Brand Management New Product Development Product Marketing

What Does This Thing Do? Principles of Design for Product Managers

Written by Therese Padilla

Every product has a life cycle, and it is difficult to mark one point or another as the most important, but there are essential phases in the lifespan of every product without which it would not exist at all. Design — with its collection of processes for deciding and refining the “what” and “why” of a product — is critical to development, production, and presentation. For our purposes today, “design” refers to a product’s progress from conception to packaging, but it’s useful to remember principles of design are present, to varying degrees, in every aspect of product management — from research methods and marketing campaigns to production and iteration.

The design of a thing makes it aesthetically pleasing, user friendly, and appealing to consumers — or not. Deploying good design principles from the beginning is a sound investment in the quality of the result. A professional product manager (PM) may or may not be involved in a product’s conception, but design is an essential point of PM engagement.


It’s not difficult to find aesthetically pleasing products, even if you can’t precisely pinpoint their appeal. Design elements are the reason consumers choose this notebook — or pen or garbage can or hammer — over that one. The products people use every day make life a little better when they work the way they’re supposed to and look good doing it.

Products appeal to consumers when they can easily picture themselves using them, and they like what they see. Customers are attracted to products they can easily associate with their self-image and lifestyle. A well-designed product reflects well on its owner and conveys social status when they’re observed using it. Some companies (e.g., Apple) make aesthetics so central to their product design, their names become synonymous with high style.

Design aesthetics feature in every consumer product across every industry. PMs use market research regarding consumer needs and expectations to provide critical guidance to product design teams. Whether a product is tangible or digital, a pleasing design makes it infinitely more pleasant for consumers to use.

User experience

User experience is essential to a successful product design. It centers on the targeted customer, their anticipated use of the product — drawn from extensive market research data — and using the product’s design to fulfill the customer’s needs.

When a user handles a well-designed product, its function is readily apparent. Consumers are not required to hunt for basic control features. Good design places essential controls where the customer will naturally encounter them when they pick up the product. For digital products, or those that are not portable, controls should still be intuitive and basic functions easy to find, interpret, and operate. In general, a product’s largest controls are the most frequently used. Controls for edge cases and so-called “power users” are lower priority, smaller, and conveniently, if not centrally, placed. For some higher-end products, user customization is available but not required for a full user experience.

In best-case scenarios, a well-designed product works right out of the box, and if a consumer wants to improve their personal product experience, options should be easy to find, implement, and revert — and they should offer a noticeable alteration to the user’s experience. If customization options don’t check all these boxes, it’s the PM’s role to advocate for their exclusion from the final product or its next iteration.

Pleasing aesthetics capture consumer attention, and a good user experience makes a product functional and useful for fulfilling consumer needs. But no matter how well a product is designed, it will not find its target market unless it’s also easy to sell.

Market appeal and salability

It would be nice if well-designed products sold on the strength of their features alone, but design for product success extends well beyond the product itself. Marketing and advertising campaigns may be the first a consumer hears of a product, but packaging is typically their first physical encounter with it. So, an inclusive, well-designed package represents a product well and inspires consumers to imagine themselves using it. The package makes the promise — for quality, aesthetics, and usability — that the product then fulfills.

Package and product design work in concert, so there must be an organic association between them. Use the finalized product’s design brief to inspire the package design as well. How can the fundamentals of the product design be incorporated into its package and market presentation? The PM facilitates this process with their knowledge of product design and market appeal.

If a product trades on timelessness and durability, for instance, its package should reflect the same qualities. It should be substantial and feature timeless design fundamentals. Picking up the package should give consumers a taste of what they can expect when they get their hands on the actual product. Package design helps — or hinders — salability.

Design thinking

From initial conception to market distribution, the PM has a role in every phase of product development and design. A product’s success depends on the PM’s knowledge of product features, specifications, market share, and salability — all of which are affected by its design. So, design cannot rely on a simple roll of the dice.

Product design should instead rely on “design thinking,” in which a consumer problem is identified, and the product’s design is approached with an eye toward solving said problem in aesthetically pleasing ways for an optimal user experience. Include aesthetics and user experience data points in market research, and beyond consumer input, remember: Design unified across product, packaging, and public presentation adds to a product’s prospects for market appeal and consumer satisfaction.

Learn more about the professional product and brand manager’s role in product design at

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About the author

Therese Padilla