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Product Design: A New MBS Concentration - Q&A with Co-Creator Rupa Misra

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As of this summer, students pursuing Rutgers Master of Business and Science (MBS) degree have a new academic concentration to consider: Product Design, an offering created in light of industry trends and workforce demands. Officially commencing with the Fall 2022 semester, the new concentration is the result of months of research and coordination, and is the first degree in product design offered at Rutgers University. 

Rupananda Misra, Ed.D., Assistant Professor & Director, MBS User Experience Design concentration, who has helped exponentially grow MBS’s User Experience Design program, spoke with us about product design and what drove creation of MBS’s newest concentration.


You've Expanded MBS's User Experience Design (UXD) Program Significantly. How is Product Design Related?

Experience design is the umbrella term. Product design and UXD both focus on designing for human happiness or satisfaction in our everyday lives; they both employ empathy and design thinking as part of an iterative, problem-solving process that is fully centered around a user’s motivations, perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. User experience design, especially what we teach at MBS, generally focuses more on user interaction with technology or products such as websites and mobile apps.

A product designer (sometimes referred to as a product owner or product developer) is responsible for taking a product from concept to market. And the product can be anything a company produces for internal or external consumption; it can include a new software launch, a pharmaceutical or personal care product, or a financial instrument.

In taking a product from idea to completion, product designers are deeply involved in all aspects of production, from the earliest stages of ideating and planning, through the manufacturing process—helping determine what materials to use and sourcing raw materials—and they also are heavily involved in marketing the product. So, it's the heavy involvement and need for expertise in manufacturing and marketing processes are what makes product design very different from user experience design.

You mentioned “Designing for Human Happiness.” How Do You Design for Happiness?

With modern-day technologies, it is not an exaggeration to say that “if you can dream it, then you can build it.” For both product designers and UX designers, the act of designing something that is going to elevate the human condition is in some way intrinsically satisfying. Designers’ innovations are driving economic growth everywhere and making the world a better place, which makes life easier, less stressful, and potentially more joyful for humans. 

Take, for example, how digital technology has transformed healthcare—it has resulted in operational efficiency and has improved the standards of medical care, of course. But it has also transformed the patient experience –eliminating the stress of travel and wait times for patients who can be assessed remotely. For instance, telemedicine—and the technology that enables it—is hugely helpful for people who cannot physically go to a doctor’s office, whether they are too sick or rely on others for transportation. "Smart technology" paired with wearable devices can help both doctors and patients manage chronic conditions and conduct remote check-ins and visits. And the same “smart” technology that can monitor, say—blood pressure, diabetes, can also alert providers when something is amiss. 

In product design, happiness is based on two important parts. One is usability—the form and function of the product—and the other is user experience, or what it’s like to use that product. When those aspects work together, it’s like a formula—usability plus user experience equals happiness. It can be user happiness, or meeting a business goal. For example, if a product makes money, CEOs are happy. It's all about how you define happiness.  

Even though it is difficult to define what happiness really means, most or all people know what happiness feels like. In the book “The Psychology of Happiness” by Michael Argyle, the author defines it as “often being in a state of joy or other positive emotions, or it is being satisfied with one’s life.” Even the United States Declaration of Independence, recognizes happiness—and the pursuit of happiness—as a basic human right. So the goal is for product designers to design products that can bring positive emotions or satisfaction in the users.

In summary, a product manager is responsible for uniting usability with user experience while shepherding a product’s creation from start to finish and being deeply involved in every step of the process.

For MBS's Product Design Concentration, What Career Experience or Academic Backgrounds are Required for Consideration, or Best Suited for this Discipline?  

We expect that students will come in with their own areas of expertise—mostly engineering or science, but not necessarily—and the program is designed to hone the business and communication and leadership skills students need to be successful.

All students will take Intro to Product Design, which will give a comprehensive process overview, just like learning about UXD through our Intro to UXD course. And, of course, students will take business courses and our signature (and required) Leadership & Communication course, as product designers need to be able to communicate well with a variety of individuals throughout the production process.

The most important thing is to have an inquisitive mind, a curious mind, and the desire to create excellent, usable products keeping in mind the audience and needs of the user – keeping in the mind the user’s satisfaction and positive affect. The business knowledge and technical skills are things we can teach. Good communication skills and even empathy are things that can be learned. Natural curiosity is an enormous asset.

You Spoke About How Designing for Humans Makes Designers Intrinsically Happy – Is There a Common Personality Trait Among Designers?

Students need to have a genuine drive to create happiness and elevate the human condition. And they need to apply that drive to evaluate how they can make life easier for humans—either by creating something new, or making existing products better and even transformative. They need to care about the human experience in creating products that are usable, but also delightful to use. Because there are plenty of products that work just fine. But is it a pleasure to use those products? 

Can You Provide an Example of Superior Human-Centered Product Design?

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, there were already plenty of MP3 players in the market—the MP3 players were functional. Did using these MB3 players make the customers happy? Apple took it a step further and focused on the user experience, and what elements could transform the MP3 player from utilitarian to delightful.

Steve Jobs was not just trying to refashion an everyday product that nobody dreamed of but he was trying to create a new product that would provide an experience that no other MP3 player had ever provided—that level of powerful positive experience to the user. In today’s age of experience economy, we purchase products not just for the product itself but also for the experience. 

That is how the iPod became a huge success. And that’s how and why product design is evolving as a field. For so long, the focus was on form and function. The user experience aspect is missing, and we as human beings, we are living in the age where experience matters: we are not just shopping or buying or interacting with the product. We also want the experience.

The Eternal Rutgers Question: Why Rutgers? Why Now?

It is time. The time is right. The need is there, and the jobs are there. And when the time is right, and the need is there, ideas just come up. Think about our world and the products we are creating. Nest Thermostat? and video doorbells? Someone had an idea for a video doorbell. But a product designer took that idea and made it happen. People now have expectations for smart products—products that serve a need and are also ingenious. We need product designers to help make those products a reality – and we at MBS are thrilled to have the resources and talent to be able to offer the specialized education to make that happen.

Jen Reiseman-Briscoe
Published On: 
product design
User Experience Design