A Conversation With Product Design Guru Brett Lovelady

The AW360 team sat down with the creative guru behind major 21st-century consumer tech like Bose Sleepbuds, Shinola electronic, Nike Fuelband and the Xbox 360 to talk through all things product design. Meet Brett Lovelady, Founder & Chief Instigator of San-Fran-based ASTRO Studios.

Q: Briefly talk us through Product Design 101—What goes into it, and what considerations do you make as part of your design process?

Design for consumer products is a blend of function, experience, trend and often technology, but it always starts with a desire to understand who we are designing for and what we can do to improve their human experience. Our ASTRO 5D Process outlines the following approach:

DIALOG: Talk with clients to understand their hopes, desires and hard realities when it comes to producing a product for their commercial endeavor.  Preliminary planning, networking and program development is critical at this phase for success, considering often aggressive timelines.

DEFINE: Inspired by the DIALOG phase, we strive to gain an understanding of the trends, consumer expectations, technologies for development, interaction and manufacturing, then blend that into a unique, often IP-driven, point of view for the product to be designed. This phase is driven by user scenarios and experience storyboards, as well as rough mock-ups and design language themes, resulting in a clear design point of view to fuel the design team and their work.

DESIGN: Fueled by the DEFINE phase, we start with a range of concepts to explore the potential, then funnel into chosen directions as we pursue a fully designed and detailed commercialized execution of the product. Rapid development and prototyping tools are critical in this phase when it comes to bringing digital work into the physical world for observation and proof of concept.

DEVELOP: Based on the chosen direction of the DESIGN phase, final prototypes, CAD files, color, material and finishes are developed and defined in detail, then transferred to engineering and manufacturing partners. Through this transfer process and dialog, designs can be refined or modified as needed, usually for high volume production. This often involves reviewing parts, samples, engineering prototypes, manufacturing first builds, etc., with an eye toward meeting the original design intent and the client’s earliest goals. Managing the liaison with production resources is critical toward executing the original intent of a product and getting that into the hands of the consumer.

DEPLOY: After the DEVELOP phase, especially with consumer products, design support is needed to help communicate the product to the consumer, retailers and press, and the original designers or team can often provide the most consistent assets in support of product launches and feedback looks to develop/upgrade/refresh the next round of products. ASTRO’s full phase process often helps close the loop on creating highly desirable, human-enhancing high-churn consumer products.

Q: You’ve said that design must fuel emerging tech—Why is that the case, and more broadly, what does that entail?

Emerging technologies are driven by solving a problem, as opposed to exploring and pursuing applications. Design will often take a technology slated for one problem and apply it to a myriad of possible applications, often by placing the technology within a desirable human context. For example, a smart bracelet that can sense your activity by combining a series of emerging technologies, such as wireless, flex circuits, and accelerometers, is functionally powerful, but if it doesn’t pass the fashion test, it may fail to reach a broad enough audience to become a viable business. So, it all boils down to design, as the fuel for commercializing emerging tech, especially in consumer markets.

Q: What does “Design in the Fifth Dimension” mean, and what should marketers and agencies know about it?

Put simply, Design in the Fifth Dimension means accounting for a more soulful, transcendent relationship with the products we create. Put even more simply, 5D Design is Soulful Design.

We live most of our time in a 3-Dimensional (3D) world, while often viewing information in a 2D-world. In modern product design, we often design for a 4D-world, considering how a product will perform over time and through space, affected by unseen forces like gravity, atmosphere, other people, wear and tear, etc.  But now, with the advancements in technology, we need to think about the metaphysical and design in the fifth dimension for a 5D-world. As I see it, it’s designing in a space which accounts for prior dimensions while also adding in predictive technologies (AI, IOT, ML, etc.,), all with a view toward building human interactions and relationships and a simultaneous view toward history and future impact. This means creating soulful, culturally relevant, long term relationships with the things we create, including the future exposures, diverse environments and potential impact on the nature of humankind.

Q: How do you incorporate a brand, or branding more generally, into product design?

In order to create holistic, fully-satisfying consumer properties, you need the name, brand and identity system to be in sync, often magnifying the product’s design. At ASTRO, we see the brand position, identity, ethos, colors, etc., as core design elements which lend themselves to any successful consumer product. Without the branding and brand context, the products often feel incomplete. Classically, is a Mac incomplete without an Apple icon?  Or are Air Force 1’s lost without a Nike Swoosh?

This is why at ASTRO, we believe in designing consumer goods holistically, considering naming, branding, products, packaging, digital, UX and UI at the same time, and then often summiting to driven influence and align for a total commercialized Human Experience.

Q: Right now, you’d be hard-pressed to design new tech that doesn’t at least reference or take into account Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality. How are you and the ASTRO team designing for these new realities?

In design consulting, we see a little of a lot and can often combine concepts to magnify the best solutions for the human condition.

First off, VR and AR are fundamentally different. VR takes you into a fully closed, alternative view, while AR overlays your reality with additional information or effects. ASTRO has been fortunate to be involved early-on in both of these arenas through its work with Samsung Gear, Google VR, Oculus, Mira and VIVE, and therefore continues to see overlap, convergence and separations as they occur, each more clearly developed as time goes on.

To design for these new realities, ASTRO’s design team continues to experiment and learn with each program, so that immersing ourselves by interacting and experimenting with the existing

commercial products are a minimum. This combined with design tools of rapid physical and digital prototyping, animated storyboarding, video capture and good design process help us identity issues and opportunities for these new realities.

Q: How do these new technologies allow brands to connect with consumers on a deeper level?

Successful technologies allow consumers to deliver on their primary promise, and also provide a little extra, often with a little personality or character, without annoying or getting in the way of a desired pursuit for the end consumer. If this is achieved, then a relationship, much like a new human friendship can evolve. Just think of the love you have for your fully customized mobile phone, partner, buddy, accessory, brain, companion, etc. Good design can create some (hopefully positive) codependency.

Q: How can combining industrial design, smart tech and a keen sense of aesthetics create a richer, more impactful human experience?

At ASTRO, we play the role of human advocate throughout the industrial design process, with an ultimate goal of improving the Human Experience.  Products that are easier, more intuitive and delightful to use hold the hallmarks of good industrial design. Designing products that enhance your environments with superior/fashionable/appropriate materials and finishes enhance our homes, offices, retail and transportation interiors on many levels and keep us from the lowest, ultra-utilitarian of commodity experiences. Good industrial design provides its end consumers with a personal expression and identity beyond the functional purpose, hopefully creating both brand loyalty and good business.

For example, the new HP TANGO X printer we helped design is a vehicle for HP to showcase their smart printing features, including mobile print and scanning, voice activated printing, instant ink and free photo service, mobile progress alerts and home décor integration.

Q: When you consider what’s next—what the future holds in terms of technological capabilities—what are the opportunities to be had from a design standpoint?

Technology is a big bubbling collection of advancements that is outpacing broader human understanding. This creates several things from concern and fear, to apathy for the rise of machines, big data and big tech, and also creates a myriad of new opportunities, many empowered by the information age and moving rapidly into the distributed, community-controlled, experimental, democratized space. Setting aside the criminal, governmental and potential for horror, the future will require more opportunities for design which is a great thing.

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