Product Design

Revised 2018.02.20

Functional Description, Idealism, Possibility Frontier

Great products are designed to do something useful with the best combination of possible trade-offs. The principles of product design are relevant across all general interactive concepts such as services, systems, and skills.

The functional description is a general summary of what a product is supposed to do and the conditions under which those features are valuable. For example, tables are passive platforms that hold objects higher than the floor because the human body is more comfortable looking at things closer to head height and grabbing objects closer to waist height. The functional description is useful because it clarifies the scope and rationale of the core design, setting initial constraints for the convergent development process and considering the real needs of different application environments.

Idealism is about understanding what makes a product excellent. Specific ideal considerations ride upon the general design framework provided by the functional description. For example, ideal tables would have adjustable heights because humans have varying heights. Futuristically, an ideal table would have passive space-warping properties that cause the sight and reach of a resting object to be at different adjustable heights for different people at the same time.

The possibility frontier is the set of all options in the balance of design and action. It is bound by time, cost, technological dependencies, and other real-world constraints. The exploration of this frontier is guided by idealism applied on the functional description. For instance, a good design may be mass-produced within a year using immediately available materials, while an excellent design may be possible after 2 years of waiting for the mass production of a recently discovered material. The possibility frontier is where the product development process overlaps the practical rigors of business and economics.

Common Ideal Properties

Product properties involve intrinsic form (ex. small, light-weight), internal operation (ex. reliable), external emission (ex. quiet), production economics (ex. affordable), user interaction (ex. convenient), environmental interaction (ex. durable, versatile), functional risk (ex. tested), and functional completeness (ex. transportable, recyclable).

Reliable products continue to work after prolonged use in extreme applications. Reliable designs generally use simple mechanisms with long-lasting materials. Vulnerable parts are shielded, such as with plastic encapsulation for integrated circuits. External parts are fixed in place, such as with split pins for industrial bolts.

Durable products resist breaking under extreme environmental conditions. Durable designs avoid or strengthen all weak points, such as upgrading plastic parts to metal ones. Some notable durability considerations include galvanic corrosion between dissimilar metals, seals exposed to harsh conditions, and vibrational effects on machine joints.

Convenient products are easy to use, hard to lose, and readily accessible in times of need. Aesthetically intuitive designs help first-time and returning users operate the product properly. One-piece and unified designs prevent the separation and loss of functional parts, such as with cars connected by straps to their gas caps. Low maintenance designs help the user keep the product in likely working condition.

Affordable products are inexpensive enough for the average customer in the market. Price barriers determine whether a target demographic can justify buying a product of even outstanding quality. A notable price barrier separates the market for individuals from the market for businesses. Fundamental innovations and design tradeoffs improve cost factors most effectively; consider the economical production of membrane keyboards, which are less performant yet markedly cheaper than their mechanical counterparts.

Versatile products solve problems in a variety of applications. Good versatile designs seek to mirror the reliability of its single-use substitutes as much as possible, sacrificing price and ease of maintenance instead.

Small products save space and fit in more places. Even when the product's function requires a large size, such as with a large dinner table, consider how to reduce the size of non-functional components, such as the table legs. Consumer products must be small enough to fit through a typical doorframe. Industrial products should be small enough to fit within a typical cargo trailer or box truck.

Light-weight products are easier to lift, hold, and operate. Light products are more practical to carry in pockets and backpacks; more safe to store in high and sloped locations. Light designs are more compatible as a module of a larger system. For instance, a camera-on-tripod assembly is easier to move across a filming site if the camera itself is light to start with; a robotic arm with a light end-effector has a higher maximum payload.

Quiet products can be used continuously without causing a distraction. Quiet designs are particularly important for applications requiring close human presence, such as with residential appliances. Other times, noise reduction is necessary for sensors to detect signals from a relevant source, such as with an airplane air leak. A quiet toolbox is designed with a quiet-impact material either built as its frame or padded on its closure contact area.

Tested products have run through simulations and real use experiences to pass all pre-defined requirements and common-sense expectations. Detailed tests bring confidence that reality will and does actually conform to the intentions of the design.