Product design methodologies offer clear benefits and weaknesses depending on your chosen approach. While these methodologies all share a common goal of supporting your development overall process, the best approach isn’t necessarily universal and often depends on the specific product, project goals, and organizational culture. Here we’ll take a look at some of the core methodologies and consider the pros and cons associated with each.
Design thinking is a human-centered, iterative approach to problem-solving that places an emphasis on empathising with the end user. It does this through high levels of collaboration with stakeholders involved and maintains a customer-centric approach to the overall design. This methodology focuses on understanding user needs, generating ideas, and then embarking on an iterative prototyping and testing process to make sure that feedback and changes are regularly integrated into the overall design. Design thinking encourages creativity and innovation, and it's used to develop products and services that are desirable, feasible, and viable.
A design thinking approach can lead to more user-friendly product development with a clear focus on the needs and experiences of end-users. This can in turn offer competitive advantage by making sure that your product meets the needs of users and stands out in the market.
However, there are also drawbacks that mean it isn’t necessarily the best approach for every situation. It’s time consuming and resource-intensive and can be hard if you are limited in either of these areas. The nature of regular feedback means that if you’re not careful you can lose focus and be ‘blown off course’ and an overreliance on the insights of end-users can create products that lack a strong vision and are subject to potential bias and assumptions. It can be hard to scale across complex development projects or large organisations, making it difficult to ensure consistency and alignment across all of the development team.
Lean Product Development:
Lean product development is a methodology that emphasizes minimizing waste and maximizing value throughout the product development process. It involves rapid prototyping, continuous improvement, and close collaboration between cross-functional teams. Lean product development aims to streamline processes, reduce costs, and improve time-to-market.
The clear benefit of this approach are the speed and efficiency cost savings which reduce overall time to market. By focusing on the most important features, eliminating unnecessary features or steps and minimising waste the design team can create significant cost savings in the product development process and create value for the customer. Iterative testing and the incorporation of incremental improvements leads to a continuous improvement cycle which creates ongoing product enhancements over time and is a scalable solution that is well suited to large organisations.
On the converse side, speed can be a disadvantage if it comes at the expense of overall quality or user experience. It can also sometimes lead to products that lack certain features or functionality and can stifle creativity with new or unconventional ideas not fitting neatly into the framework of lean methodology. Similarly to design thinking methodologies it can be difficult to implement in complex product development projects where multiple stakeholders are involved across large teams.
Agile Product Development:
Agile product development offers an iterative and incremental approach to product design that emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and customer feedback. In agile methodologies, product development is broken down into smaller, manageable tasks (called sprints) that are completed within a specific time frame. Agile development encourages regular communication, adaptability, and continuous improvement.
Working collaboratively in sprints can reduce the time to market by prioritising speed and efficiency. Breaking the approach down means that the team can respond quickly to changing requirements or customer needs. In today’s ever-changing world, the flexibility and adaptability of this approach can be really useful. Teams can adjust their approaches quickly as they gather feedback, incorporate improvements and adapt to changing circumstances. Similarly to a design thinking approach, the customer focus is high and gathering customer feedback means that products are developed with user needs in mind, potentially offering competitive advantage in the market. The iterative approach also supports continuous improvement and the development of products that are constantly being refined to become better.
Although agile methodology is designed to be flexible and adaptable, this can make it hard to predict the outcome of the product development process, and difficult if concrete timelines and deliverables are required. Scope creep can be a challenge as changes and adjustments are made throughout the process and if the team is not equipped to manage these effectively the project can run off in a different direction quite quickly. Similarly to other approaches, complex projects can be challenging to manage this way and rely on a skilled and experienced team that can work collaboratively and adapt quickly to changing requirements or feedback.
Systems engineering is a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to product design that focuses on defining, designing, and managing complex systems throughout their life cycles. This methodology emphasizes the integration of various components, subsystems, and technologies into a coherent and functional whole. Systems engineering considers the entire system, from requirements analysis and design to testing, validation, and maintenance.
Ensuring that all aspects of the design process are considered can lead to overall improved product quality, increased efficiency and reduced costs. This approach typically leads to better risk management as it is designed to identify and manage potential risks throughout the process. This can lead to a better and more resilient product with potential issues identified early in the development stage. Sustainability considerations are also factored in from concept to disposal which can reduce overall waste and environmental impact.
This type of thorough approach is complex and can be both resource and time intensive, making it difficult to implement in smaller organisations without the necessary resource or expertise in managing a systems engineering approach. It also carries the risk of over-engineering with more features than are really necessary and can lack agility which makes it difficult to adapt to change or feedback. Finally this type of approach can stifle creativity and innovation as the frameworks don’t allow for much flexibility to move outside of their constraints.
You may not have heard of this before, as it’s actually our own process that we’ve developed here at Oxford Product Design. This bespoke approach pulls together many of the strengths of the above approaches while also mitigating some of their weaknesses.
Kicking off with an empathetic, design thinking led approach gives us clear insights into what the customer really needs. Our rapid prototyping and iterative design stages incorporate both agile and lean methodologies creating MVP’s (minimum viable products) and regular feedback, working efficiently in sprints to make sure we can adapt as nimbly as possible to changes. When the design is clear, we implement a systems approach to our engineering phase, making sure all aspects of the product are considered. By blending empathy, rapid prototyping, flexible planning, and a holistic overview, this hybrid methodology empowers teams to create innovative, user-centric products that stand out in today's competitive market while staying on top of costs, scope creep and over engineering.
To find out more, you might like to read our Fusion-Flow article and unlock the full potential of your next product design project!