10 Tools to Design Your Best Product Yet

10 Tools to Design Your Best Product Yet

Are you interested in designing your own products? Many people become entrepreneurs because they have a great product idea that inspires them to pursue this path. However, not having a background in design or an understanding of the principles related to designing products is often a problem.

Luckily, in our amazing age of online resources—many of which are free—this isn’t the struggle it used to be. We’ve compiled a list of some great options and tools for you to learn about product design. And, because money is often an obstacle, I focused on low-cost or free resources for this list. Many of them are also open source, so you can get a first-hand look at how they work and make modifications to the code, all completely free.

Books, tutorials, and online classes:

1. Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love by Jon Kolko

Jon Kolko’s book is a great place to start exploring design, as he goes through the product design process from start to finish in a way that readers can emulate and implement themselves. The main point of the book is to get readers to think with empathy about who they’re designing for. Empathy is key to making a customer’s experience with a product the best it can be.

2. Open Source Ecology

How would you like to create your own oven or tractor? What about a 3D printer? Do you know how they work? Open Source Ecology is a project putting together open source blueprints of what it considers to be the “50 most important machines it takes for modern life to exist” and making them available to the public for free. They also offer paid immersion courses and workshops to help people learn more about the design and function of the machinery most of us use every day.

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Did you know: Webopedia defines open source as: “A program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge.”

3. Online tutorials and classes

The internet is bursting with online tutorial videos and classes on this subject, from free options like Alison’s course, “Understanding Product Design” to classic courses you can find on Lynda (Lynda.com does offer a 10-day free trial but is a paid subscription afterwards).

Other awesome resources worth looking at:

– The Expert Village Industrial Design YouTube channel. This channel is part of eHow and has a lot of hands-on information aimed at helping you learn to draw your designs. It includes DIY projects like ‘how to make a coat rack.’

– Stanford University’s Ecorner Product Design lecture series. David Kelley, a prominent product designer, speaks of his experiences as part of Stanford’s “Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Speakers” series.

– The New Jersey Institute of Technology class on Advanced Online Design.

– The Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT) Game Design course from their open courseware series.

After you’ve done your studying, you’ll probably be itching to try some of these things out for yourself. Computer-aided design software—or CAD, as it’s often referred to—and 3D printers are a good place to start experimenting.

4. 3D Printers

3D printers can be pretty expensive – this thousand dollar printer called the Cube certainly is – but there are companies who wish to make 3D printing technology more accessible to everyone. To that end, you can check out Peachy Printer, a crowdfunded project that seeks to build 3D printers with accompanying software that should cost about $100 each (it’s currently still in preorder).

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For the DIY lover or the truly ambitious, you can also build your own, using a site called RepRap, which will tell you everything you need to know.

5. Computer Aided Design Software (CAD)

CAD (or CAM, short for computer aided manufacturing) software allows you to create the actual schematics and computer models for products. A top of the line example of CAD software is Fusion 360, a CAD software that is paid on a subscription basis for around $1200 a year.

On the lower end of the pricing scale, there’s FreeCAD, which is just what it sounds like: free and open source computer-aided design software. With a 4.6 out of 5 star rating and over 20 thousand downloads on Sourceforge (a site that highlights free and open source software), it’s a solid bet.

6. 3D animation software

Blender is a free and open source 3D animation software, meaning that you can go from modeling to creating full videos. Tufts University even offers a free online course about 3D design using Blender.

Practical applications help me learn more. Here are some amazing things currently being done in the world of product design, almost all of them open source, many of which you could use to create products of your own:

7. Play with ideas using Arduino

Arduino is an amazing little device that enables people to create interactive projects going beyond what a typical computer does. Arduino can be used to develop interactive objects, taking inputs from a variety of switches or sensors, and controlling a variety of lights, motors, and other physical outputs. Arduino projects can communicate with software running on your computer (e.g. Flash, Processing, MaxMSP). The boards can be assembled by hand or purchased preassembled; the open-source IDE can be downloaded for free.

8. Create product blueprints using software

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Both SketchChair and OpenDesk allow you to create blueprints of your furniture. OpenDesk can connect you with companies that can make the designs for you, if you prefer.

Both sites are great to peruse, whether you’re interested in making furniture or whether you’re simply looking for design and idea inspiration.

9. Try Wikihouse if you want to build your own house

Wikihouse wants people to have access to design tools that give the know-how to build their own sustainable housing. It’s a lofty goal but a great idea and a fascinating website.

10. Use Pinterest for inspiration

A great place to look for inspiration and ideas is Pinterest. Searching Pinterest for “Product Design” or “Industrial Design” pulls up a multitude of amazing examples of lamps, food packaging, home electronics, and more.

Creating what you imagine

The world of product design is rich and varied, and you can learn about many different subjects under its umbrella. It’s a great outlet for someone who has interests in technology, entrepreneurship, and creative design.

If all of this information has got your creative juices flowing, why not get started now?

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