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issue: July 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Open Door
What Makes Good Design?

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by Randall Sandlin, director of industrial design, Electrolux Home Care Products (EHCP)

Good designs are often thought of in terms of exciting aesthetics, but a truly well-designed product is more than a pretty face. In the world of appliances, we are challenged to make products cutting-edge yet simple, different yet easily understood, and—most importantly—profitable. To do this, we must consider customers and their needs, the product’s place in the retail environment, and the impact of brand values on design.

You can’t know how to make a product succeed without knowing for whom it is intended. Who uses your product? Men, women, children, or a segment defined by age, interests, or challenges? Designers also should ask, “What drives consumers to purchase in my category? What do they need?” A good design is born when a product answers a specific need existing in the real world, and this can only be accurately determined through interaction.

Ethnographies are the best way to achieve this crucial interaction. At EHCP, we hold ethnographies in consumers’ homes: We actually go in and watch them clean. By watching consumers use products in their homes, designers can learn the context where a product or tool is used and misused; the role it plays in accomplishing a task; and possibilities for further innovation in a category. You’d be surprised what you learn about customers when you see them in action. For instance, one ethnographic study disproved the notion that people hold vacuums a certain way, showing instead that consumers pulled and pushed vacuums from a variety of positions. This led us to develop a new ergonomic handle that accommodates many different user styles. Watching and listening to consumers leads to “eureka” moments and allows for the development of a unique selling proposition (USP) that is in line with customers and their needs, and, thus, has great potential for success.

Once a USP is developed, the designer’s next mission is to enhance and underscore this benefit visually. If the selling proposition is durability, the design should instantly conjure up words such as tough, durable, or strong, even without packaging or POS nearby. The USP of a design can be conveyed through many aspects of a product’s look and feel, including materials, colors, shape, or other features.

While products should be designed for the customer, they also need to be competitive in their retail environment. There are two main drivers that come into play when viewing design through a “retail success” perspective: understanding the environment and enhancing “shopability.”

Since the retail environment often determines the fate of a product, it can be helpful to take a field trip to every store carrying your product and note how and where it appears on the shelf. Is it set up for consumers to test? Is it stocked below eye level? How cluttered is the space? Is there one color that dominates competitive units? Noting these aspects of the environment can provide great insight into design features or marketing materials that will have a large impact on success.

Hand-in-hand with understanding the retail environment is increasing a product’s “shopability.” This is more than simply communicating the overall feel of a USP; it is highlighting the specific features that offer the benefit. For instance, on a recent vacuum designed to improve indoor air quality, we created an exhaust grill to highlight where the clean, filtered air reenters the room, positioned it front and center on the product, and highlighted it in our premium color. When a USP is clearly communicated through design, it simplifies the decision process for the consumer. That product stands out as the one that meets their need, making it the obvious selection.

Products are the flagships of a brand, and brand values can and should influence a product’s design. A good design incorporates the brand’s design language to take advantage of the trust and acceptance your company has earned in the marketplace.

On the product development side, this brand-alignment approach can be used to foster a team environment for product creation. Good design happens when design teams work with other departments—such as marketing and engineering—to ensure that essential brand aspects are seamlessly integrated into the product. This also provides an opportunity for design to weigh in on other important areas of a product’s success, such as the POS materials.

Ultimately, a good design is about connecting physically and emotionally with consumers, bringing the right message to the right consumers, and selling them a quality product. 

About the Author

Randall Sandlin’s design team recently earned a 2007 Good Design award from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design. If you wish to contact Sandlin, please e-mail lisa.bonnema@cancom.com.


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