Product Design

Oct. 23, 2018

/ product design

Recipe for a successful (digital) product

Maria Borowy

If you are an entrepreneur, startup founder or person who just came up with an idea for a new product or business I have bad news for you. Looking at the statistics, there is about 10 - 35% chance (depending on the source of data) your product will happily succeed. What to do to create a digital product that will be lucky? First of all, read this article.

Is there a recipe for a successful business? Probably not. But we can learn from famous products failures and try to avoid common mistakes. Let's look at some examples.

History of the Colt Walker

Samuel Colt invented a weapon that could fire up to 5 bullets without reloading. He believed in the success of this revolutionary product. In 1838 he had started mass production in New Jersey and had planned to sell guns to the army, but in 1842 the factory was closed and Samuel went bankrupt. Probably nobody would have ever heard about Colt again, but a few pieces of that gun somehow had reached the Wild West. It turned out that rangers found Colt’s weapon very useful in a fight against Comanches, who were native Americans that learned to ride a horse and were very skilled at using bows. Rangers used Colts to gain the advantage in a confrontation with arrows shooted one by one by Comanches. Samuel Colt heard about that story and met with Samuel Walker, a lieutenant and one of the rangers. Walker shared feedback with Colt about what was problematic while using the gun in the battle, for example, too high weight and too short barrel. Based on that Colt designed and produced a new version of the pistol. Then that became well-known Colt Walker, that made his creator one of the richest men in the USA at that time. This gun itself is now one of the iconic artifacts.

Lesson to learn: 

  • Invest time and money in research. 
  • Test your products with end users. 
  • Find (define) the target group - design products that respond to users needs. 

Famous products failers

Of course, not everybody is lucky enough. History of business has lessons to teach us about mistakes and fails. Failure can hit everybody - small businesses, startup founders as well as big companies. Here you have just a few stories.

Ford Edsel

The first example I want to describe is the famous failure of Ford Edsel. This model of Ford car was trumpeted as a car of the future:


But in fact, it didn’t succeed, and the company lost $350 million. Why? Because despite the research the car was built without confrontation with clients opinion. In other words, creators didn’t use the results of research in the designing process. The new car was launched when the recession began and it was simply too expensive. In addition, it was full of technical flaws. Moreover, designers focused on the aesthetics at the expense of the usability and technical constraints. 

Lesson to learn: 

  • Not only do research but use the results while working on the product and marketing campaign. Take your ego out of it and confront your ideas with customers/users.
  • Aesthetics could not have a significantly negative effect on usability. 
  • Think about the selling strategy before the development process. 

Google glass

Google glass was a very innovative project and had a big buzz around during its development. Eventually, there were no people who wanted to wear it. This is a good example of the product, which from a technical point of view, is really innovative and interesting but not confronted with a reality. That would be enough if this was a scientific experiment, but google glass was supposed to be a commercial project. What was missing here was users’ feedback collected before the development. After spending a lot of money and time, creators discovered that people don’t want to wear their product and don’t feel comfortable with them. In their opinion, the design was not enough “stylish” to treat glasses as a part of the outfit. There was also a lot of controversy about privacy matters.

Lesson to learn: 

  • Understanding the end users needs, fears and motivations is crucial.
  • The appearance of the product has a strong impact on how the user will perceive it. When you work on more “personal” objects, the aesthetic aspect is much more significant.  
  • The fact that you can do it doesn’t mean that somebody will need it (pay for it). It can’t be the only reason to start working on the new product.

Google +

Facebook was a big winner on the social media market in 2011. Google was concerned about its market position and decided to launch its version of a social channel. They even had tried to differentiate from the competitors by introducing “circles”, groups among the friends. But most of the people already had been using Facebook and not many were interested in a new solution, especially that their friends had no profiles on Google Plus. Google plus didn’t offer any additional value, any different experience (such as image content in Instagram case). Now Google + is in the process of shutting down for consumers. It will be still used by businesses as an internal network. They find their proper niche at last.

Lesson to learn: 

  • If you want to build a product that already exists on the market, find the niche, the need of users that is not covered. Think about how you convince people to use your product instead of current solutions. Or find people who are unhappy with products available on the market and build something for them.

Windows Vista

A Microsoft’s product that will be remembered throughout history as the least user-friendly operating system. There was a big resistance among companies to replace the previous version Windows XP, because of the software incompatibility and the number of bugs. Many organizations and private users decided to wait for the next release and skip Vista.

Lesson to learn: 

  • Invest in good product design process that includes usability tests.
  • Quality of the product has also impact on its usability and user satisfaction. You can't convince somebody to use your product if it is full of bugs.

Colgate's Kitchen Entrees

In 1982 Colgate introduced a grocery product - “Colgate’s Kitchen Entrees” frozen dinners. The biggest mistake was that they used the brand “Colgate”, that was associated with toothpaste and oral care. And guess what? People didn’t buy it.   

Lesson to learn: 

  • The brand, name and all the look and feel must fit the product. Once again: validate your ideas. Do research. 

Ingredients for the successful products

Let’s summarise lessons learned. Below you can find the list of elements of the Successful Product Design process:

  • Research! Good insight and validation of the product idea are crucial. Confront your opinion with the results and be open even to big changes in main assumptions.
  • Define users of your product. Find the main target that you will focus on. Remember that it’s impossible to build a product for everyone. It has to be tailored to the right group.
  • Product matched with users needs. Customers pay only for things that ease their pain or give them pleasure. Find that pain and offer a remedy. 
  • Focus on usability tests and feedback. Learn about user experience or hire experienced UX Designer to make the product easy to use and goal oriented (focused on the main goal ex. sales, downloading of the files, smooth processes).  
  • Marketing and sales strategy. Think about the business model that fits you best. How will you communicate with clients? How eagerly will users pay for the service or product?
  • Identify competitive advantage. How to convince clients to the product? Can you offer something that your competitors don’t have yet? 
  • Look and feel. The image must correspond with the product category and price. Clients will have an opinion about your product in the first seconds. Give them the right impression and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Quality of the product is the key. The quality is a crucial aspect of the usability of the product, especially if you offer paid service or expensive product. Investing in Quality Assurance tests is a good idea then.
  • The right time to launch. Choose wisely when your product will be introduced to users. Are people, technology, infrastructure, and legislation ready for your product now?
  • A little bit of Luck ;)

Most of the biggest failures happened because of the lack of proper research and because of the big ego of the creators or owners who believed that they know better. As you can see, without analysis of users’ needs, a context of usage and market research you risk a lot. While creating new products both digital and physical, you should be aware not only about the costs of development but also collect money and reserve time for analysis. Otherwise, all your money spent on the development is nothing else than gambling. 

If you are not experienced in creating digital products or services, don’t worry. Our team can help you conduct research and design the solution. Drop us a line and ask about product design workshops

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