Design in 2010: Four emerging trends for technical product design

What do you need to consider now when designing a product for consumer consumption? According to Product Development Technologies (PDT), a global, full-service product development firm, there are four emerging technology design trends for 2010. Do you agree with these trends? What are your most important trends?

Here are the four noted by PDT.

Focused Function: Consumers demand products that meet their basic needs and that’s it. Rather than products that have several unnecessary features, the overwhelming majority of consumers are looking for more focused functions. Successful products must meet the expectation and leave unnecessary functions for a more niche audience.

“More and more consumers are looking for products that work well, but have streamlined function,” said Joel Delman, PDT Design Director at the L.A. office. “This allows them to cut costs, yet still have the core functions they originally desired from that product. For example, Apple is leveraging this idea in the iPad. Users are not looking for a full function computer, rather a product that’s stripped down and fits casual needs and desires instead of stacking all of the bells and whistles.”

Meaningful Product Design: The economic downturn has caused consumers to reexamine their shopping behavior. There has been a surge in products that add true value to a person’s life. Consumers are now more thoughtful about each purchase, considering why they really need a particular product in their lives far more carefully than they have for many years, when novelty or impulse played a much larger role in the buying decision. If the product doesn’t offer meaningful value to the consumer it won’t have success.

“Consumers want items that, in some way, shape or form, enhance their life, serve as an investment, and are not detrimental to their personal or global environments,” said Delman. “It’s essentially a shift in focus from impulse purchasing to long-term value. There is more demand for items specifically related to a person’s needs. Consumers are buying far fewer products that may just end up in the garage after a few seasons. We’re essentially seeing the heirloom mentality coming back.”

One Click or No Clicks: A more mobile society has brought with it the convergence of traditionally separate activities. Because of that, consumers today demand instant gratification – desiring information be immediately accessible whenever and wherever they happen to be at any given time. As a whole, consumers are becoming less tolerant of ‘device complexities,’ while at the same time demanding more 'complex devices' that help streamline tasks. Products must be designed so they are intuitive to a consumer’s needs and environment.

“Consumers want instant, uncomplicated access to their health information, finances, shopping lists, reminders, calendars, contacts and everything else, yet they do not want to navigate systems or menus to do so,” said Delman. “Emerging technologies that harness access to information through motion, light or proximity sensing will have increased value to a consumer. This new technology, however, cannot come at the cost of added complexity; it’s not just about throwing in more function. Design needs to be balanced by the countervailing desire for focused function to carefully tailor a product's capabilities to those fundamental needs that people value.”

Authenticity: Authenticity in product design, while not new, is certainly making a come back. Consumers today seek higher quality, longer-lasting products with a modern aesthetic. Faux materials are out. If it’s true to the touch and eye on the outside, it speaks strongly to the quality of engineering and components within.

“Companies that incorporate quality materials into their product designs will realize more success in today’s marketplace,” said Delman. “However, simply throwing real materials on a product is not enough. Honest representation of real materials continues to drive consumer purchases. Products made of plastic are not automatically rejected, for example, provided they are presented as just that – plastic. On the other hand, a bamboo product may be rejected if all the bamboo does is provide a meaningless shell. People want honesty and genuine value in the things they buy, rather than a veneer of quality that is only skin deep.”

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