Products belong to complex ecosystems comprised by other products, the environment and the user. Taking into account these natural interactions we maximize their utility.

A few days ago, I decided to have a different breakfast. I took an oatmeal cookie, I spread some cream cheese and, finally, I added some honey on the top. The result was delicious, but this was not what caught my attention. The interesting thing was the interaction among the brand X of cookies, the brand Y of cheese and the brand Z of honey.

People continually combine different products and different brands. We use a toothbrush and toothpaste of different brands. The shampoo and conditioner are also of different brands. The living room of our house is a community of products incorporated at different times.

dinning room ecosystem

Dining room ecosystem where we combine different foodstuffs, but also various pieces of furniture.

Products are created as elements isolated from each other, but at the moment in which people choose them they become part of a complex ecosystem, composed by other products, an environment and the people who occupy this environment.

A product ecosystem is a community of products in a given area, in conjunction with their environment and also with the people who use them, interacting as a system.

Within this ecosystem, products are combined with each other and with their environment in multiple ways. Sometimes we mix them to obtain a different product and other times we just combine them to achieve the desired result.

Laptop ecosystem

Here we can see two separated ecosystems: one ecosystem where the laptop is a product, and a second ecosystem inside the laptop (an app ecosystem).

Product ecosystems are dynamic entities. New products are incorporated, some products disappear, the environment changes or we simply perform different combinations.

Ecosystems can vary in their degree of complexity, depending on the variety of products included, and depending on the area they cover. In turn, the same ecosystem (e.g. a bathroom) in different cultures will lead to different networks of interactions.

Design of Product Ecosystems

Products are members of complex and dynamic ecosystems comprised by other products, the environment and the user. Consequently, rather than designing isolated elements, products should be designed at the level of the ecosystem itself.

The goal of the designer isn’t the combination of different products. The interaction between products occurs naturally. The designer should know and take into account these natural interactions to maximize the utility of the products created.

A very interesting example is the Universal Home project, where some of the Europe’s largest companies leaders in their particular fields (home technology, communication, energy efficiency) are working together to come up with integrated solutions for the homes of the future. Products that were offered in isolation are being brought together to create a system.

Marketing of Product Ecosystems

Product ecosystems not only have an impact on the design process, but also on marketing. People are used to combine the different elements of their ecosystems. When we buy a product, we buy an interaction. The user does not see an isolated product, but a network of interactions with other products that are part of an ecosystem.

In fact, the user is not usually limited to introduce a new product in an ecosystem, but chooses and buys a new set of products taking into account their interactions and combinations. For this reason, people rarely buy a single product in the supermarket. And when we buy a tablet we usually also bought a case, a keyboard, etc.

If products interact with each other and their environment, why do we show products in isolation, in empty environments?

Which lamp do you prefer?


lamp 1

Image Source: Ikea

Or this one?


Image Source: Ikea