Products increasingly require to be accompanied by other elements, such as the packaging or the service. Design needs, therefore, to adopt a holistic approach encompassing the whole.

It’s amazing to see how design is progressively including new areas. From an origin where only the product was taken into account, all the elements of a business are gradually being added.

This development has largely its origin in a new way of conceptualizing the customer/user , placing them in the center of the design. Suddenly, we realize that the product-user interaction is a complex, extensive and symbolic relationship that goes beyond functionality.

This has broadened the concept of “product”. Although this is not new, it takes on a different nuance from a design perspective.

From this perspective, the product requires a “holistic design” that places it at the core of a complex system composed of interrelated factors, such as the packaging, the user experience or the service. Holistic design approaches this system as a whole.

holistic design

The figure above represents, in a very simplified way, how to holistically address the design of a product, in this case, olive oil.

  • As we can see, the core of the structure is the product (olive oil) with its associated features, such as color, smell, taste and touch. However, products are rarely sold in isolation. This is where holistic design starts its work.
  • Usually, the most common element surrounding the product is the packaging, whose function can go beyond the mere container. A good design uses the packaging as a reinforcement of the product. It is a point of contact with the user. In the case of the olive oil, a well-designed packaging can transform an ingredient in a gourmet product.
  • Along with the packaging, we also find the user experience. Although it is usually used in the digital field, it also can (and should) be taken into account in physical products.
  • A step further, we found the service, the way in which the customer accesses the product. This service can be physical (stores, phone helpline service…) or digital (websites, apps…). The service can accompany the customer before, during and after purchase.

Until recently, service design was only taken considered in special situations, usually associated with luxury products or services. However, it is slowly becoming an essential element of differentiation. Selling olive oil in a supermarket is completely different from selling it in an exquisitely decorated shop located in a shopping avenue. Although the product is the same, customers will be different.

But designing a product from a holistic perspective goes beyond all these elements. The product, the packaging or the service are manifestations of something that gives them unity: the idea.

As said earlier, the relationship between the user and the product is symbolic. All products symbolize something. When the users look at a product they are seeing an idea. The best we can hope for a product is that its symbolism connects with the aspirations of the customer.

It is precisely this idea what gives coherence to the system composed by the product and the other elements. Everything must be synchronized with the idea.

If we create a product, but we are not sure what it symbolizes, this is reflected in the whole offer. Then all the elements send contradictory messages to the customer. We strive to say something through the product, but we neglect the packaging or the service. Or perhaps the packaging says one thing that doesn’t correspond with our product.

Consider, for example, Harley-Davidson. Its symbolism is clear: freedom. This is a clear message that permeates everything around the product. Can you imagine a Harley-Davidson being sold like any other motorcycle?