114: Designing MVP for a New Consumer Product | Product Startup

114: Designing an MVP for a New Consumer Product

February 16, 2022

With Magnus Sköld, Senior Industrial Design at Mako Design

114: Designing an MVP for a New Consumer Product

Magnus Sköld is a 20-year industrial designer. He started designing ultra-high-end interiors for private jets for international royalty, then worked with commercial airlines, then worked with Dell and a number of other brands, and then, for the past few years, he has been a senior industrial designer with me at Mako Design. Today, Magnus is going to share some valuable knowledge on how inventors, startups, and small manufacturers should think about the importance of a minimum viable product when developing their first product for the market. How MVP is important for cost, simplicity, modern design, production smoothness, and even benefits and feedback from end-users.

Today you will hear us talk about:

  • MVP design defined
  • Levels of complication
  • Has it been thought through
  • Free vs costly choices
  • Keeping things clean/tidy/elegant
  • Matching the aesthetic of the environment
  • Nothing more, nothing less
  • Purity of purpose
  • The true costs of complexity

The Product Startup Podcast
114: Designing an MVP for a New Consumer Product
With Magnus Sköld, Senior Industrial Design at Mako Design

00:00 | Kevin Mako (KM): Hello product innovators. Today, we learn from a 20 year industrial designer on the importance of thinking MVP for startups, developing a new product.

00:08 | Voice-over: You’re listening to the Product Startup podcast. The show that helps bring your product idea to life, by chatting with successful inventors, product developers, manufacturers, and hardware industry professionals. Our goal here is to get to the bottom of what makes a product successful, from initial idea to getting your product on store shelves. We’re taking you step by step to build a functional product and scale your product business. Hosted by Kevin Mako, one of North America’s leading experts on hardware development for small product businesses. Now, on to the show.

00:47 | KM: Welcome back everyone. Today I’m very excited to introduce Magnus Sköld to the. Magnus is a 20 year industrial designer. He started in designing ultra high-end interiors for private jets and for international royalty. Then worked with commercial airline, then worked with Dell and a number of brands. And then for the past few years, as a senior industrial designer with me here at Mako Design.

01:06 | KM: Today Magnus is going to share some valuable knowledge on how inventor, startups and small manufacturers should think about the importance of a minimum viable product when developing their first product for market. How MVP is important for cost, simplicity, modern design production smoothness, and even on to benefits and feedback from end users. Now on to the episode.

01:26 | KM: Hey Magnus, welcome to the show.

01:27 | Magnus Sköld (MS): Hi, how’s it going?

01:28 | KM: Good. I appreciate you rushing back from client site today to hop on this podcast as we get it ready for tomorrow’s episode, which is pretty exciting to keep it relevant, because this is a subject that I’m very excited about. And I’m very excited to talk to you about, and it’s all about keeping product development simple on your first launch so that you can do a great quality of executing well.

01:49 | KM: We’ve talked about this in different parts and flavors on past episodes, but given your 20 plus year history in industrial design and engineering these products out to be great product successes, I thought it was very important to bring you on the show to talk about that topic right now, given the concept of feature creep and all these things that can really balloon out and expand projects and cause them to be a problem. So, first and foremost, before we jump into all that fun stuff, give us a bit of a background on how you landed to where you are today.

02:17 | MS: Originally I’m from Sweden and I lived there for the first nine years of my life and then lived 14 years in England. That’s where I studied transportation design. And it was from the transportation degree that I actually ended up landing a design job in Austin, originally for a brief moment as an internship. And then that’s how I end up in Texas actually. I have a lot of family here. So a long story short, kind of went from one company to another. And that’s how I ended up back in Austin again. And did some freelancing before I joined Mako.

02:44 | KM: And you’ve worked on some big projects, big clients. Why don’t you just run through some of the names that you’ve worked with and some of the things that you’ve seen in your long history of industrial design?

02:54 | MS: One of my earlier jobs, actually, that was part of the internship. We worked on a VIP aircraft interiors. We would design these very lavish luxurious interiors. For example, the Sultan of Brunei or Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud was his name. These things had really crazy interiors, like you wouldn’t believe. Lots of gold, platinum, the most expensive materials you can think of. So that was a very interesting introduction into what professional industrial design was going to be like.

03:19 | MG: Then went into more of the commercial sector, working for DXS industrial design, where we worked on a lot of commercial seating, for example, American airlines, domestic business. And that’s actually one of the seats. They are still flying today. And after that we did a lot of electronic commercial stuff with telecommunication. There’s a lot of stuff that happened to do with that in Dallas area.

03:42 | MG: But after that, when I moved down to Austin again, I worked a lot with Dell and their latest, the 14G line when they came out, That was something that was kind of a combination of their merger with EMC as well as also the design that they were trying to incorporate. So kind of this fun roller coaster ride of trying to combine what Dell wanted, but also what needed to be influenced by EMC. So that was a interesting thing, trying to make those boxes be recognizable, distinctive, and impactful within that enterprise level of business.

04:17 | MG: But then after that, also a lot of some of the medical equipment from Abbot. Worked on a little bit of office electronics and some seating furniture at the same time, but then came to Mako and then working with all the different projects that we worked with here.

04:30 | KM: It’s an incredible history that you’ve got. An amazing experience going from designing some of the most lavish interiors in the world, on ultra-high-class airplanes, trickling down to doing it commercial level, and then working on all kinds of different products, both in the medical space and work that you did for Dell and servers and all that sort of stuff as well. So a blend of consumer product as well is very high end.

04:50 | KM: It’s really given you an incredible light to this whole concept of MVP and the importance of it. So why don’t you just talk first and foremost, what does MVP mean? I know it’s something we talk about quite a lot at the design host at Mako Design, what is MVP? And then why is that so important? And then we’ll break that down into a number of different sub segments for anyone who’s developing a product right now, or thinking about developing a product or even developing the next version of a product. This topic is very important, especially in 2022.

05:19 | MS: Of course, well MVP is acronym for a Minimum Viable Product. And what that means for the actual client is that we are trying to ensure that they are getting as much bang for their buck, but in terms of trying to make sure that we can create what they need, but not add so much stuff to it, that it becomes too expensive, too heavy, too burdensome and takes too long to develop.

05:42 | MS: Because one of the key things when we have our clients come in, is to make sure that they are able to turn around this quickly and be able to get it done quickly and deliver what they need to have to the market.

05:54 | KM: MVP is so critical because feature creep can be a killer to new products for a number of reasons, but it’s not just in cutting out the features. It’s an ensuring quality on the other side. And that’s something that’s so important and really misunderstood a lot of the time in new product developers, is the fact that the more features you add, that means the less effort you can afford on each of those individual features, let alone the compounding element of complexity that happens in between those features, that can compound and compound on from there.

06:24 | KM: When we think about MVP, it’s not just about making the product cheap. And I think the tech world kind of gave MVP a bit of a bad connotation. Originally in tech, the idea of MVP was release whatever crap you could out there and then fix it later. But it’s very different now. And in fact at Mako design we have this expression we call brilliantly simple design or smart MVP. And that’s the concept not just shrinking features down, but doing those features, those best most important features, doing an extremely good job at that.

06:52 | KM: When you then compound that with modern 2022 design, it really paints a picture of why MVP is important. I bring up design because as you know with all products out there today, anything that’s well designed, it has that simple elegance, that brilliantly simple designed to it. That is the elegance that is so critical today in design, because it’s not just about making it look visually appealing, making it sexy and sleek and modern and simple. But also making sure that you’re focusing on just those core features to do a really good job of those well.

07:21 | MS: Yes, I think of it as a Swiss watch. That’s an analogy I like to use sometimes. What I mean when I say that, is that you have what’s called levels of complication. It’s a term that’s describing how many gears are needed to be able to show just simply the time on the watch and the more levels of complication you have, the more expensive naturally the watch gets. So what I often have to have a chat with the clients about, is that we have to make sure and for their benefit, of course, that those things don’t get too complicated by adding too much. And so what we try and do is try to ensure that there aren’t that many levels of complication in order to make sure that the product is successful.

07:58 | KM: That’s so important with startup mentality, especially, because when you’re releasing a new product TO market, you generally have come up with like one, maybe two key innovations, like something that’s really changing the game for the market. Something that’s really of need or a pain point that you’re solving. And what happens is, inventors start with that and they get very excited about that idea and that’s what they bring to the table. But as they start developing it, it’s quite common to see them start adding bells and whistles.

08:24 | KM: It needs to have LEDs. It needs to connect with an app. It needs to have multiple sizes. It needs to be forward compatible and backwards compatible. And all these things are ideas that are brought in from other products that are in the market. The differences is other products that are in the market have been around for many years, sometimes tens of years, sometimes hundreds of years.

08:42 | KM: So the difficulty is when you’re trying to take something new, a new innovation to market, but you’re trying to also benchmark of all these different features and bells and whistles that a very mature product line might have. Now, of course, you never want to ruin inspiration, bring up the ideas and put those into place, but never forget what was the one or the two, maybe on the outside, critical features that were solving the main pain point, because you could always change those features down the road.

09:07 | KM: You can always build a pro version, your next year’s version, an enhance version, whatever else, maybe it’s a specific branded version with a certain partnership. There’s lots of different ways you can scale the brand, but if you never get to market, or if the product that you first released to market is too complicated and too glitchy, and you’re missing really the value that you had on those one or two features, then it’s a non-starter.

09:29 | KM: So it’s much easier for somebody creating a very new product, bringing it to the market. It’s easier to start with your best foot forward with a very specific focused niche feature, and then start scaling back and not just scaling back from your own ideas, but scaling back from the ideas of the users that are actually using it and telling you maybe what additional features they would want, or maybe what features they don’t care for. All of that can then weigh in to make better versions of that features as you increase these levels of complication to the product, as you were talking about Magnus.

10:00 | MS: I think the core features they are trying to nail down and focus and help the client focus on what the core features of their ideas is so important. And now if we don’t do that, as you say, it’s very easy, as they are so excited about it. And one of the things I definitely try to do is make sure that we stay down an elegant path, to make sure that, there’s a line for it. And I say, there’s nothing more, nothing less.

10:23 | MS: And by keeping it that way, there’s that purity of purpose, so that when a customer or a user sees the product, they’re like, okay, we get it. We know how to use this. This makes sense. It’s totally intuitive.

10:36 | KM: Purity of purpose, nothing more, nothing less. That’s powerful stuff, Magnus. And it really is a big deal because there is that elegance that you mentioned in the simplicity of design. So if you focus on that, you can really design a beautiful product around that as you add features and complexities as the listeners out there think about it from a designer’s perspective. If you start adding all these bells and whistles, and then also asking the designer to make it clean, simple, elegant, that’s a very difficult challenge because now you have many interacting variables on an engineering level that have to be put together work well, but also look and feel aesthetically pleasing.

11:13 | KM: I love how you take it One step further Magnus. You talk about the end user, the customer and their ease of understanding the product. When they get that package, you pull it out of the box. How simple is it to understand what it does and how to use it, or do you have to go through a 28 step process in order to use this thing through a detailed instruction manual? All this weighs into that simplicity that we talk about.

11:35 | MS: There’s an author called Don Norman, he has written many books on, the user and what the ideal way to interact with the product is. And one of the things it says is that the perfect product has no instruction manual. So ideally the product that we design should be, have no instruction manual, and it should be perfectly clear how you use it.

11:55 | KM: That comes through to something you talk about Magnus, a lot about thinking things through and really thoroughly and detailing those core features that you have. Talk a bit about that.

12:04 | MS: It’s funny. You should use that phrase, thinking it through, was actually one my old boss, Tim Lesky used to tell me when I was a young designers. He’s like you got to remember, have you thought it through and it really resonated with me. And one of the things I still use that. I always think that when I’m sitting and drawing and working within CAD, it’s like okay, does the location of this component or just this part line, does it make sense down the line?

12:30 | MS: Is it moldable? Simply put, is it moldable? Can it be produced effectively, economically and beneficially to the client, but then also ultimately to the user so that they have a wonderful interaction with the actual product.

12:44 | KM: Thinking it through is so powerful, especially when it comes to those elements we talked about. And of course, when you’ve got too many things to think through, again, you just probably starting to see a simpler theme here. Too many things, too much to think about, less quality product. Talk a bit further down that line versus, free versus costly choices that you can make when you’re figuring out different design features or design elements you want on a new product.

13:07 | MS: Well, I think free is ones that are simple and intuitive and they are and they’ll fall in line with what the product does. And sometimes these are things that when we talk with clients, they have an idea. And sometimes we have the clients that come with this wonderful prototype that they made out of bottles and tape and pot glue, and they’re wonderful. And they have a good idea of how it’s supposed to work.

13:31 | MS: Then you have clients that come and say, well, I have this idea. I’m not sure how it looks or how it’s supposed to work, but this is what I want it roughly to do. And so what we can do then is we can sort of help them align things so that, well, I know you said you wanted it to be like this, but if we do it another way then potentially we could do it in a more straightforward, more intuitive way.

13:52 | MS: And so instead of having to try and force something, because that’s also kind of harping back again to thinking it through. When you’re trying to force something, is when it becomes too much, or you’re trying to make something do the thing that you want to do. And you’re spending too much time trying to figure out, then you really have to step back and think, wait, is this the right answer? Is this the way we’re supposed to go? Is there a simpler path to this?

14:13 | MS: And I can attribute this to more nowadays kind of like a gut feeling now. And maybe that’s because I’ve had 20 years of experience doing this. It’s a gut feeling. And it’s something that I actually find myself trusting more and more as I get older, funnily enough. It’s like, okay, is this right? Does this work? And if you’re being really honest yourself, you find out very quickly that, okay, that’s not as streamlined as it should be. And that’s when it gets costly.

14:40 | KM: I like how you mentioned bringing it back to the initial ideation. Some people have ideas, some people have the prototypes. One of the things that anyone can do right now, like after listening to this podcast is, look at the product that you’re making and make those honest choices to yourself between what are the must have features? What are your core features? And on the other side, what are the nice to have features?

15:04 | KM: And you can very quickly even work with just that simple AB column scenario, to look in detail your product and say, what is the MVP that I need for this to solve the pain point that I originally came up with, the original idea, the core concept that can now help frame that simplicity that Magnus is talking about, keeping things clean, tidy, elegant, keeping the choices between relatively free and easy choices that we can do, like design aesthetics and making stuff robust and putting in simple choices in terms of basic features and functionality, as opposed to complicated add-ons and feature creep.

15:40 | KM: And that’s a very simple exercise if you’re kind of new to the product development space and you haven’t yet gone down the path of really professionally designing and engineering a product from the ground up. I highly recommend you just run through that exercise, even do that brief hand sketches. You don’t have to be a designer. You don’t have to be a builder. Both of those things you can do in your garage, you could do on a notepad.

16:01 | KM: You can do on the computer if you’re more comfortable with that, whatever it is that you want, just start getting something on paper and all a while, be thinking about how do I keep that down to my, let’s call it smart minimum viable product, just the core features that I want and how I want to do an extremely good job at those features, so that my product, at least in those core categories, for those core pain points, my product is really going to be topnotch.

16:25 | KM: Then you can figure out how to scale and add those levels of complication down the road. So Magnus talk a bit about your combination of aesthetics and the environment. You’re a big proponent of designing both with your core features, but also understanding the use case and the environment it’s going to be used in. And talk a little bit about that in the early phases of designing a product that’s thought of as an MVP or smart minimum viable product.

16:48 | MS: Well, I try to first understand where the client’s coming from. I do also sort of my own personal research, where I try to understand where the client’s coming from, what his background is, but then also where he wants to take the product. And then by analyzing the two, I can kind of have an idea, at least to start with, where they want to go and where that environment is going to go in.

17:07 | MS: You can create a design, these very kinds of pure designs out there. They are beautiful to look at, but sometimes they become so beautiful that you’re afraid to touch them. For example, I could use the iPhone as an example. I have an iPhone, there are beautiful things, but look at how many of us actually put cases on it because we’re so afraid to break them.

17:23 | MS: What I’m getting at is that we have a understanding of the environment goes in and to make sure that if it is in a rugged environment, that it has rugged features to it. They can be nice looking. They can be simple. They don’t have to be over the top. They just have to have this just right, nothing more, nothing less. That point of okay, this fits in, but it’s a modern take on something. It’s not just reinventing what’s already there. It’s not just utilizing, it’s taking it one step further, very clean and simple and beautiful, but just fitting in the right environment.

17:53 | KM: It comes back to your free versus costly choices as well. If you’re designing something, I love your example of rugged. If you’re designing something that’s rugged and you’ve stripped it down to your core features, and you’ve done a really good job of building them, then it’s very easy for your designer to take those features and build a rugged designer around it. Again, as you add complexity, it makes it more and more difficult to land perfectly in the environment that you’re looking for.

18:15 | KM: So it’s another reason why you’re trying to match your end user’s desire, the environment that the product is actually going to land in with those original core features that you come up with. And when you have a really good blend of those two, it can create a phenomenal product. And what I like to think of, obviously down the road, how does that product sell?

18:30 | KM: We talked about it earlier on the show about how products that are designed, well designed, clean, simple to a modern standard. They almost explain themselves when you unbox them. That also helps with your marketing, your sales, business partners, fundraising, you name it. If you have a simple clean product that has a very clear value you proposition, what is the pain point that it solves or what is the opportunity that it creates?

18:54 | KM: And the product is very core and focused to that, and then built for the environment that it’s intended for. Those users should be able to pick it up in a snap or the investor should be able to understand it quickly and want to invest in you because the people generally want to invest in things that they understand, or maybe it’s a potential retailer distribution part partner that’s going to build on it and expand upon it.

19:13 | KM: Or maybe it’s a brand partner or a licensing deal that you’re looking at, where you’re trying to get somebody else to tap into their brand, to help you expand your product sales or distribution. All of these come down to environment and a clean product and understanding those core features. And of course at the end of the day, the most important thing it’s the last thing I want to touch on is episode is when you have simplicity, it allows you to focus so much on quality.

19:37 | KM: And that bakes down, of course, to you Magnus, even in the early concept design work, as you then carry it through to engineering and prototyping, refine prototyping and into production. Production sampling, and then into the actual production itself, explain how much smoother that process can be when you have a well designed, well thought out initial MVP product from the get go.

19:59 | MS: The hurdle that we always have to overcome is that we have this wonderful concept that we start with. And then we have a prototype that works and a prototype level works very well, but then it finally comes to production. You have to deal with vendors that have their own methods of making things. And this is where this becomes so important that we are trying to make things, keep things simple, because if we try and add too many features, try to add too many details to the products.

20:22 | MS: It is more conversations and more explanation that we have to give to our vendors in order to ensure that they produce it the way that we want to help our clients produce it. These things take longer and money is time. And if we can reduce that time in terms of conversation and they can see these files and they can understand, oh, we get it. We know how to make this simple. We can do this. Then we’ve already streamlined the process tenfold.

20:48 | KM: The beauty of that too, is it’s not just in prototyping and carrying it through to production, but you’re going to have less defects. You’re going to have less warranty issues. You’re going to have less confusion about your end customer. You’re going to have less cost or problems through production, or even in after sales support that happens. All of that’s stuff adds up to less headaches and more time for an inventor or a startup or a small product brand to focus on growing the brand, as opposed to dealing with some of the small, complicated issues.

21:18 | KM: And I really feel that the most important thing is after all that’s said and done the best thing that happens with this is feedback. Because when you have that clarity of direction, when you have that clarity of intent with the product, you’re going to naturally attract people who are interested in that one pain point that you’re solving.

21:36 | KM: Those people become brand champions. They also become some of the people who give you the best feedback. So if you can listen to that early feedback from your first few customers, then start to plan out your roadmap for how you’re going to enhance or improve the product down the road. That double edge sword of your own internal ideation in combination with the markets ideation leads to progressively and better and better products down the road, or even an entire line of products, different divisions of products, different products for different markets.

22:04 | KM: That’s how you can go from being a one skew product to an entire product brand line that has multiple different categories. You look at most products out there, whether it’s from automobiles to cell phones, they have their premium, their middle, and even a low price version. If you start with a high quality version to begin with, it’s a lot easier to either scale down if necessary to a lower cost or add features to that than trying to be everything to everyone out of the gate.

22:29 | KM: And dealing with a lot of headaches that come along with that and not being able to perfectly execute on that one or two core features to your buyer audience. Because the more complicated you make it again, the more diverse your market’s going to be as well. Therefore, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of different opinions and a lot of different circumstances. And all these things come back around to that concept of smart minimum viable product, right from the early onset, right from your first sketches, your first ideation, your first version of the product, and then carrying it forward all the way through engineering prototyping and into production.

22:59 | KM: Magnus, is there any other tips and tricks along the way that you want to give the listeners to the show as they’re working to develop or ideate on their product?

23:07 | MG: I think I need to reiterate the need to stay focused on what your core competencies are. I think that is the real key to success. We sometimes say there’s always gen two, which incorporates not just what the feedback from the initial design, but also what the users might say from it. And your channels have opened up at that point. If your product is successful and then your users have respond back because then you not only have a product out there that is successful, generating hopefully some good income for you, but you’re also able to take that income and then rechannel it, refunnel into the new version of it.

23:42 | KM: That’s a really good point. I mean, talking about the money, you can use some of the money down the road to reinvest in those features, as opposed to using your startup funding to get your first product to market. That’s a big one. It’s a really good point you made there. Another one that I think is important, looking at the product and thinking about those costs, but understanding the difference as well, between what is good for a startup in a hardware world and what is good for a fortune and 500 product development agency.

24:08 | KM: Because one of the biggest things that when you think about product development from a big corporate perspective, is that product has to hit say 10 or a hundred million plus for it to be considered a successful product. So the way you develop a product for a big fortune 500 product company is going to be very different than what a startup needs.

24:24 | KM: So a lot of the education out there, a lot of the readings that you see of how to design a product was not guided for the startup or even a small brand. And when I say small brand, I’m talking about a company under a hundred employees that has a brand or a product, or as a manufacturer or distributor or whatever else. So we’re thinking small cap stocks here all the way down to startups.

24:44 | KM: These individuals, when you’re designing a product is going to be very different because a fortune 500 essentially has huge budget to try a whole bunch of different things, to try and add a whole bunch of different features so that they can capture as much of a market with that product as possible out of the gate, because they can afford to do so. And because they’re bringing years of history and experience and customer feedback into that decision making process.

25:06 | KM: A startup should be looking to hit a small piece of the market and do a really good job of that. And then branching out from there, simply for a matter of budget, but also for a number of the things that we talked about earlier on the show, in terms of the headaches and simplicity, and even just benefits, like having clean, modern design with simplicity.

25:23 | KM: So it’s really important when you’re considering these different angles and these different opinions on design to understand, like where do you fit into the world in terms of design? Are you on the smaller side or are you on the bigger side? Because those are two very different models with very different education stream in terms of how you get a product to market. And most of the information, most of the textbooks, most of the stuff that you see out there is geared to big corporate design.

25:48 | KM: So you really have to think about it as a startup. It’s a totally different approach, totally different methodology to get a new product out to market.

25:54 | MG: The key thing to note here is that there are all these different production processes out there, and as you mentioned, larger corporate entities, bigger businesses, over a hundred employees that are trying to develop products, they will have the funds to be able to create the multi injection point molds, with multiple different sliders and features on it. And that’s all good and well, but I know that we personally have clients that we don’t have the budget to do that.

26:26 | MG: And so we have to adjust the design and it’s for the better, because for a lower economically reachable production method. And by doing so down the road, actually increasing their chance to actually get a return of investment. They can do that. If we can bring, sort of like, okay we can just adjust this design by. And then therefore we can take advantage of this product process, which can be cheaper, especially at lower volumes, which I know some of our clients have to start at lower volumes before they can get to the big volumes.

26:57 | MG: And so we can adjust to those. Then we also can help them down the road as well. And that, again, brings back to the return of investment, the ability to funnel money and do further R&D in order to get to the next gen, third gen, fourth gen product.

27:11 | KM: Magnus much appreciated for you taking the time to be on the show today. Thanks again. And we’ll talk soon.

27:16 | MG: My pleasure.

27:17 | Voice-over: Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the Product Startup podcast. The show that teaches you what it really takes to bring your product to market and turn it into a big success. This podcast series is brought to you by MAKO Design + Invent, the original and leading firm in North America to provide global caliber end-to-end physical consumer product development to startups, inventors, and small product business clients. If you’re looking for product development help on your invention, head over to makodesign.com. That’s M-A-K-O design.com, for a free consultation from one of MAKO Design’s, four design studios from coast to coast. Thanks for listening and see you next time.


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