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The Dilemma of Product Design: All-In-One vs Single-Function

After discovering gaps left in the market or problems left to be solved, entrepreneurs roll up sleeves trying to design “the best product” to meet the demand as the first to enter the target market. Here comes the question. How do entrepreneurs make a decision on specifications and functions to be included in a product? It is foreseeable a product without providing problem-solving function can not woo customers. However, do consumers always fancy an all-in-one superpower product than a single-function painkiller product? 

Sell Customers The Product They Cannot Resist

A 100-year-old electronic company, Tatung recently launched a fashion cooker (right) trying to break into the market in Japan and ASEAN. The fusion cooker provides four cooking modes, which was designed as a truly multi-cooker to save space and probably money for customers. When I first looked at this fusion cooker, I appreciated its design but started to worry about its tiny pot could only let me serve a small portion of soup, compared to Tatung’s evergreen product- the rice cooker (left) which often is used in a variant way of cooking.   


Is Tatung trying to beat its own rice cooker by bringing this fusion cooker into the market? Absolutely not! That’s probably their market segregation strategy, to bring a new multifunction product to new markets where customers have less stickiness to its iconic product, own less knowledge about the simple rice cooker’s alternative usages, and are more smart-function sensitive (maybe even have less concern about its pot size). At the same time, the rice cooker still serves its well-established market, without change of its market position. 

Focus, Focus, And Focus

Founder of Alchema, a smart cider maker startup, was giving a talk about his entrepreneurial experience at Maker Faire Taipei earlier this month. They first discovered a specific market gap: plenty of homebrewing lovers find the process too complicated and those DIY kits too difficult to use. It turns out to leave a good opportunity for them to provide an easy-to-use homebrewing system to overcome frustration for consumers who like brewing or winemaking at home, which actually makes a promising market, especially in the States. At the same time, they were considering the possibility to integrate other functions, like probiotics growing or homemade vinegar making, with the primary brewing function to make it the best product in the market. In the end, they strategized to drop all other add-on functions in order to build a clear brand image- a homebrewing solution provider. In this way, they gave up the chance to serve a larger market all at once, but they got to target the core customers and charge a premium price for an unmatched homebrewing system. 

Never Let Technology Override Customers’ True Desire

Throwback to my time working for an engineering consulting firm. One of our clients came up with a crowdfunding idea to make an innovative electric skateboard and came to us to seek engineering support. According to his interpretation, this is not your typical electric skateboard, but a robotic driving system. Except for traditional transport function, it could carry light-weight stuff like camera stabilizers or containers by adding some hardware upgrades. Oh wait! It also has an auto-follow function. This sounds a very cool idea at first glance. You pay for one electric skateboard and will get more out of it. Nevertheless, does this groundbreaking skateboard really make a desirable product? Do customers really want to have a multifunctional e-skateboard like this? To be capable of carrying stuff, the skateboard lost its character of being slim and fast. To serve its fundamental purpose of transport, the robotic driving system isn’t big enough to carry stuff in a more efficient and stable way. Then why do we ever want to buy a multi-purpose product while it couldn’t function to its best in either way as claimed? Obvious this crowdfunding campaign was not successful, at least, in the first round.

See Where The Market Will Lead You To

Here is not to promote simple design over the rest, and vice versa. However, designers and makers do need to go back to look at the problem again and again and re-consider if an additional function genuinely makes this product a better one without sacrificing its core value or blurring the focus. Know your target customers first. Talk to potential customers or even just to people around you to see if your product/idea is solid. Conduct market research to prevent foreseeable failure at minimum cost. Don’t add more function just because you think it is cool. Add more function because it makes sense to target customers. They probably don’t need an omnipotent product, but a product that can perfectly solve their problem to make their day easier. 

Written by Rouyu Wu, program manager at Shape Prototype, responsible for business development and market intelligence. Truly believe in the power of innovation. We can utilize technologies wisely to shape the world a better place for everyone.

Shape Prototype is a product developing, prototyping and manufacturing hub dedicated to working with SMEs and startups worldwide. The team has in-house prototyping and moulding facility based in Dongguan and Shenzhen, China. With extensive product experiences and startups-friendly product approach, the team is determined to shake up China’s manufacturing industry to offer customized product solutions and personalized product manufacturing experiences to global small businesses and startups.

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