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Design language

While product design has few rules to obey — some say there aren’t any — product engineering is saturated with spoken and unspoken rules, most of them inconsequential when it comes to commercial success or true customer satisfaction. Product engineering often guarantees a minimum standard, enough to take the product to its initial launch without suffering too much of an embarrassment. Even if there are more don’ts than do’s in product design, there are lessons to be learned for those who want to.

No matter if you are a founder or the creative director in a team or small startup, the first three ideas should be killed before too much work is invested in them. Ideas need to be developed, much like software need to be refactored, before they stand a chance on a fickle market. Unless the idea is brilliant, startups often waste valuable time and resources developing the wrong product, until they understand the market and see the real opportunities that lie ahead. Building a product in order to understand a market is expensive, especially if you only have one shot to get it right. Before a founder even decides on a product idea, the founder should know what it means to work in the enterprise or consumer markets. The way applications are purchased by individuals and organizations put very different requirements on a business. Oracle has 80 interactions on average with a client before they sell an application. These interactions range from e-mails, telephone calls and one-on-one meetings, to special events and larger trade fairs. It takes time and money to sell in the enterprise space, precious resources a startup seldom has.

Charles de Gaulle AirportFor some reason, it’s very common to talk about the value creating chain during product engineering. It sounds believable too, but real value is created when the product is used. Before that, it’s a process of pure aspiration. Real value is created by dopamine in the brain; and for that to happen, the product must be used by someone who generates the chemical. If dopamine succeeds in creating enough desire, it will persuade its host to part with its money. As young people respond better to dopamine, most products are not developed to target older people. Marketing is simply to kickstart the dopamine process by exposing the product to its intended buyer.

Teams need to obsess over ideas and solutions, otherwise they will never endure the hardships a new product will bring. Focus is one of a few advantages a startup has over larger competitors. It also means that the team can’t have a balanced view of their product. But a balanced view matters less, as long as the team understands how to use design language when they develop a product.

Aesthetics is for many an attention grabber that gets them interested in a product. As such, it’s very effective, and the purpose of aesthetics could end there, but the truth is that it fulfills other needs too. Product flaws, especially those who break aesthetic principles, are impossible to ignore in the long run. The flaws are a constant reminder of what needs to be corrected, setting the bar higher for the rest of the product. The ability to highlight product ideas is probably the best reason why aesthetics work in product design. By bringing clarity, consistency, and separation between ideas in a product, aesthetics become a design language that guides the eye and the hand in their pursuit of completeness. Companies don’t build unattractive products on purpose, or because they think aesthetics is unimportant; few have the capability to fully understand what aesthetics mean or can do for them, even fewer know how to use it in product engineering. Most teams go over the edge and overload applications with badly designed icons, almost like decoration. Performing reasonably simple tasks, like creating a source code repository, gets complicated through scattered menus and windows that are hidden for the eye. Everyone can learn a complicated product, but it won’t get the nice treatment it deserves in a fickle market place.