You have a product idea, and you are feeling excited.
You’re already beginning to think of all the lives you are going to change, or how your brand is about to be revolutionised. Maybe you’ve started to draft a speech for your award, or perhaps ogled the boat you are going to buy with all the profits! You’ve sketched a few logos. We get it, we’ve been there. It’s awesome you’ve had the idea because good ideas are hard to come by, but how can you tell for sure the concept is going to be liked? And how do you go about making it a reality?
This is where design development starts. Here are the next five things you need to do:
1. Ensure People Want Your Solution
It may seem obvious, but you need to check who wants your product, what they value about it and what if anything, they would be prepared to pay for it. You might have already told your colleagues or family about your product idea, but whether they like or dislike it may be inversely proportional to whether the market actually likes or dislikes your product! So if they like it, that’s great, keep going. If they hate it, good, keep going as they may not represent your target market.
You need to do some real research. A quick Google search will tell you if people are already selling something similar. It may seem an obvious step, but don’t skip this one if you are afraid of what you might find. If you find similar products, it’s by no means a show-stopper, and if anything, shows there is a market. But if so, your product will need to be competitive. (See step 2)
Google trends can tell you a wealth of information about your prospective market, its size, whether it’s in the ascent or decline, who your target market may be, and where in the world the product may be most popular, among many other things. After all, even if you have a great idea for a fidget spinner accessory, by now you’ve probably missed the boat. Or at the very least, you may want to wait until the next generation picks it up as a retro novelty! So be sure to keep an eye on those trends. Later in the process you’ll be wanting to get your ideas in front of prospective buyers. Running focus groups with a marketing agency, mocking up a website with presales, running some ads and A/B testing can all be great ways to do this.
2. Lay A Foundation
Now that you are more confident in the demand for your product, it’s time to start laying groundwork which will leave you not only in the best position going forward, but ensure your capital (time and resources) are most efficiently spent. The first step is to formalise a strong specification which will tightly control the design process, ensure everyone working on the project is on the same page, and provide something to verify results against further along in the process. The specification should define all the end user needs for your product and match them with real-world product requirements.
Once you’ve established good project boundaries, Ctrl-C Ctrl-V – start to create a mood board. Pinterest is your friend. Your idea will have to be better than the electric lamp if you think you can skip on style and deliver purely on function. Consumers are very sensitive to image, even if they aren’t aware of it. Heck, even thinking you don’t care about your image is a style. You want to ensure your product is going to land in the ‘now’, twelve or so months from today, and how are you going to do that if you aren’t looking at emerging design trends?
Next up, sharpen your pencils and grab some markers, this is where the fun happens but it’s also the toughest part – being inventive. Sure you have an idea, but what will it look like? How will it operate? How will it be put together? What materials will it be made of? What will make it truly desirable? You want to try to exhaust the limits of your brain capacity; return to your mood boards, seek further inspiration, sketch and sketch and sketch! The first idea is ok, but the hundredth is better, trust us.
If the product involves electronics and software, you’ll want to select the technologies on which your product will be based, drawing a system architecture, and choosing key components. It’s important to confirm that you can meet your critical technical and commercial requirements before going too far down the design process. That’s because the further down the design path you go, the more investment you’ll have to make and the harder it will be to pivot. You’ll also want to develop some rough visual models and render them out as photo-realistic images – literally like a photo of the product from the future, before it even exists. Get these in front of your target market and you can be confident you are on the right track, or at least know what you need to change. You might also choose to make some rough 3D printed prototypes to check size, feel, fitment. The last thing you need is a cup which only Thanos could grasp. Getting some confidence here is a good idea. It could be a good time to do that A/B testing I mentioned and get some of your ideas in front of your target market.
3. Develop The Product In Detail
There’s a machine somewhere on the other side of the world waiting to pump highly pressurised liquid plastic into the shape of your product dreams. In another factory 1000km away, there’s a robot eager to etch micro-thin layers of copper highways onto a tiny, printed circuit board ready to give your customers ten more options than your competitors. But how will you communicate with those machines?
Highly specialised software like 3D CAD and Electronic Design Automation (ECAD) tools bridge this gap. Once you have a good concept, it’s time to put in the hard yards and design and build the thing, at least virtually, anyway. As you go, ensure you build in contingency. Invariably things change, and you want to ensure that your design has some built in flexibility to adapt if you discover, for instance, that a chosen integrated circuit is no longer in stock. Oh, and given the current shortage of hardware components you might want to start organising your order pretty soon!
4. Validate It Will Work
Once you’ve done the hard yards making a virtual representation of the real thing, get in touch with a prototyping house and make some real-world test models. These companies are specialists at making highly realistic-looking versions of the product and working PCB assemblies. With your prototypes in hand, you can carry out tests to verify the design against your specifications, making sure that it does everything you hoped it would. Then, further develop the software and iron out any bugs in the design. Oh and once again, now that you have a working representation of the real thing, you can double check the market still wants and needs this product, or find out whether any further changes are required. If you are running a Kickstarter campaign to get funding, this is what you’ll be using for your product photography and videography.
5. Detail For Manufacture
Take a step back and congratulate yourself for getting to this step, even if that means simply reading this far! If you have followed the above process, you can allow yourself fair confidence in your likely success. From here you will obtain quotations from suitable manufacturing partners and begin to develop a dialogue with them. Online trade sites can direct you to partners in the line of business you require, but a good consultancy with the appropriate expertise can put you in touch with verified and trusted partners and facilitate this process for you. Next, create a manufacturing package which contains all the data and drawings the manufacturer will need to produce your product in high quality and at volume. Through the next few weeks the manufacturer will provide feedback on the design, suggest necessary modifications that work with their manufacturing systems and capabilities, and provide first off-tool samples (the first run of real mass manufactured parts) for inspection. Through an iterative process, you’ll nail down the final touches on your masterpiece; get that surface texture right so it shimmers just the way you’d always dreamt, shave off microns of material for that perfect crisp snap on the product’s door. You’ll want to set up procedures, equipment and processes to test your product as they come off the line, so that each one of your masterpieces is perfect, before sending them to your customers.
As with many products before, your product will change the landscape for human potential, make things just that little bit easier for us all, save someone’s life, or improve their health. It’s a worthwhile and noble journey, and there are plenty of resources out here to help you on the way. If you need assistance getting your dream started, please get in touch, we’d love to help!
Jonathan Lowe is the Creative Lead for Ingenuity’s Industrial Design team. With more than eighteen years of design experience, Jonathan has worked with brands such as Wiltshire, Nestle, Roccat, Breville, Bombardier and Vuly, assisting in production of cutting edge and market desirable products in a broad range of industries including homewares, FMCGs, home entertainment, medical and heavy industry. He is passionate about innovation and solving complex problems through intentional design solutions.
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