How One Designer Strategically Approaches the Product Design Process

Mar 24 2017

by Ashley Schoenith

At the beginning of each new year I always make time to focus on refreshing my strategic planning and business goals. I am constantly trying to whittle down what’s working and what is not, my strengths and weaknesses, what comes easily and what should be outsourced.

Over the last few years it has become particularly clear to me just how much I truly love to design. It’s something that comes rather naturally to me, an area I could spend 100% of my time on and be entirely fulfilled at the end of the day. Not to say it isn’t challenging, but it’s a challenge I love to tackle again and again.

Because I’ve been taking on design for so long and coming at it from so many different angles, I thought it would be fun to share a bit of my strategic process in hopes it may help you to open your mind to new areas of consideration the next time you’re sitting down to design.

Here are a six things to consider during the design process …

1. Be Your Brand

I put this one first for a reason. During the design process I find it highly important to always be true to your brand. Whenever I’ve wavered, even slightly, from the core of what my brand is all about it’s been a 100% fail every time.

The Southern Coterie blog: "How One Designer Strategically Approaches the Product Design Process" by Ashley Schoenith

This starts with knowing your brand and what it’s all about. Develop a highly-specific brand identity guide that includes things like core colors, attributes, keywords, mission, audience. Knowing clearly who you are will always enable you to design for your brand. And having a guide will always give you something specific to point back to when your new designs are done.

2. Seize the Moment

What are the current and upcoming trends? I love to make a visual list or mood board of what I’m seeing at trade shows, on social media channels like Pinterest and Instagram. Because I work in textiles and because I think it’s very often the trend leader, I often follow the hottest looks on the runway from the latest fashion week and try to figure out how these things that are “having a moment” can be adapted to work for me in the home / gift / kitchen arena.

The Southern Coterie blog: "How One Designer Strategically Approaches the Product Design Process" by Ashley Schoenith

While a trend could easily be a color, print or pattern type, it could also very easily be an area of town, a collaboration opportunity, a hole in the market for a new product type or an opportunity to make a move or change in your business. I was fortunate about 10 years ago to have been at the forefront of the “jar” trend. We packaged our aprons within jars and completely unrelated all of a sudden there were jars everywhere, so we went with it and talked it up. Whatever the form, “seizing the moment” in your design process just may put you in a position to be in the right place at just the right time.

3. Get the Cover Story

For a storyteller like myself, I am always trying to think of new ways to get a little extra exposure for my products. There is just something about seeing your products or your brand story on TV or between the pages of your favorite magazine that gives you a certain feeling of accomplishment.

An essential key to my design process has always been thinking about what truly makes my products unique at a glance. Because I have a super-simple, often neutral design aesthetic I wouldn’t say I have the most eye-catching pieces around. I’ve used design details, such a the little twill tape tab with thick red stitching that is present on many of our linens, to allow folks to visually associate and recognize our pieces at a glance. If an influencer features a tea towel on Instagram, I want for there to be some way for you to know immediately that it’s an heirloomed piece.

The Southern Coterie blog: "How One Designer Strategically Approaches the Product Design Process" by Ashley Schoenith

Often times designing for press is more about the story and the exposure than it is about the actual product sales.  As long as you recognize this thoughtful balance then your product design for this particular piece has accomplished its goal.

4. Always Seek the Best-Seller

Oh, the best seller. Lori on Shark Tank refers to this special unicorn as “the hero.” Whatever you call it, always, and I mean always keep your mind open to designing a “best seller” for your line. Top selling products should be ones that clearly exude the core of your brand, ones you can’t keep in stock, and ones that have a great profit margin.

The Southern Coterie blog: "How One Designer Strategically Approaches the Product Design Process" by Ashley Schoenith

For some companies their best sellers are the very first pieces in their collections, pieces that built their brand. Looking at what makes a certain product your top seller will help you design more pieces that will yield similar results for you.

But let me reiterate that a best-seller should be one that is ideally easy-peasy for you. Something you can produce all day long (i.e. : operations 101) and something you can be making decent money on (i.e. : finance 1o1) because if people love it and want to buy a lot of it (you know, a best-seller) then you best be able to stock it and not be losing money on it.

5. The Add-On

This category for consideration can also be thought of as “the filler.” There’s the old gardening adage that you should have “a thriller, a spiller and a filler” to make a robust planter display and the same holds true when you’re designing a new collection.

The Southern Coterie blog: "How One Designer Strategically Approaches the Product Design Process" by Ashley Schoenith

A few examples of products we’ve had that I’d consider “filler” would be burlap tote bags (we needed a low-level price point to fill a hole for some of our wholesale customers), placemats (when developing a new tabletop line there are certain pieces we can sell all day long, like cocktail or dinner napkins but you can’t really launch a line of tabletop linens without the full suite of pieces if you’re looking to appeal to a traditional buyer), and Kraft recipe cards (which we use as an up-sale item to add to an apron to make it a gift package, therefore elevating our average checkout price point).

When designing think about what little supplements you can add or need to add to round out your collection as a whole.

6. On the Shelf

One area I’ve always included as part of my design process is packaging design. Stepping out beyond just the design of the product itself and thinking about how you will photograph it, how it will sit on the retail store shelf, or how it will be displayed on your website product page will ensure a success launch to market.

The Southern Coterie blog: "How One Designer Strategically Approaches the Product Design Process" by Ashley Schoenith

Thinking about these things ahead of time help you factor in the cost of extra packaging elements and can often force you to chance the actual product design specifications themselves. For example, I’m working on a new product now that I really felt strongly should be packaged within our signature large preserves jar. For this reason I know the max height of our new product can be no taller than 8.5″ in order to properly fit inside the jar.

Whether your packaging design is a standout game changer or just the essential, keeping this in mind early on in your design process will get you one step ahead of the game at the end of the day.


We’ve created a worksheet to walk you through this process and I’d love to know a few tips + tricks you have for launching new designs for your brand!


Ashley Schoenith View More Blog Posts from this Author

Ashley Schoenith is the founder + lifestyle designer at heirloomed (formerly IceMilk Aprons). A collection of "goods inspired by the past, for generations to enjoy," with a mission of keeping the heirloom around for another generation.

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