It is possible to distill the many product design processes in two broad categories:
- purpose-specific designs
- technology implementations
Purpose-Specific Designs are typical of the engineering world.
Technology Implementations start from a very different scenario.
Purpose-Specific Designs are typical of the engineering world. Think about a screwdriver: it fits a very specific purpose, its shape is optimised to the hand and the action of screwing. Their modern version, electric screwdrivers, are a technological evolution of the design. Its value is reducing the physical effort during the product utilisation. In this case we are completely focusing on the problem to solve (screwing) and technology progress leads to a design upgrade (less effort). The customer base of this kind of product is huge, everyone has used a screwdriver at least a few times in life! The product is an obvious response to a specific problem everyone has. Competition is fought on price and perceived quality/features/design.
Technology Implementations stem from a very different scenario. Scientific research finds new concepts and product design becomes an exercise to monetise them. The creative utilisation of new technologies often creates new markets and disrupt old ones.
This is quite a typical situation in the chemical industry, as an example. A scientist discovers a new chemical reaction that happens in the presence of some specific components. She studies as many applications as possible and someone starts noticing potential value in this new reaction.
The coordination of these special components which enable the new chemical reaction (laboratory equipment, chemical compounds, catalysts) is a typical solution looking for a problem.
Is the new chemical reaction useful enough to enough people to generate a new market?
There isn’t a market out there (yet), can you launch the product?
How to create a new market without a speculative (and expensive) product launch?
These situations are very common and a often a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum. The capacity to work with the customers and a robust dose of business intuition are key.
The main job of the Product Manager in these cases is to ensure the definition of a proper value proposition, rather than focusing on features and design.