Product design, and the theories that surrounding it, have evolved significantly and continues to do so. Take automobile production for example. In production from 1908 through 1927, the Ford Model T is thought to be the first affordable car and what opened the doors of self-driven travel to the common middle class in America. The Ford Model T’s success relied heavily on its demand as a product – people didn’t have access to cars before and now had access to personal transportation.
Of course, things have changed since the inception and mass production of the Ford Model T. Since the proliferation of the internet and the coinciding trend of new product design, demand is not relevant enough of a factor to rely new product design. As we attempt to entertain new product design, we need to understand how our users think and approach problems in order to develop products they didn’t know they necessarily needed but suddenly can’t live without because it speaks to their perspective and experiences. This type of innovative design requires empathetic design.
What does empathetic product design mean (and why does it matter)?
Product design and its discipline is shifting from an external focus on the market to an empathetic focus on the customer. As we develop products that solve our customers’ problems, we need to understand how they feel when they attempt to solve said problem. Do they feel frustrated or determined? Do they feel inadequate or challenged? What our customers go through when trying to solve a problem and what motivates them impacts how they solve the problem and what tools they may use to do so.
According to recent data, 96% of product innovations fail to return the cost of capital and two thirds fail within two years on the market. Employing empathic product design and development is key to creating successful products your customers need. Empathetic design leverages customers’ motivations, behavioral, cognitive, and attitudinal preferences to develop products with a better user experience. It includes observational research of customer test groups and considers their day-to-day realities in the design process.
There are five tenants of empathetic design:
- Capturing Data
- Reflection and Analysis
- Brainstorming for solutions
- Developing prototypes of possible solutions
A key element in empathetic product design is observation and feedback. Tools such as prototypes, role playing, and simulation are often used to collect customer feedback about designs that have been developed based on the tenants of empathetic design. In the general market, new products have about a 10% chance of succeeding so initial feedback is crucial to assessing how your customer will respond to your product.
One of the fastest ways to acquire prototypes of your product is through rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping can fabricate a scaled model of a product using three dimensional computer design. These models provide a visual, physical model that can be used for initial testing without cutting too much into the product development timeline.
Utilizing Empathetic Design to Adapt to Aging Populations
Through empathetic product design, you can simulate age-related lenses to give product designers the perspective of how the product performs for users and how their users are responding. For instance, designers of an assisted living or retirement community utilizing glasses which reduce their vision or gloves that limit their strength to acquire the necessary insight to develop a product – in this case, a home – are leveraging empathy to design a product that will speak to their customer’s experience.
Two simultaneous trends are driving the importance of the adaptation of technology for the older population: the aging of the population and the proliferation of technological innovations. As you develop more and more advanced technology for the most technologically-driven demographic, it’s important to consider the aging population and how to adapt technologies, using empathetic design, to fit their most critical needs. Not only is it important for the sake of meeting your older customers’ needs, it’s also a growing sector of the market – in 2005, people aged 65+ yrs. represented approximately 13% of the population and this percentage will increase to 22% by the year 2030. This is a growing market size that your business cannot ignore.
In addition to the aging population growing, this demographic is healthier, more educated and more diverse than previous generations. Between 1970 and 2000, the percentage of adults age 65 and over who had a high school diploma skyrocketed from 28% to 70% and the proportion of Caucasian people over 65+ is decreasing, making room for a more ethnically diverse aging population.
This dynamic, growing demographic is the best case for empathetic design. Understanding the ranging perspectives and experiences and leveraging them in your product design is key to casting a larger net when attracting customers to your new product.
So now that you know about empathetic product design and the value of employing it, it’s time to figure out how to implement it. As any new product design project goes, empathetic product design relies heavily on structured processes that can also maintain nimbleness and flexibility in order to ensure the development goes smoothly while making sure your customer’s needs are kept at the top of mind.
Why partner with a product design company?
Your customers expect great products that are intuitively empathetic to their experience while providing solutions to their problems. From initial idea generation to hitting the market shelves, it’s important to be intentional in your product design process. Partnering with a product design and development company that can spend more time and give more attention to each stage of the product design process will help your business create and sustain high-quality products that meet the needs of your business and its customers.
At Inertia, our product designers and engineers can employ empathetic design to create products in a real world context to ensure positive market reception and customer satisfaction. Call us today to learn more about how you and your business can benefit from Inertia’s product design Toronto team.