Rethinking Product Design: Get Rid of the Instructions Manual

product design

Good product design should be self-explanatory.

The thing about good design is that it starts much before the actual craftsmanship. It germinates at the point that the designer starts to think about the relationship between user and product, envisions how the product will fit into their lives, and figures out why they’ll want to keep using to it.

Clive Grinyer, a design expert and the Head of Service Design at the Royal College of Art, U.K., said at a virtual design conference last year that technology has changed the way people think of design as a practice. In a high-tech world, art and business are not two separate entities, but one, Grinyer noted.

In a high-tech world, a well-designed product is one that ‘speaks’ to the users. It’s all about creating an intuitive connection between user and technology. Here, there’s no space for an instructions manual.

What consumers have grown to expect

Boomer, Gen Y, Gen Z, gender identifications, personal preferences, geographies… target consumers can be sorted across a range of demographic markers to be studied, tested and convinced. While each of these identifiers are unique in their own ways, certain general trends exist across the board in terms of what consumers – especially millennials and Gen Z – have grown to expect.

For one, people prefer to snap their gadgets on and figure out how they work, rather than go through a long and wordy instructions manual or video. In other words, they don’t want to listen to an explanation. They expect the product to be designed simply enough such that most people should be able to figure it out on their own.

Take for example the self check-in kiosks that now appear at most airports. Their earlier versions were clunky and glitchy. Even now that these issues are resolved, airport staff continue to be deployed beside the kiosks because the interface can still be confusing for some.

Contrarily, an intuitive experience and seamless connectivity is what helped Apple keep its products ahead of the game, and retain users within its product ecosystem.

This extends to daily use technologies as well. With an app for just about anything now, and consumer hardware such as wearables becoming increasingly popular, the demand for UI/UX designers has shot up. UX was one of the top skills in demand in 2020 according to a LinkedIn report.

The same report suggests that the demand for products that are more intuitive and human-centric is going up. It can be easy to see why – people have become accustomed to the technology integrations in their daily lives. At the same time, there is great competition for consumers’ time and attention from a horde of companies trying to monetize their user base. In this kind of a climate, even the smallest convenience can sell if designed right.

Parts of a whole

One of the best ways to design products that people will love is to employ designers who are users of the product as well, a 2017 Harvard Business Review article points out. These “user-designers” often innately understand what users expect from the product, and therefore are able to effectively design to problem-solve.

But that’s just one way to do it, as the article points out. Take for instance, what one day in the life of a product designer looks like.

As a product design lead at marketing and sales software company Hubspot, Henry Wu documents the several processes that go into designing products at the company in a blog post. Wu and his team start by understanding the problem that the product is expected to solve, and the end users that it is solving for.

Based on what the research reveals, the team then designs prototypes that are reworked based on different testing techniques such as A/B testing and live betas.

Even after the product is launched, they carefully monitor data for successive iterations of the product based on how the product is meeting pre-set KPIs. Throughout the blog, Wu notes instances where other departments and teams including product managers, UX researchers, engineers, and a product insight team, are roped into the process.

A key takeaway from Wu’s blog is that design is a long process ultimately focused on solving a problem. The product needs to look, feel and work up to standard, but it also needs to be useful to the user. It needs to make their lives simpler. The goal of good product design is therefore to de-complicate the lives of the users more than anything else.

This is especially true as people add more gadgets and apps to their lives, and proactively seek out technology instead of waiting for it to come to them. As demand pushes competition up, the company that offers the most seamless integrations, enabling the product to simply slip into the user’s life, is the one that wins.

Header image by on Unsplash


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