50 Genius Product Design Ideas That Genuinely Surprised People
What you see isn’t always what you get... but in a totally awesome way. In a world chock-full of truly awful design decisions, it’s refreshing to see things made by people who are thoughtful, imaginative, and who put the user first. And sometimes, they completely stun with the hidden, unexpected features they add to their products. So much so that people can’t help but share a photo of it online.
Our design-loving team here at Bored Panda has collected some of the best examples of products that have impressive surprises, tiny little features, and hidden humor that are as close to magic as us muggles can get. We hope that you’ll enjoy these and that they’ll inspire you to look at the creative process with even more innovation than usual.
Once you’ve upvoted your favorite pics, be sure to let us and all the other Pandas know which of these product ideas you loved the most. We totally don’t want to sway you one way or the other, but some of our favors include the cappuccino cup with the delightful miniature ice-cream cone holder on the saucer, as well as the plantable seed tag, among many others. Read to have your imaginations expanded and to see generosity done right. Enjoy!
Bored Panda wanted to understand product design better, so we reached out to Matt Johnson, Ph.D. A professor of consumer psychology at Hult International Business School and Harvard University, as well as the author of 'Branding that Means Business,' Johnson shared his thoughts about user-friendly designs, the potential (and risk!) of unexpected features, as well as what wins out in the end—the power of the brand or the functionality of the product itself. Read on to find out what he told us.
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According to Professor Johnson, from Hult International Business School and Harvard University, there are two main questions that we need to consider at the product level. First of all, we have to evaluate how well it serves the functional need of the customer. And, secondly, we have to ask how well (if at all!) it provides an emotional connection, such as comfort or humor. He told Bored Panda that the functionality of a product is of primary concern.
"If the product doesn’t actually solve a problem for the consumer, or make their life easier, it will either create frustration or will be ignored completely. And if this is the case, there will be no opportunity to develop a deeper, emotional connection," he explained.
"The best plan of attack for product functionality is copious amounts of market research—not just asking how the product would be used in principle, but how they are used in practice, and how they would fit into the consumer’s life. One approach here is to perform ethnographies of the consumer demographic in question, to understand the role of the product within their lives," the professor said that the people behind the design process ought to research consumer behavior, wants, and needs.
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However, even after the product is launched, the job isn't done. "Even with extensive research, it’s very rare that the product is perfect the first time from a user-friendly standpoint. For this reason, it's crucial that the company continues to collect data from users on how it’s being used, and what can be improved. And then with this data, to continuously adapt and iterate the product. It’s at this stage that the company can understand the emotional impact of the product and make adjustments accordingly," Professor Johnson said that companies have to follow up after the launch and create better versions of their initial idea. Data-driven adaptation and flexibility lead to better results (and potentially happier, more loyal customers).
In the expert's opinion, "there is strong potential" for various add-ons to "enhance the consumer experience and to engender brand loyalty." Provided that the product itself works well. However, the professor warned that the strategy of adding additional features should be considered high-risk, high-yield. Success isn't guaranteed.
"It is much easier for these additional features to fail than to succeed. There’s a major risk that it detracts from the overall functionality of the product, or that the consumer simply doesn’t get the intended humor. There’s also a risk that the consumer, even if they get the humor, doesn’t appreciate the context in which it appears, or that the feature brings down the perceived prestige of the product," Professor Johnson explained what some of the potential pitfalls might look like.
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"Overall, while these add-ons can, in principle, take the product above and beyond, it underlines the importance of product fundamentals," he said, reiterating that it's a risky strategy. There's lots of potential to reach great heights as well as very low lows.
We were also curious about what's more important: how a product is branded and marketed or its functionality and how user-friendly it is. Professor Johnson, from Hult International Business School and Harvard University, shed some light on the question.
"The brand can play a massive role in consumer decision-making. Generally speaking, the brand plays more of a role when there is less obvious, objective utility in the product. A purse from a luxury brand, for example, will carry one’s personal belongings and any simple tote bag, but the luxury purse will drive purchasing behavior to a much higher degree," he told Bored Panda.
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"In contrast, simple functional products like scissors or cooking utensils provide a more tangible utility to the consumer. And while the brand will still make a difference in terms of a consumer’s confidence in the product, it will have a relatively smaller impact on the consumer decision-making process," he explained how there's a difference depending on the type of product we're talking about.
"It's also worth noting that these interact in deep ways: A strong brand makes consumers feel more at ease with a product, which increases its user-friendliness," the professor said.
Professor Johnson said that "the brand is a powerful cue that can drive the functional value of the product," referring to a 2016 study conducted by Garvey, Germann, and Bolton, 'Performance brand placebos: How brands improve performance and consumers take the credit.'
"Consumers were given two sets of physically identical golf clubs. In one group, they told them they were Nike golf clubs. That group drove the ball significantly further—despite the clubs being exactly the same as the other group."
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It’s absolutely brilliant when a designer knows what the consumer needs even when the latter might not even realize it. I mean, after learning that there are spatulas out there with tiny little stands out there to prevent the head from touching the counter, can we really go back to pretending stuff like that doesn’t exist? Can we truly eat jerky now without expecting a flossing tool to be added, completely gratis?
Once you’ve seen how good life can get, how awesome some items can be, it’s awfully hard to go back to the clunky way things used to be. We want to live in a world where everything is at least as user-friendly as the stuff on this list.
At the core of good product design lies the desire to solve problems. Aesthetics are important, sure, but they pale in comparison to a thing’s functionality. Ergonomic, user-centric designs are what truly help separate companies from their competitors. If you can do it better than anyone else, how long can everyone else compete with you without copying what you do?
Let’s also not ignore the fact that we love tiny, unexpected gifts. Finding some dice in a wine bottle cork, uncovering a second toy hidden in your dog’s chew toy—these are the things that really get us smiling. Add in a dash of humor (like finding a cheeky sloth on your drink label), and you’ve got us hooked. Entertaining and rewarding the customer without expecting anything else in return is how you make the world a slightly better place. It’s generosity in a place you’d probably least expect to find it.
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A while back, Bored Panda spoke to pie artist Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin about creativity, design, and balancing the needs of the customer with the needs of the creator.
"I have a loose 'three for them, one for me' policy when it comes to my art. Riding emerging trends and tapping into the cultural zeitgeist certainly helps when you are trying to build a following,” she explained that creatives have to pay attention to what people respond to the most, even if they’d love to make only what they want all the time.
"But sometimes I’ll get the urge to create something obscure that I know no corporate partner will care for, and only a tiny portion of the population will appreciate, but will make me happy. So if I’ve got the energy, I’ll go for it. And not shockingly, it is a lot easier to find the energy for these types of works!” she said that sometimes people respond very well to these sorts of passion projects.
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If you ever run into a creative roadblock or feel burnt out, don’t panic. Jessica told us that there’s so much creative inspiration to be found out there in the world.
“All I have to do is look at craftspeople at the top of their game in a couple of different areas—watchmakers, architects, gardeners, painters, poets, etc.—and my mind is filled to the top with new ideas again," she said.
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"The biggest challenge to my work is not the 'creativity tank,' it’s the 'energy/motivation' tank. Professional artists who have to balance commercial realities against artistic passions I think all have to deal with finding ways to keep that 'motivation tank' topped up. It’s not always easy! But I find that being around other creative working professionals and talking with them about it helps a lot."
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One way to approach design is to fully sketch out the idea in advance. That’s what Jessica does to avoid potential pitfalls and navigate around problems. She also visualizes each and every step of the creative process in order to spot any important steps she might have missed. That way, when she actually gets down to work, everything goes as smooth as butter.
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However, mistakes do happen. For instance, if you’re working with unfamiliar tools, materials, or techniques. Jessica told Bored Panda that these are instances where creatives may need to solve problems on the fly. However, solving these issues on the go can help innovate and discover new, effective approaches to design. In short, they’re ‘happy accidents.’