Effective Product Design

Its all about preparation and here are some tips for those unfamiliar with new product development. 

Over the years we have encountered many different projects and different approaches to design. 

We are very familiar with well specified projects from multi-national organisations down to the private individual with a great idea. 

Some are managed effectively with clear understanding of the requirements and some sadly are not.  We try to help where ever possible and give the best advice. 

Most clients have a good understanding of what they want, how they will get there and all the steps on the way.  Those clients who do not have a firm understanding often ask for guidance, particularly the small company or individual. 

As with most skills, the key is preparation and research. 

Let's start with a good idea.  So many ideas are born in casual discussion.  Rarely is a new design born because "we want a new product".  There has to be a need identified for it to be successful.

New ideas and designs arrive through the thought process - perhaps a new device to meet some need or a new process to address a problem - slowly forming until such time as it demands attention and this is when the work starts.

Preparation is the key.  Clarify the idea.  Is it original? Is there a need? Is it feasible?  Of course the answer is usually yes, but just make sure and ask a third party for an opinion.

Once the need is determined, then the research starts.

Market Research.  This is a vital step so many clients miss out.  We often hear "my friend at the pub thinks its a great idea" and that seems to be sufficient to risk thousands of pounds of savings or company money chasing a dream.

The wise approach is to check the idea first.  Search the internet for similar products.  Check companies who might market such a device, check patent filings.  Hopefully, if it is a good idea and unique you might just have something there.

Perhaps commission a market research.  The specialists will search to see if anything exists you might have missed.  If nothing is found then the exercise can be extended to determine the market interest in the idea.

These are valuable steps to take before major investment into the project and saves a substantial waste of time and money if an equivalent is unearthed.

Of course it has to be achievable and practical and above all able to be manufactured cost effectively.

Once the market research has been done, It makes sense to involve the industrial designer at these early stages to define the design. 

Customer Focus.  We have an established approach to such projects and firmly believe in customer focus.

This is one area which is too often missed.  Many companies have an idea but it is biased towards what they want to produce and not necessarily towards what is wanted by the customer or user.  Make sure you know who will buy the product and who will use it.

To be successful, it has to satisfy both parties.

User involvement.  At this point the concept needs user input.  A focus group can help here.

We believe that typical users should be consulted during the design phase to ensure the needs are correctly identified.  This drives the required features and the client can select the key points to satisfy the intent.  A cost analysis at this stage would be of benefit. 

Determine the project budget.  It is critical to determine these costs before starting serious design.  Projects can be under-funded and may run out of money before completion.  This is such a waste and easily avoided.  Ensure sufficient finance is available.

 

Know the costs.  At this stage a budget can identify the basic concept design, market size and share, routes to market, sales volumes and production methods.

 

The designer needs to know the initial and final volumes to be able to specify the right process for manufacture and determine the costs required to meet the forecasts.

Good design practise.  We believe in minimising technical risk by good design practise.  There are many ways to achieve a particular feature and it is always best to have a contingency plan in case of difficulties.

We have found that overall size dictates the production costs while features or geometry less so.  Be clear on what features add value as against adding cost.

Technical risk should be minimised (after all its the clients money at risk - so why gamble)  make sure and double check the design parameters.  Make sure it meets the need and cost.

Avoid untried processes and include a contingency plan just in case.

Produce a prototype   There is nothing like a physical prototype in your hand.  This verifies the cosmetic content and technical design prior to expenditure on tooling.

It can also be used for pre-sales photography and advertising and a useful aid for toolmakers.

Revisit the market research and run a focus group to verify all is well.

There may be some positive suggestions along the way.

Factory involvement.  This is a critical element in the design process.  The factory/s selected to manufacture the product needs to have an input in the design.

There is no point having a design that is difficult or expensive to produce or one that carries technical risk and high costs or does not suit in-house resources. 

New processes are always a source of problems.

Once the factory is satisfied and costs can be reduced as much as possible, then the design is fit for release.

Our approach.  During the design, concept models (either in sketch form or simplified CAD visualisations) are produced.  Various features are noted and reviewed.

When a concept design has been selected, detailed design (engineering) starts. 

At this point we depart from the normal routes and incorporate production engineering practises within the concept design phase.  We ensure the design can be produced in volume even at this early stage.

This allows a faster transition from concept to production meaning no reiteration to suit production practises. It also saves multiple prototypes being produced and drastically reduces the time to market and lengthened design costs. 

The design is production ready at this stage only needing  a small amount of refinement to suit changes of specification.

We provide full manufacturing documentation, assembly details, parts lists etc. as part of the design exercise. 

Now we offer the other part of our services ... full scale manufacturing. 

Starting with tool procurement, we ensure high quality tools are produced and we manage every aspect of this.

We provide and approve first-off samples, pilot production and full scale serial production for the product.  This includes logistics and direct delivery to the nominated address worldwide. 

(See Manufacturing)

Of course, it does not end here...... 

...during the products life, there will be changes to the design.  The product will evolve and change over time.  We maintain such projects for life, often redesigning parts and processes on demand.

We manage the evolution and generate new versions and completely new products in the process.

Many of our clients have a long running history with us for which we are grateful. 

If you have design projects in mind, we would love to hear about them.