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What Makes A Successful Product?

Posted by Cat How, February 28, 2018

A successful product is one that sells. Simple. But the factors behind this success are a lot more complex — a delicate balance of desirability, financial viability and timelessness.

In our former business (running online design shop, Howkapow) we used to make lots of products with illustrators and designers. Each time we did, we asked ourselves whether the finished article would stand up to three golden rules: desirability, commercial viability and longevity. Ultimately, the most successful products have an element of all three.

Firstly — if people want to buy your product, and it sells, then you’re already half way there. Well done! This might be because you’re lucky enough to have created something that people feel they need to own — perhaps because your product is something new, that has never been done before. Or that you have made something that has been done before, just better!

The second thing we used to ask was— is the product financially viable? There’s a difference between a successful product and a commercial product. A successful one sells, but it might not actually make you any money. A commercial product makes financial sense as well as being a successful, desirable product. It’s at this juncture that we often used to analyse the benefits of hand-made products versus manufactured ones. Quite often designers spend hours lovingly hand-making a single, one-off product — but don’t factor in how much their time is worth. Think about your ‘hourly rate’; add up the cost of your materials as well as any hidden costs — like petrol to get to an artist market — as these eat away at your end profit margin. You might find you’ve been losing money!

Once you’ve done the maths, this can determine whether you hand-make your product or whether you get it manufactured. We’ve found that one-off items — like limited edition screen-prints or high-end jewellery — are given value because of the craftmanship and bespoke nature involved. They can be sold at a higher price point which customers recognize and understand. However, hand-printing tea towels — which can be easily mass produced — might not be the best use of your time.

Lastly we think about longevity, and making a product which is timeless. Be wary of trends — Keep Calm, moustaches and owls spring to mind! — and go for something that speaks to people at a deeper level. Create something that makes them smile, reminds them of something good or is simply just beautifully designed. This can help with ‘talkability’ — and getting your product in the press is a great way of reaching a wider audience. This can be a double-edged sword, however. Journalists are focused on trends — and making something which ties into key seasonal trends, for example, might mean you get coverage because you’re already doing half the work for them (having been a journalist I know!). However, chasing transient fads might mean you end up with hundreds of Diamond Jubilee mugs you can’t get rid of.

So think, before you design. And if product stands up to all of these, you could be onto a winner.

(Picture credit: Humblesticks)

Cat How is a Creative Director and Co-Founder of Pollen Place — a unique workspace and event space based in central Bristol designed to nurture creativity and spark productivity. She is also Creative Director of branding and graphic design agency, Polleni. Cat studied at the University of Bristol and Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. She has worked as a journalist and graphic designer for newspapers such as Metro, The Guardian and The Observer. Most recently, she was creative director of the e-commerce design business, Howkapow, she founded and ran with her husband Rog How. Howkapow was sold in February 2017. In that time Cat and Rog were running it, Howkapow was given accolades such as the “Best Online Shop for Stylish Homewares” (The Guardian); one of the “Top Ten Online Design Shops” (The Sunday Times) and their pop-up “The Best Shop To Visit In Bristol” (The Guardian).

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