Product Development

What Makes a Good Product Fundamentally, in our capitalist society, a good product is defined as being worth equal-to or more-than its selling price. It’s important to realize that ‘worth’ is a completely subjective measure. Consumers are satisfied as long as they feel their money was well spent. If not, they won’t buy from you again. I’m sure you’ve had both a good and bad experience in this area. You’ve had a meter, or a stereo or car that always worked well. And you’ve one that didn’t. Large companies have big marketing firms that can overcome a product’s deficiencies. Sometimes and for a limited time. The US car manufacturers found that out the hard way. Small companies don’t have that large market to act as a buffer. Worst of all, start-up companies have to break into a market that is already populated. For them, they have to provide a product that is superior in some way just to get noticed at all. A new product that is exactly the same as an existing product in price and performance simply won’t sell. It’s just human nature to stay with a manufacturer that a consumer knows and likes. So, the first rule in product development is to provide the consumer with something significantly better in price and/or performance. The only way to draw away satisfied buyers is to make them unsatisfied. Making a Good Product Probably the biggest problem with ‘hobbyist’ products is that they have poor ‘look and feel’. People expect a quality product. This means attention to detail. For example, switches have to be appropriate in size and type. A rotary or slide switch for ‘On/Off’ is a poor choice. Use a push-button or rocker type. Look around and see what massproduced products look like and make your product similar. Lay out the front panel in a logical and intuitive manner. Make sure that all the printing is clear and concise. There are way too many things to list here. Just design your product around the viewpoint of the user. Don’t rationalize away problems by saying that the buyer can put up with a bad choice because your selling price is low. Because now you are asking the customer to choose between a good price and a ‘good’ product. You have to provide a good product AND a good price. The second problem is performance. Most hobbyists don’t think about the long term use of their device. Will your widget survive a year’s use under normal conditions? How about abnormal conditions? Having a good understanding about reliability is important. There are plenty of books of this subject. But good, conservative design goes a long way. Hobbyists also don’t mind tinkering with a design while most users find this unacceptable. Having to adjust a receiver’s frequency every 10 minutes is a bad thing. Other radios don’t have this problem, so yours shouldn’t either. Again, look around. There are thousands of products in your household and probably at least a hundred are electrical in some way. Learn form these successful products. (They have to be successful or you wouldn’t have bought them.) Examine the products that compete for your potential customers. And make sure your product performs better and costs less. Naturally, everyone tends to think that their brainchild is beautiful. Unfortunately, beauty is subjective. Spending a lot of time and effort creating something doesn’t automatically make that something a sellable item. In fact, it’s a liability if it takes a lot of time and effort to put together. A good product is easy to build. This is called ‘design for production’. For example, there are no screws that are impossible to fasten with ordinary tools. All parts are easily accessible for test, repair or replacement. (One product I saw had surface-mount components under a through-hole IC. That’s right, you had to unsolder a 40-pin DIP to get to these parts.) Design for production is really a thorough application of common sense. (Put these surface mount parts on the other side of the circuit board.) Closely associated is ‘design for test’. Before your product goes out the door, you have to be sure it works. This is done by testing it. A good product requires few tests. With today’s microcomputers, a self-test routine is both fundamental and mandatory. The faster you can get your product off the production floor, the cheaper you can sell it. Time is indeed money when it comes to testing. Labor costs are probably the biggest factor in pricing your product. Selling and Marketing Selling and marketing is a major hurdle for most entrepreneurs. You may have an incredible product, but if no one knows about it, you can’t sell any. It takes time and money to advertise and market your product. Note that selling/advertising is talking to your customers while marketing is listening to your customers. Hopefully, you’ve done some market research before you designed and built your product. If you have, then you know that there are people who want to buy what you have to sell. Now all you have to do is inform them that their dream product is available for sale. Proper marketing makes advertising and sales much easier and cheaper. The Big Picture You can see that product development does not happen by accident. It’s an integrated process that consists of a number of elements. And while your newly finished project isn’t likely to be a product, it doesn’t mean that it can’t become one.

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