Product designing is one of the most challenging and interesting jobs in any industry. A good product design is something that can provide a great competitive edge to any company. I think there is no golden formula that can define a good product design, but by analysing some successful products, which have good designs, we can find some characterstics of a good design. One such characterstic is to cover all the features of a product under the wrapper of simplicity and provide pivot points to access these features. This is what I call the Swiss Knife Concept of product designing.
Swiss Army Knife, or the “Offiziersmesser” (original name), has a really great product design of its own. The way a small pocket device, that looks like a knife handle, contains half a dozen tools hidden in it is really fascinating. The adoption of this product from Swiss Army and its enormous success speaks great volume about what a consumer is looking for in a product. I think the basic design principle here is to have one really transperent product feature for which the product is primarily known (in this case, a blade) and along with that have lots of other useful features. Then provide the product a real simple user interface and make it easy for the customer to access each feature individually.
Now let’s see how this very concept of product design is consiously or unconsiously adopted outside the World of this pocket device. Search giant Google seems to be built on the Swiss Knife concept. The most transperent feature being search and this surrounded by a few dozen other products is what defines this multi-billion dollar company. The simplicity with which Google has created its primary user interface with a search bar and “pivots” to reach to other products makes the product design as closely related to a Swiss Knife as it could be.
Another place where you can see this concept is in the SmartPhones. The basic feature of these mobile devices, for most of its customers, is to use it as a phone. But along with that there are a lot of other features that almost make the phone as feature rich as a personal computer. These features are discoverable by its customers using the software interface which provide options to the customers to reach to each one of these individual features. Apple iPhones took this even a step further. The iPhone includes iPod music player as an additional feature on the phone, and as the iPhone ads puts it so beautifully, its (Internet, music player and what not), on your phone.
Microsoft Word is a Swiss Knife of its own. Microsoft Word, that looks like a real simple word processor, has a lot of really useful features in it. Same is true with other products in the Office Suite. Normally, 80% of the customers end up using only 20% of these features. In order to ease the discovery of the zillion features that are there in Word and other Office products, The Office 2007 product suite has a ribbon at the top instead of the normal menu list. Word has always consisted many features, or what we can say is it was always a Swiss Knife, what this ribbon has done is added those much required more visible pivot points to make discovery and use of these features easier.
Of course you can not apply this concept to all the products out there. So how can we find out whether a product is right for Swiss Knife Concept? I think this can be done by analysing some things about the product like its primary feature, how its secondary features complement the primary feature, what problem is the product trying to address for its customers and how it is doing so. So if a product is having lots of complementary features, along with the main product feature which is essential for the product to exist, and all these compementary features should be there for the customers to access on demand, Swiss Knife Concept can be worth exploring for the product designers.
Basic thing here is to make the use of a product easy for the customers. How the Swiss Knife Concept does it is by providing customers with a real user friendly interface, which makes the adoption of the product seamless, and along with that provide other features that are easy to discover and use. Swiss Knife Concept gives the unique ability to a product designer to have lot of features in the product without taking away the similicity element out of it.