Mastering Communications: The Key to Successful Product Design and Development

Successful Product DesignThe difficulties in exchanging ideas during the product development and design process are often complicated by limitations in language, ego, perception, personalities and a basic understanding of the other person’s intentions. Mastering communications is a vital tool for successful creative work. It took a while for me to appreciate this.

When I first began my career as an industrial designer, I thought that the most important skills for a designer to possess were aesthetic, technical and 3D skills. As my career developed, and my experience in these and other areas grew, I began to realize there was another skill that was actually more important — communication.

Today, after more than 30 years developing products for hundreds of companies, I find myself investing most of my time trying to understand and interpret ideas and comments made by those around me. This is one of the most difficult and important challenges facing any designer.

Often good ideas may be buried in a potpourri of superfluous commentary made during the normal course of conversation. Other times, arguments may block one’s acceptance of a really good idea because it hadn’t been presented in an acceptable context. There are times when a designer may discard a comment because he or she may think the person who made it is not qualified to suggest such an idea about product design.

Understanding and the Essentials of Effective Communications

Good, effective communication requires exceptional concentration, honesty and diplomacy from a designer to fully comprehend the intent of the other party.

It may be easier for designers and engineers to converse with each other than those not familiar with the terminology. But can also be equally challenging at a different level. All designers are generally egocentric and tend to want their ideas to be transferred into the final product design. This characteristic will usually bias their thinking and ability to comprehend the underlying message expressed by others.

After many years of designing and extensive experience, I have found it much easier to suppress my ego and seek out really good ideas. The lesson is that great ideas are often dropped in a fleeting moment during a normal conversation. They must be nurtured and stimulated. This process is often referred to as brainstorming. It is not an accidental process. It is a carefully crafted process that requires uninhibited freethinking that is unhampered by fear, embarrassment or ridicule.

Another important aspect of good communication is probing. I can’t count the number of times I have been involved in a conversation and a comment is made but completely misunderstood. Probing to determine context and meaning leads to understanding.

Sometimes the idea is explained with the assumption that those listening understand some important premise that lies within the speaker’s mind. The premise is never explained and the idea is detailed without great difficulty. Other times concepts that are being communicated to an individual are complicated by preconceptions of the recipient and blockage occur. I must admit, I plead guilty to this.

In summary, communication is an essential part of the design process. It requires patience, concentration, honesty and respect. Bad ideas can’t simply be accepted out of politeness; they must be either rejected or modified into good ones.

This exchange is an essential part of the product development process and forms the foundation of any successful product. So when you are in a heated discussion regarding your next product, keep in mind you may be missing the clue to solving your big problem. Please call or email paloian@idsys.com.