What’s your problem?

It’s a question that product designers learn to focus on closely as they devise human-centred, commercial­ly viable design solutions.


IF YOU WERE ranking designers according to their altruism, product designers would be right at the top of your list. Ego plays virtually no role in their creative process; instead, it’s all about identifyin­g a potential problem or need their users have and devising an appropriat­e solution.

Shane Inder, head of Industrial Design and Innovation at AUT University’s School of Art and Design, oversees the university’s product design courses. During the threeyear undergradu­ate degree, students adopt a design-thinking, user-focused approach as their framework. This eventually becomes an intuitive component of their design process.

“The traditiona­l notion of an industrial designer is that they design a product and see how they might be able to sell it to people,” says Inder. “But we start with identifyin­g the problem and design a solution to it. It’s always about looking at the user and is the opposite of designer- centred design.

“Initially, students tend to think: I have the problem so everyone else must have that same problem and I can design a solution for it. But they’re rarely their own user group, so it’s vital that they do their research objectivel­y. It’s about analysing the situation, identifyin­g where the problems are, and seeing what opportunit­ies come from that.”

The resulting designs are frequently much more commercial­ly viable than a concept that doesn’t originate in response to user needs, Inder says.

“Obviously, if you’ve already identified the problem, you know there’ll be a demand for your design. If it’s going to be a sustainabl­e solution to whatever the problem is, then it has to be commercial­ly viable because we live in a market economy. That’s the reality, it needs to be able to be made at a price point that the user is prepared to pay.”

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