When it comes to product design, you've got your standalone items that provide great utility: Think flashlights, cutting boards or washing machines. But there's another class of product that we could call, for lack of a better term, holistic. These objects are meant to be part of a larger system that becomes embedded into your life in some meaningful way.
The original iPod is a great example of this, and its brilliance wasn't just in the compact form factor. Sure, the click wheel was clever, but Apple's real gamechanger was create the iTunes ecosystem the device was tied to. All of the technology already existed, but Apple's genius was in tying it all together. By making it easy to get music onto the device—and later, to sell music—Apple created a useful and profitable object that became part of people's lives.
Let's take a look at a new product design that's got nothing to do with music, but is aiming to become similarly lifestyle-embedded:
My first thought was "Well, this seems silly—it's just a fancy bento box." The lid that unrolls to form an eating platform is a nice touch, if you've got the table space (I don't because I eat at my desk, since I am essentially your content-producing slave, and my laptop would be in the way). You could argue there isn't much to this design.
But looking at it big-picture, it becomes obvious that these guys aren't selling a simple bento box any more than Apple was selling you a portable hard drive. Instead they're aiming to deliver a lifestyle that the user can more easily achieve via their object and technology platform. They've carefully thought through all of the steps required to make your own lunch—a seemingly simple task that we increasingly do not have the time to execute. You can find recipes online and make your own shopping lists without this, but the developers figure that wrapping everything up and making it easier renders the Prepd system more attractive.
Bon App-ettit (Oh I am patting myself on the back for that one)
So far, it looks like they're right. At press time their tiny $25,000 funding goal had been dwarfed by nearly $300,000 in pledges; between the time I looked at this last night and this morning, it had gone up by $50,000. And there are still 30 days left in the campaign.
Sur La Table-t (Another zinger! I'm on fire)
There are still plenty of obstacles to overcome before the Prepd system becomes truly embedded in its users' lives: The app will have to run smoothly, recipes will have to be updated, users will have to be kept motivated to continue cooking. The developers' work didn't end with the design of the physical object. For product designers, that may increasingly become the case.