Clocking in at 5 years this project was definitely a lengthy one. From 2012-2017 I ran a lifestyle blog featuring 50+ home products I designed and created. In addition to product design, I also wrote 200+ blog posts and styled/photographed all products.
These cactus oven mitts are my favorite creation out of that 5 year period! Not to brag but Kailo Chic (my fave lifestyle designer) totally came out with her own reiteration 20 days after I published this. Love you, girl!!!
For a summer I freelanced as a product designer/writer at the lifestyle blog Hello Glow (by Stephanie Gerber) which was the coolest job I’ve ever had. One of the projects I created for her were these wintry light catching Birdseed Ornaments.
My Design Process
First, research! Digital product design is awesome because there are UX studies and detailed articles to peel through but IRL things are different. Trends in UX make up say 20% of what you’re doing. Trends in lifestyle product design? 80%. Knowing what people are currently loving (once you get really good you can start telling them what to love) is a big part of making something desirable so scrolling through Instagram and lifestyle blogs on the DAILY is a must.
In my experience, lifestyle trends begin with influencers on Instagram, then drip down to boutique products (sold by stores like Bando), then drip down to big box stores where it takes the final breath. This makes sense because a designer working at home can create and post a project in a day while manufacturers have a slow and resource consuming process.
I have a little rule of thumb when it comes to trends in the wild. If I see “it” (gold accents/tassels/the color coral/pineapples) in Target it’s just over the height of its popularity. If I see it in Wal-Mart (chevron stripes/”I love bacon!”) it is DEAD. Either way, I shouldn’t be creating with anything I’m seeing there.
It’s fascinating to watch this cycle spin because it can happen really really fast. In 2017 Kailo Chic (I’d argue) single-handedly brought a cheery pink/yellow/blue gradient to the forefront of lifestyle product design. Within 3 months I saw Hallmark cards in Target featuring that exact pattern. 3 months is a crazy fast design drip rate but think of the medium – paper cards. That’s a much safer investment for a company to take a risk on.
Riding the trend wave is the biggest puzzle piece to creating a successful and lovable lifestyle product. To ride the wave you have to know what is happening around you and that only comes from DAILY market research. So get on Instagram, yo!
Once you have an idea about what styles are bouncing around and more importantly, what stage of life those trends are in you can begin brainstorming with that knowledge as a backbone. Sometimes I sit down and think up a bunch of ideas, other times they pop up in dreams, or fly into my head while I’m doing something unrelated.
My favorite is when I see a product and think it’s one thing but it’s actually something else. Then I get the idea for whatever I thought it was and an ego boost at the same time (because how could that creator not have thought of MY amazing idea instead?) Nice!
Now the hard part. Willing the product out of imagination and into reality. Here’s what I’ve learned so far. It doesn’t matter how detailed you make your concept there is always going to be something you didn’t anticipate. That thread stains the fabric or those beads are opaque when you wanted translucent. You have to be to able improvise and still make something valuable. Let me give you an example:
Super cute idea, right? It didn’t start out that way. My original concept involved flipping the cupcakes upside down, arranging the face on the side, and placing the walnut brain on top. Except the candy eyes kept sliding down, the green frosting looked like it had been applied by a 5-year-old, and even when finished no one would think “zombie”. (I’d share a picture but dang it, Snapchat!)
So guess what? I spent FOUR HOURS bent over my kitchen counter arranging and rearranging those damn cupcakes until finally I broke through and found the result above which I’m happy with.
I sketched a fully finished concept for this project! I collected all the supplies beforehand! If it was a website then the prototypes would have been completed and delivered. Then things changed. I had to adapt without lowering expectations.
Side Note: I’ve been surprised by how many illustration and cartooning guidelines roll over into physical product design. My goal is to make something attractive, visual, and delightful. Something a human would love. Guess what? Artists have already been doing that for years. Rounded shapes, bent angles, asymmetry, big eyes, vibrant colors, etc. As humans sight is our biggest sense. The more you as a designer can tap into the shapes and color arrangements we love the higher your chance of creating a magical product.