As the saying goes, the customer is always right, but that applies to both services and products. A new item on the shelves may have lots of flashy appeal, but if it does not perform the way the customer expects it to, that initial excitement of the purchase will quickly turn into bitter disappointment.
In our experience, the perception of a product is based largely on how that product feels in the customer's hands. Everything from the weight to the color to the texture contributes to a customer's impression. That means the material the product is made of is just as important as its size or shape.
Material selection is an essential part of producing products that customers will love. Something may look great on paper, but if it does not delight once it's actually in a person's hands, that product will not meet sales targets. The brands that prioritize picking the right materials tend to excel over the long term. For the brands that don't, the results are exactly the opposite.
Creating Products With the Customer in Mind
Every company wants to make great products. But every company also wants to keep costs low, hurry up the time to market, and satisfy the demands of retailers. All those instincts are in tension, and that leads directly to poor decisions surrounding material selection.
Here are some tips for staying on track:
1. Look Past Aesthetics
The look of a product is what first captures a consumer's attention, but the performance of that product is what forms the lasting impression. Don't let style interfere with substance. For instance, we used proprietary material do create a ball durable enough to stand up to endless wear and tear of a refugee camp. If the material for the One World Play Project ball hadn't been strong or flexible enough, refugee camps would be littered with useless balls, regardless of our good intentions.
2. Define the Performance Matrix
If products are defined by their performance, brands must establish what range of performance is considered acceptable. This is known as the performance matrix, and once it's established, the material selection process becomes much easier. Simply look for materials that can demonstrably deliver the performance that will ultimately define the product.
3. Don't Trust the Specs by Themselves
The technical specifications for a specific material tell you a lot, but they don't tell you everything. It is entirely possible for a material to perform below those specifications. If production has already ramped up, then you have a lot of disappointing products on your hands. Seek out experienced experts who can go beyond the numbers to reveal how positively (or negatively) materials work in practical applications.
4. Leverage Innovation
Copycat products must compete tooth and nail with their imitators, often by racing to the bottom for the lowest price. Innovative products, by contrast, immediately stand out and build interest through their unique appeal and singular features. Doing things differently requires a bold approach, but the risk leads to substantial rewards.
Disappointment with a product leads to disappointment with a brand. If and when the brand's next product makes it to the shelves, the logo alone will inspire a lot of ill will. Companies that make material selection a priority avoid unnecessary antagonism and create the conditions for long-term customer loyalty. The earliest parts of the design process lay the foundation for everything that follows.