How to design a successful product?

Tapio Anttila

Right off the bat, plot reveal - I'm not going to give a clear answer to that question. I still wanted to think about that topic that always worries designers in this blog. What elements must a product have in order for it to successfully achieve success, a smash hit, an earth-shattering hit, or an insane hit? After all, there must be something in a successful product if it has been successful.

Keep reading to see how I'm succeeding with this topic.

A successful product has something magical and a mysterious charm that appeals to the emotions. Many other features are hidden; it is easy to make, its usability is excellent, it is high quality, it offers something new and it is refreshing with its design. Today, of course, sustainability is also added to the list, which can be implemented in many ways, such as durability and longevity, maintainability and carbon neutrality. Should we add timelessness to the list? I think yes and no, but read more about the topic in the previous article ”On the top of a trendy wave - or on the beach watching the splash of the waves?” from my blog. The price doesn't matter either, if it is in balance with the product's features. So success is the sum of many things. If even one thing is lacking, the product will probably never be successful. But how do you compose and arrange that hit song from that cacophony of criteria?

"We Finns have always been accused of being product-oriented, and that's what we are."


Sometimes, as a younger and beginner designer, I of course had a strong urge to design specifically a successful product. Since then, I noticed that the more I thought about success while designing, the less my products turned out to be successful. If success is the only thing that guides the designer, the focus of the design is the product - not its user. In this case, the designer only thinks about how the product looks, which narrows the perspective. But this is how we were taught at designer school back then, and nothing was said about customer or market orientation.

Later, I turned things upside down and learned to put the customer to the center of design. I try to think about what problems they have, what they need, what they think, what their values are and what new needs living in the future will bring them. This list of things to consider could go on and on. I get spark and inspiration for my design from this theme. In other words, it must be added to the initial feature list that a successful product always solves a customer's problem or need.

And I would continue the growing list with one more thing; a successful product has a story that the brand tells in a way that speaks to its own customer. This brings authenticity between the product and the customer - someone has actually designed the product and it has a meaningful history of origin.


"Even if success is the desired goal, you just have to "forget" it and focus on designing with passion. And if success comes, it will come - if it's meant to come."


Apparently, the recipe for a successful product just swells and gets confused like the Finnish health and social services reform. As stated, a designer has to take many things into account and then achieve a balanced combination of them. This is the most difficult stage and is also called design. Then we move to an area that is more difficult to define and intuition and inspiration step in. I know from experience that the process includes trying different paths, failing and moving forward again. All of this takes time and there is no shortcut to success. Perhaps this is one of the most important characteristics of a successful product. So when I'm designing, I can't think about whether the product will be successful or not.


As I was writing this, Iltalehti published an article about my Day&Night sofa bed. As a typical Finnish designer, I avoid praising my own product until the very end, but with something like this, the sofa in question could probably be considered some kind of successful product. After all, the sofa has also been awarded with three international design awards. In particular, what warms me in the whole article is that sofa bed is categorically not considered to be the sexiest design object, but still it did well in that comparison.

Oh yes, there is one more feature of a successful product - cheaper copies of it are made.

- Tapio