Roadmap to Leaving your Corporate Job and Starting a Creative Business (Part 3 of 6)

In the previous part of this series, I showed you how to create a one-page business plan that helps you launch. To ensure the success of your business, you must ask the fundamental question of "what do people want?", before you start building your products. In this post, I will help you create a design process which will guide you to building a profitable business around your products.

As a designer, designing and developing a product is the most crucial part of your business. Many designers struggle to create products that establish a sustainable demand among their customers. Some designers focus on only making beautiful products and hope that this alone will help them sell repeatedly in the long run. Having a great product is important, but it's not enough. You need to think of creating an ecosystem around your product that will ensure the success of your business in the long run. So what are the high-level things that you as a designer must consider during your product design and development phase in order to build your business?

1. What problem are you solving with your product? And, how are you validating it?
Every product must solve a problem and serve a purpose. Even an art piece must intrigue, excite, question or evoke emotions in its viewer. It is important to clearly state your ideal customer's problem and how your product aims to solve it. If you have a product in mind that you would like to design, talk to your prospective customers to clearly understand how your product can help them with their struggles. Let's say you are a home goods designers looking to create textiles with a clean and minimal look. You can ask your customers the following questions:

a. What is your problem around your existing home textiles? They may answer e.g. "I would like materials that are naturally-dyed and are easy to wash" or "I would like to find a throw larger than the standard 70 inches by 70 inches".

b. What do you currently use? What do you like and dislike about existing options? What is left to be desired? (This will help you as a designer to research your competition and how you can make your products stand out.)

c. What prices do you currently pay and how much more are you willing to pay if you find exactly what you are looking for?

2. How is your product unique?
First and foremost, your product must aesthetically look and feel different from your competition. A great example of this is Rifle Paper Co. which launched vintage inspired stationery and printed paper products at a time when the minimally-designed letterpress stationery was abundant. Anna and Nathan Bond looked to fill a gap in the market for whimsical printed paper products with Anna's handpainted illustrations. Their original illustrations have been very popular with retailers and customers all over the world.

Taking it one step further, you must ensure longevity and your continued uniqueness. This involves really thinking through every aspect of your product from visual design and sourcing to care and added value around your product. You must think of your product beyond the physical object. The object itself is often not unique enough in today's competitive market. This means that you need to plan for providing your customers a complete stellar experience around the purchase and use of your product. For example, you may consider providing lifetime repair service for free, or you may provide your customers with ideas on how to use your product beyond its obvious use, or you may give them aspirational examples on how to enhance their home or personal style using your product. Make sure that whatever you promise them as their experience of purchasing from you, your business is able to deliver on it consistently.

3. How is the feedback loop integrated in your product development?
Once your product is out in the hands of your customers, your job is far from over. You need to take their feedback and continuously improve your product. Everlane is a great example of integrating feedback in their product development process. The company releases a limited amount of their clothing designs. Then they gather feedback from their customers as soon the designs are released and incorporate this feedback into the next round of their production. Everlane continues to do this iterative design-production until their product is perfected.

Designing and producing a product can be challenging, but it is an extremely rewarding process for your business and your creativity. It should be viewed as a continuous cycle which, if done right, will help you stay ahead of your competition. I would love to know where you are in this process and which pieces you struggle with the most? Feel free to share and leave a comment below.

In the next part of this series, I'll share effective marketing strategies for the launch phase of your business. Stay tuned.