Everyday people use hundreds of tools to complete daily tasks in both the physical and digital world. Each product we use has the potential to be something we cannot live without, however, very few live up to that potential. So what makes certain products perform a step above the rest? The secret is in designing with a perfect balance of functionality, beauty and emotion.
What makes a product functional?
First step is knowing who you are designing for. Do the research to find out who uses your product, where they use it and also how they use it. Many great products cleverly solve design problems that their competitors haven’t. If something is beautiful but is hard to use or of low quality, the product hasn’t achieved its full potential.
What makes a product beautiful?
Obsess over the small details. The best designed products are often perceived as simple ones. Even if the product is quite sophisticated, the users don’t need to know that. Users do not want to use complicated things even if what they are doing is complicated. The goal should be to create something that helps complete tasks efficiently and without frustration. Consider every part of the product itself and how it fits together. Consider every side of the product and each component as carefully as the others. For example, the bottom should be as beautiful as the rest of the product. Also consider how the product will fit into your user’s environment (where will it be kept? what other objects will it live beside?). Every individual piece of the product should feel intentional and enhance, not take away from the overall experience.
What makes a product emotional?
You may have the best product on the market to get the job done, but does it evoke positive emotions in your users? Making a purchase of a new product can be very personal. Users will shop for items which not only get the job done but also fit their personality, ethics, and environment. But how can a product evoke emotion and why does that matter? By using appropriate colours, textures, and sounds you can target the user’s emotional desires. Bright bold colours can make a boring action fun and exciting. A smooth seamless feel can make something feel expensive and slick. Deep rich sound evokes a feeling of quality and trust. Like the clothes we wear, the products we use outwardly reflect who we are and who we want to be perceived as by others.
Example 1 – Dyson Fan
The Dyson Cool Fan has not only solved many design flaws of the traditional portable fan, (loud, ugly, potentially dangerous), but has done so in a brilliant way. Not only is the fan safe and silent, it is beautifully designed making it not just a fan, but a showpiece in your home. It is also extremely user friendly and simple to use even though the technology it uses is very complex. Using simplified controls and limiting users’ options allows them to easily complete tasks and eliminates frustration.
Example 2 – Nest Compact Bowls
The nest compact bowls are so much fun and also extremely useful. Each bowl fits into each other perfectly, saving space and giving you a complete set of baking vessels making it easy and simple to find all the tools you need. Vibrant colours make mundane tasks of measuring “happy” and “easy”. These bowls have a simple, yet sophisticated shape elevating them above other typical bowl designs making them feel unique and special, using beauty and emotion to their advantage. Their design is highly functional by saving space in your cupboard and simplifying life: 1 set of measuring cups and 1 set of spoons.
Example 3 – Urbanears Headphones
At first glance the Urbanears headphones look like another stylish accessory but they are much more than that. With a simple balance of beauty and functionality Urbanears has created a product that is very stylish and easy to use. Like the nest bowls, these headphones use colour and shape to evoke an emotional response allowing users to buy a custom colour tailored to their own unique personality. Designed for use while on the go, they’ve built in features that help elevate the clunky nature of using big headphones while on the move. Some of their features include a washable headband, completely collapsible, swiping features to change music, the ability to plug in multiple headphones to one device and completely wireless.
Next time you design a new product or revive an existing one, ask yourself the following: Is it beautiful? Does it look intentional and is it something people will want to put in their homes or wear on their bodies? Is it emotional? Does it evoke the right emotions and connect with the user making it something they look forward to using? Is it functional? Does it do the job efficiently and a solve a major problem or problems?
What are some of your favourite products? What aspects of the product make it something you can’t live without?
Jessica Murray is a Visual Designer at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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