richard Blakesley, Co-Founder of The Wand Company, producing fantasy and science fiction props incorporating advanced electronics (based at ideaSpace City). 

  • Agile methodologies don’t work in hardware. For Richard, the minimum viable product idea doesn’t work for hardware – it takes considerable effort and expense to get a product to market and most start-ups can’t afford to have another go if customers don’t like it. It has to be right first time.
  • Know your customer and build something authentic that people are going to love. You have to understand your customer before you can design for them and Richard mentioned some well-known and some less orthodox ways of how The Wand Company research their customers. 
  • Support directly and personally. Honest and personalised customer service, both pre and post-sale, can turn a customer with a problem into an advocate, so it’s worth investing in.
  • Design for the whole ownership experience. Richard is an advocate for designing for the whole ownership experience. Spending time on creating nice images and packaging is all part of the design so that in the first 5 minutes of purchase, the customer knows they have made a good choice.
  • If you’re a start-up, tell your story. People like to support start-ups, so if you have an interesting story- tell it. 

Bill Budenberg of Zantiks, offering a range of products for measuring the behaviour of model organisms (based at ideaSpace South).

  • Software can be updated, but the hardware has got to be right first time. Zantiks’s products combine both hardware and software. Bill’s approach is to make sure the hardware is absolutely right before it hits the market, whereas the software can be continuously updated with relative ease. Like Richard, Bill does not subscribe to the minimum viable product idea for paying customers. The reason for this is less about the cost of manufacture, but more to do with ensuring customers receive a higher quality product they are happy with, and in turn, Zantiks spend less resource on customer support. 
  • Minimum viable products can be useful for product testing. Bill has given MVP versions of his units to labs for free so they can be tested. This close collaboration with researchers, as opposed to market research or surveys, provides a true user experience and valuable feedback which can be used to build a better product.

If you would like to find out more about ideaSpace events or becoming a member, please email info@ideaspace.cam.ac.uk.

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