Product design, like anything, can be done well and it can be done poorly. If done well, a product has the potential to be used daily and loved by many consumers. Ideally, every product in the world would be a “perfect” design; however, nothing is perfect, and no product is without flaw. Below are 5 characteristics that (in my opinion) define a “bad” product design.
1. The design is not self-explanatory
Of all things a design could do wrong, this is possibly the worst. Customers should be able to, fairly quickly, determine what the product is and does and how to use it. Long instruction manuals are necessary from a technical standpoint, but a product should strive to be as intuitive as possible. Some products are designed with too many unnecessary features which detract from the product’s primary use and user friendliness. If a product is not self-explanatory enough, it will do more harm than good in the consumer’s eye.
2. The design is distracting
A captivating design is always a good thing, however, there is a difference between captivating and distracting. A distracting design tries too hard to capture the user’s eye. Instead of seamlessly integrating itself into the user’s life, it is constantly calling out for attention through obnoxious aesthetics or arbitrary functionality. The designs which pleasantly impact consumers subconsciously are generally better than those which impact consciously.
3. The design is difficult to use.
This characteristic differentiates from #1 in that it may be an intuitive product, but the actual act of using it is difficult. The coffee mug in the accompanying photo has a small “handle” that not only looks nearly impossible to grip comfortably, but also has a groove which allows hot coffee to flow freely towards your fingers. Ergonomics are a key factor in well designed products. If a user cannot physically connect with a product in a satisfying manner, that product is a bad design.
4. The design is forgettable.
How often do you use badly designed products? Probably not very often, because that product has been sitting in the back of your closet since you got it. Whether it be poor aesthetics or mediocre performance, thousands of products fall into the same forgettable trap. Instead of being a product that is useful or enjoyable to use, these products are so bland or useless that they leave no psychological impression on the user. Product design heavily relies on psychology, and the connection humans have with objects. To leave no psychological impression at all, is to almost not even exist.
5. The design is short lived.
A design’s quality is measured not only by aesthetics and usefulness, but more obviously, by it’s lifespan. A bad design will have faults which render it useless quicker than a consumer would like. Many companies will purposely design products this way through planned obsolescence, however I believe this is the wrong way to approach product design. My favorite products to use are ones which I have inherited from family or have been in my possession for years and still perform as well as when they were first bought. I believe the best products are those which can be used for a lifetime.
No design is perfect, however, even if just one of these 5 characteristics is tended to, a product could easily be raised above it’s competition. Product design is generally an involved process that takes time to get right. Market research, ergonomics, form studies, user testing, prototyping; these are all things that should be pursued if a design is to truly be “good.” To create a product which is loved by consumers, a designer must take time to consider all details of the design whether they be physical or psychological.
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Authored by Kaelan Abernathey, Industrial Designer at BeraTek Industries.