The Seven Deadly Sins of
Product Design

By Jack Lawson

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In the beginning...the design intent was clear and the project scope understood. But yea, soon the design begat a new design which then begat another which begat a whole new product and a darkness fell upon the faces of the design team. Lo, the prophets of marketing became anxious and waived their pre-printed brochures in distress. The disciples of sales called the design an abomination and wailed over commissions lost. The gods of management gnashed their teeth in anger as the budget runneth over and rained down a plague of interoffice memorandums upon the company. Sound familiar?

The design of a product is usually what defines it not only in functionality, but gives it its life, beauty, and meaning. However, sometimes during the design process something goes horribly wrong as if the product had become possessed by Murphy himself.

Below are the Seven Deadly Sins of Product Design that should be avoided in order to keep your design from becoming a disaster of biblical proportions:

  1. Tunnelvision - Meeting a need while creating another.

    Every good design meets a need or solves a problem. Sounds easy enough, but the catch is, you have to do it without creating another need or problem. Take, for example, a simple pair of pruning shears. Adding a safety lock definitely solves a potential problem. However, unless the user holds the shears a certain way, the lock slips into position and locks the shears, thus frustrating the user. Keep your eyes open for the effects of the design on the use of the product.

  2. Superficiality - Beautiful design, costly or impossible to produce.

    Anyone who has any interest in product design loves pie-in-the-sky brainstorming, where creativity, spontaneity and fluid thinking abound. It is fun to dream about the future of a product line and all of the "what's next" ideas. While this fun exercise is stimulating and thought provoking, you also have to keep your eye on the ball. Many product companies engage industrial design firms that are very successful with this approach, but have no engineering background or technical expertise. You end up spending your entire product development budget on great ideas that are either far too costly to bring to market or are not manufacturable as designed. Understand your resources and use them wisely.

  3. Imperceptiveness - Failing to design for the user or need.

    Products should be designed for the user. Consider ergonomics and human factors by studying how your product will be used in its intended environment. Do not assume you know what the user needs. Instead, talk to them to understand what works and what does not. Study how the user will interact with the product and note the amount of effort that may go into each use. This approach is particularly effective when redesigning a product or launching a competitive product to the market. The most successful product designs are the ones that the end user can admire for aesthetics, but not think to hard about how to use. Over-design will result in the consumer becoming frustrated and a product that is short lived. Keeping a design simple does not mean sacrificing creativity or coolness.

  4. Safety - Blending in

    Of course the world is full of knock off products, but if you are looking for the big win, make your product different. Give consumers something to tell their friends about. Before designing that new product, analyze the competition. Do some research to determine user likes and dislikes about the products they use and develop ways to make it better. Incorporate ideas and features from other industries to give your product a more innovative appeal. Look at industry trends and research to see how you can incorporate the "next big thing" into your product idea. Whatever you do, give the user a reason to choose your product over the competition.

  5. Transience - Designing for the here and now

    Designing a product for today is fine if you accept the status quo. But, think of the products that changed the world because they were designed not only for the need at hand, but for the future as well: Computers, Cell Phones, Automatic Drip Coffee Makers--the list is endless. To truly expect the most from a design, you have to look forward. Don't limit yourself to how users interact with your product today, or the current environment in which your product is used. Think about five years from now--or longer. How will the user's needs change? Where else will the product be used? Will the product be able to serve a new purpose? Will there be new technology that you should plan for in the new design?

  6. Egomania - Designing for design's sake.

    Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what looks "cool" or how beautiful a design is, we begin the design process trying to hit those marks rather than solving the problem. Worry first about meeting the need or solving the problem. The design will come as the sketches and renderings are developed. While award winning designs equate to success in the industry, the true success of a product is measured by the extent to which it meets or exceeds the needs of its user.

  7. Distraction Solving the wrong problem.

    Given, product design is usually a fluidic, creative process. But, do not confuse fluidity with "out of control". Often as a product design evolves, things are discovered and tangents emerge. This is a powerful part of the creative process--but use this power for good and not evil. Stay focused on the original scope and design intent. Do not allow your design to become a monster that controls the project and either solves the wrong problem or none at all. Go back to the root of why the design was needed to begin with. Take the new air actuated corkscrew, for example. The designers observed that the problem was not the original corkscrew design, but getting the cork out of the bottle. Rather than trying to redesign the cork screw, the designers developed the air pump corkscrew, a completely innovative design. In a nutshell, that is the kind of simplicity that encourages good design.

Jack Lawson is the president, CEO, and co-founder of Catalyst PDG, Inc. (Indianapolis, IN), a full service product development company specializing in design, engineering, rapid prototyping, rapid tooling and short run manufacturing. He can be reached at (866) 275-2757or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This information is a compilation of the thoughts and ideas of the product development team at Catalyst PDG, Inc. If you have any comments or feedback, we would love to hear from you!

Catalyst PDG, Inc.
2920 Fortune Circle West Drive, Suite E
Indianapolis, IN 46241
866.275.2757 http://www.catalystpdg.com

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