In the world of product design, there are many perceptions about what product design is, and how product design affects an end user. More importantly, understanding just how much product design affects how we use current technology devices, and learn to use future technology devices, can help us to differentiate between a "good" product and a "bad" one.
So why do you need to care? Because every product you will ever use now, and in the future, will be made or broken by product design.
Its a common assumption that any "product" that is made to be sold goes through some sort of product design. Though this may be true now, it wasn't so not too long ago.
Product Design 101
In a very general sense, product design has two facets. Facet one is the activity of making a product that addresses a users functional wants and needs, ensures that the product is safe, ensures that the product is reliable, and ensures that the product is repeatable and predictable. This would be the "cake" part of a birthday cake. These features generate what is known as "Functional Value", which asks the question "does this product do what I want it to do?". Before the advancement of technology, the focus of every product was functional value, with little bits of emotion thrown in by the designer.
While functional characteristics are important, product design has a second facet. Facet two is the activity of making a product that allows its use with little or no training (something called ease-of-use), makes the product look exciting and appealing, and adds features that the user would consider "fun" "personal" and "novel"; these features would be the "icing" on the birthday cake. They generate what is known as "Emotional Value" which asks the question "does this product make me feel good when I use it?".
Both functional and emotional value tend to overlap in most cases. Functional Value has always existed in product manufacturing, as it has been the foundation of every product, from as far back in time when basic tools were scraped together by cavemen. But the other part of product design - Emotional Value - has only become more apparent to end users as technology has enabled product designers to make products more personal. There are entire product design companies that utilize both facets of design in todays products. Companies like IDEO and FROGDESIGN work on everything from toasters and blenders, to ATM machines and medical devices. Only in the last 15 years or so, when technology started to advance into new areas such as artificial intelligence and intuitive sensors, have large corporations like car manufacturers and power tool makers began to realize that the emotional part of product design was integral to a successful product.
When you think about a misplaced button, a connector thats hard to get to, an un-needed cable or a screen that's not very touch-accurate - this is the result of product design - its the reason why we should care - it can mean the difference between enjoying a great product that feels like it was made for us, or being stuck with a crappy one that feels like it was made for someone else.
So for every product that you toss out of the window in frustration, to every device that you adore with every button push or finger swipe, product design will have been a major contributor to those experiences.
Love it or hate it, product design has become a permanent facet of our personal lives - one that we enjoy or deal with, and eventually care about.