Products are defined by economists as made, or manufactured, objects, typically created in a factory setting. They tend to be single-instance interactions between buyer and seller. If you go to a coffee shop and buy a coffee every day, each purchase of that coffee is a new event; the coffee is the product, and the product is new every time you buy it.
More broadly than the National Archives' definition highlighted in the previous section, economists as a group define products quite literally as something you "can drop on your foot", and they're not joking. This definition, while appropriate, does not address some of the most important current products we interact with every day: digital products.
Products-Service SpectrumLike the coffee and coffee shop example above, many products and services coexist and serve each other as different parts of systems. Before further exploring the relationship between these two concepts, we can further break products into two broad categories: tangible or traditional products, and digital products.
Tangible products are the traditional playing field of design. They are what most people think of when they think of design in general. Tangible products require manufacturing in some way, and can be used in three dimensional space.
In the private sector, they include daily items like coffee cups, while in the public sector they can be items like driver's licenses and passports.
Digital product design has emerged as more and more parts of life are carried out on computerized platforms.
Digital products include items you may use everyday like word processing programs, photo sharing applications, or database applications like your contacts lists. Government examples include the digital filing system from the US Patent Office, the USAJobs website, and the Library of Congress' digital archives.
Products & Services Work Together
In order to be able to determine whether a product, service, or a combination of the two might be necessary for the project at hand, it's important to be able to recognize and categorize some of these interactions. In parsing different product—service interactions in the public sector, the authors of this Guide have come up with three categories: products that set constraints around categories, products that give access to services, and products that augment services. Find a brief description of each of them with private and public sector examples below.
Products that set constraints around services
Products like these are used to box in a service so that consumers can use it in pieces or at certain scales. In the private sector, they include items like insurance, which box in insurance services to include a certain package of services on offer at a certain price point. In the public sector, they include things like drivers' licenses classifications. The service of licensing drivers is the umbrella offering; the classifications allow people to use that service at different levels. For example, CDL drivers are the licensed to pilot a vehicles over a certain number of axles or a certain weight, while a class C license limits the driver to smaller vehicles.
Products that give access to services
Products like these are necessary to access services. Private sector examples include video streaming interfaces: without the interface, the video streaming service might exist, but no one would be able to access it. A good public sector example is New York City's 311 service, which exists as a call center that routes calls as well as a mobile app. Without the product of the phone line or the app, New York City might offer services for non-emergencies, but New Yorkers would not be able to access them.
Products that augment a service
Products that augment a service are not necessarily needed to constrain or access the service, but they do make using the service more delightful or easy. A private sector example is a to-go coffee cup: while coffee can always be served in multiple-use cups, to-go cups, whether multiple or single use, create a different way to use a coffee service. A public sector example includes the Welcome Kit from the Department of Veterans Affairs, mentioned in the Principles of Team section previously. While the Welcome Kit is not strictly necessary for accessing all of VA's services and benefits, it certainly makes those services and benefits easier, more delightful, and is shaping up to show higher rates of navigation success for veterans entering the VA system.