In this post, we'll review a case study submission from one of our Exponent members, Sholanki Sarkar.
Question: Design a Smart Fridge.
If you want to brush up on the basics of answering Product Design Questions, check out Exponent’s lesson on how to ace the product design interview question.
(Sholanki’s answers are in regular font, interviewer’s responses in bold, and the editor’s notes in italics).
Here is a framework that we recommend you use for Product Design questions.
Potential customer segments for the smart fridge that come to my mind are:
The household market is very saturated and believe every household has a refrigerator, where upgrading the refrigerator is infrequent. So I would like to turn my attention to the other two tangent segments.
I love the fact that Sholanki did not restrict herself to the initially provided segment (households) and came up with related and potentially more lucrative market segments while providing reasonable justifications of her decision. This was made possible by her taking the time upfront to ask clarifying questions, get on the same page with the interviewer, and even getting a new piece of information (“feel free to explore other markets to enter”) to work with.
To consider common needs and pain points for the two segments,
Now that we understand the pain points of our target segments a bit better, to paint a clearer picture of the fridge I’ll design:
One thing that Sholanki’s answer misses is a vision for the future and how her proposed solution will fit into that vision successfully. As Sholanki mentioned in the beginning, smart home appliance market is a crowded market and it is also an industry full of potential with lots of exciting directions for innovation.
Interviewers look for the candidate’s vision, excitement, and articulation of the future during product design interviews, qualities often described as “product sense.” This is a perfect opportunity for Sholanki to demonstrate her product sense by providing an exciting vision for her smart fridge.
For instance, Sholanki could’ve said:“Smart appliances will be universally adopted in the future not only in households but also in restaurants and grocery chains, as the underlying technology and the industry around them are rapidly progressing as we speak. There are many daily problems that owners deal with running a restaurant or a grocery chain, and my smart fridge will go beyond just providing the functionality of a refrigerator and be an executive assistant to its owner, lifting all the headaches and burdens around running their store. Everything from inventory management and automatic restocking to freshness report and smart suggestions to save power and cost, my smart fridge will free its owner from the nitty gritty work so they can focus on growing the business.”
The first four features, 1) auto scanning for inventory management, 2) FIFO system for delivery service, 3) power mode, and 4) ML-powered freshness report are applicable to both segments, and due to larger opportunity sizing, I will tag these as high priority.
The last two features, instant freezing and dismantling segments for space optimization, could be sized as medium priority as more applicable to the restaurant segment only.
This is an exciting smart fridge with a lot of useful features that solve previously mentioned user pain points. However, even after the high-level prioritization Sholanki provides, a question that arises once again is whether and how she will go after all four of these high priority solutions at once. Further steps to provide a simple structure or pillars to prioritize these ideas and how she will sequence them if at all would have been very helpful here.
Furthermore, I believe choosing a fewer ideas from the list would have given Sholanki space and time to dig deeper into them and be more specific about how exactly they will work and be implemented. For instance, how exactly will the auto-scanner and the FIFO inventory management be implemented and work in practice? Will it require additional overhead from grocery store and restaurant owners to successfully operate? (would all items entering the fridge need special barcodes or tags?), how will employees interact with the system? (an application or a dashboard solution may be adequate), and whether there will be mechanical engineering and robotics involved to automatically move things around for optimal inventory management are all questions that remain unanswered from Sholanki’s current vision.
Had Sholanki honed in earlier on the specific pain point she was going after, she might have been better equipped to understand how to prioritize and dig deeper into these features, instead of trying to design something that's a jack of all trades, but a master of none. As mentioned in the previous section, Sholanki could have introduced a product vision for the refrigerator earlier on - what is her core tenet and what is she solving for? Even a brief tag-line for the product might have been helpful here.
What Sholanki did well:
What the candidate could improve on:
That’s a wrap! Thank you so much for reading.
Once again, if you’d like to practice with more product design questions like this, check out Exponent’s Product Design Course.
Thank you so much Sholanki for your valuable submission!
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