Careful you don’t create horrifying products like these

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Toy Fair 2008
Toy Fair 2008 (Photo credit: Hot Grill)

I bought a screen guard for an iPhone the other day from a small cell phone shop and eventually when I got it on the phone it looked like the screen had been covered in psoriasis. More fool me trying to buy something on the cheap. I’m not going to embarrass the country where this was made but I’m sure you can guess which one it is.

The Cracked website recently covered “The 6 most horrifying product recalls in China” which included donkey meat with fox, chemical burn flip-flops, sewer fish, deadly monkfish (but really puffer fish), face-smashing pogo sticks and moon face cream laced with a steroid hormone.

What’s amazing is how people come up with such products and think they can get away with it. Even more surprising are the retail stores and in some cases large international supermarket chains which sell these potentially deadly products. I mean, a skin cream that was used to treat eczema in babies could cause things like excessive hair growth in women and children, Cushing’s syndrome which is characterised by a swollen, moon-shaped face, acne, muscle weakening, hair loss and truncal obesity. Wow. Who are these people trying to fool?

The Cracked website doesn’t cover anything about the litigation against these companies and the retailers who stop these products. But I’m sure that lawyers were rubbing their hands in glee when they got the first whiff of these product failures. The crazy thing is in markets where there is less sophistication causal links may not be established with the products and the manufacturers can perhaps get away with it.

Terrifying product recalls don’t just involve those from food, toys and skincare products but also baby products. A crib was recalled in 2009 because it suffocated babies that got trapped between the drop-side crib portion and the mattress. A line of baby slings were called in 2010 because they caused “breathing hazards”. An easy bake oven led to 249 children getting their fingers or hands trapped in oven openings and burning 77 children. The product was recalled in 2007. A chain store in the US recalled 200,000 battery-operated toy speedboats because it was found that the toy boat overheats and burns in the bath.

Now I know that you are not going to come up with a new idea for products like any of these. Yet it does show you how careful you need to be in new product development. Almost every step of the way you have to test your product to make sure that it does harm people. It’s not just the ingredients that are used in a food product but also the types of materials used in new products and the shapes or design that could be unsafe. If you suspect anything that could be potentially harmful to anyone, it’s best to redesign your product and get an expert involved.

For the more professional person who has the right kind of intention products designed today have a number of considerations that include production cost, price, appearance, prestige value, usability and functionality, maintenance and repair (easily reassembled, disassembled, diagnosed and serviced). For the average entrepreneur much more of a problem is that many new product designs fail and won’t even make it to market. Product design can also be frustrating as it takes several attempts to get the right product design.

Jonathan Cagan and Craig Vogel say that it is no longer sufficient to approach product development through the “form follows function” cost-driven process but the new way is that “form and function must for fullfill fantasy”. What they mean by this is that you need to understand what the customer really values and then convert that understanding into form and function. For products that are highly desirable the product must meet the personal expectation of usefulness, usability and desirability. Emotion, they say, is the direct connection to the user experience and fantasy.

They analysed products in view of their value opportunity which includes emotion, ergonomics, athletics, identity, impact, core technology and quality. One example they use is the OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler. The standard or generic vegetable peeler which had been around for 100 years had a low level of comfort, safety and ease of use. The Good Grips peeler has a much stronger emotional component with strong aesthetic attributes and a handle that gives a greater sense of security, especially to elderly or arthritic users.

Whatever product or service you may want to come up with it takes small steps, little bets as you go into product development. As you take each step, be aware that there could be potential problems in the design and function of your product. Take little steps to try out your product in “test” conditions. Get opinions from potential users. Consult with a product development specialist if necessary. If you have any concerns, approach a lawyer. No one is saying that you’re going to create something like one of those horrifying products. But you still have to err on the side of caution to ensure that your new product won’t harm people and instead will add value to their lives.

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