Product Design: Perception, Imagination and Design

The boundaries of the product design profession are often blurry. These can range from simple ideas to those specifying a resin grade or surface gloss. Product designers interact with diverse people including inventors, presidents of companies, product managers, marketing specialists, manufacturing experts, engineers and scientists. They also include countless others who dream up better ways to solve problems in our daily lives.

Within this relatively small profession are a select group of designers who can transform the obvious into the extraordinary. This requires a magical mix of talent, intelligence, knowledge, imagination, and the ability to perceive things not as they are but as they can be. This trait is perception and is what defines every human’s interpretation of who they are and how they see the world around them.

Great examples of products that alter perception are movies and entertainment produced by Hollywood. Other examples include news, advertising and politics. On the other hand, some things are not discussed in the context of one’s perception but are completely dependent on the perception of the market they are targeted for.

Communication with the target demographic group

Industrial designers specialize in embodying products in forms that communicate to the end-user by projecting a character, image, and expression attractive to a specific audience or market. Unlike humans, products must communicate though their shape, details, color and graphics. Well-designed products are intuitive to purpose, use and operation. Designers apply their understanding of human perception in designing these features to optimize product appeal and use.

It’s important to note that perceptions, values and tastes are not identical or universal in every global region. They vary depending on culture, environment, religion and gender. Some cultures such as those in South Asia prefer highly decorative and colorful products, while others in Scandinavian countries prefer products that tend to be pastel-colored, basic forms. Products targeted toward young children are usually brightly-colored primary colors applied to exaggerated primary shapes such as cones, spheres and cubes with rounded edges.

Men’s products are styled differently than women’s products. Colors, dominant shapes, and graphic lettering will be different for products specifically targeted to each demographic group. Perceptions of advanced technological products, on the other hand, are less influenced by culture and sex than creative use of materials, manufacturing methods or fashion trends.

The collective perception of the design team

Designing marketable rotationally molded products requires more than an understanding of the process and materials. The design team must be aware of the application, culture, age and marketing strategy to be addressed when concepts are developed. This input will shape the design decision-making process directing the outcome toward an expression for the product that is optimized for the targeted audience.

Customer perception will be understood based on feedback and sales. All successful products do share a number of common values that include quality, competitive price, performance and attention to aesthetic details. These factors become significant influence factors in product sales as competition increases.

The next time you are introducing a new product, remember that it is a representation of your company and its corporate image. It’s all perception. Please tell me what you think. I’d like to hear from you.


Michael Paloian, President, is an authority in industrial and commercial product design, and an inventor, lecturer and educator. He is president of Integrated Design Systems, Inc. (, an award-winning industrial design firm. Mr. Paloian is a faculty member, Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a Contributing Design Editor for industry publications.