Choosing a design firm to assist with the development and commercialisation of a new technology product idea – takes some careful consideration.
New product development for manufactured products incorporating electronics hardware and software, has inherent risk factors, and involves a significant investment in time and money, so you need to choose your partner carefully.
These are my top seven considerations to help you make the right decision.
1. Experience 
This is the most important consideration for me. Check if the company has the experience with your particular product niche, or past experience with similar projects that have been successfully completed. Have they brought these products to market, do they have an understanding of the product environment, do they have knowledge of the regulatory requirements, the certification processes and the manufacturing methods to successfully deliver your product to market? Every project is unique, so it is unlikely that the company has done a project that is exactly like yours, but they should be able to provide examples of similar projects. If they have completed similar projects it is likely that they will have some expert product knowledge and a database of pre-designed circuit and code elements and a thorough understanding of the development process that can save significant time and cost on a project leading to reduced risk.
2. Capability
What is the company’s core capability, what are their strengths, their unique differentiator and does that align with your needs? It is important to understand what capabilities the company has in-house and what they outsource. Do they have a strong internal team, do they have relationships with local partners or do they outsource to low-cost labour internationally. Product development with multiple independent contractors handling different elements of the project can be complex to manage. Successful project delivery requires a close interdependent relationship between design, hardware engineering and software teams. So it is preferable to look for an in-house, multidisciplinary team with a unified project management structure and one point of accountability. How big is the development team and where are they located? It is important that you choose a company that has a strong team of designers, engineers, developers and project managers. It is important to have some depth and diversity of experience in every discipline, allowing for collaboration, peer review and duplication of skills that allows for planned and unplanned leave so that this will not affect your project delivery. If the company has multiple projects and only one skilled engineer that can do your work, then this could be problematic for your project if they don’t have the required experience, are too busy with a more important client project, or take extended leave. Localisation of teams can also be important, especially if there is a local office you can visit to meet with the team face to face. The office should be equipped with a workshop or test lab for prototyping, have assembly capability and have calibrated test equipment for product verification.
3. Good Design
 Does the company have strong design capabilities with the ability to balance form, function and aesthetics that match your market needs. Experienced designers should be able to seamlessly integrate technology into beautiful, user-friendly products that elevate the company’s brand, and have an appropriate styling that is fresh and appealing to the target market. This approach to design should be thoroughly applied down to the finest detail through the choice of materials, colours, finishes etc and carried through to user interfaces, controls and the entire user experience. The finished products should be a pleasure to use and long lasting making them inherently sustainable. Successful application of these principles balanced with solid engineering and the ability to transfer design implementation into manufactured production is why companies win design awards. Ask the company if they have won design awards as this is gauge of their ability to implement good design principles into their projects and be judged by a panel of experts that it has been successfully achieved.
4. Quality
Quality systems and processes underpin a successful commercial outcome in complex technology driven projects. Check that the company has an approved quality system that has been maintained and audited. All company documents should have unique document numbers with an established revision and approval system and professional file management systems. Company processes should be well organised and rigorously implemented and projects should be managed following industry best practice. Ideally an ISO9001 quality system should be in place that ensures quality throughout the company from design and engineering through to administration and HR. If it is medical device that is being developed, then you will want a company that has an audited ISO1345 medical device quality management system in place. It is also important to check what disciplines this certification is for. Many companies may have certification for their industrial design processes, however, meeting ISO 13485 for hardware and also software incorporating IEC 62304 will also be necessary and is more challenging to achieve. A company that has all three approvals will be better placed to develop a medical device that incorporates electronics and software.
5. Price
Price is important but don’t fall into the trap of choosing the lowest cost supplier. You need some way to establish value for money and who is going to be the best partner to deliver based on a fair and reasonable price estimate.  If you feel like you need to get some comparative estimates, then make sure that you’re comparing apples with apples. Ensure that each proposal has had the same briefing, has used the same assumptions and includes the same scope. The estimates should have a detailed breakdown of tasks and subtasks that can be compared and ensure that the proposal has allowed for contingency. There are many unknowns when you start a new R&D project so there needs to be some allowance for unforeseen challenges in every project. Beware of an industry trend in consultancy to underquote to win the work, then resort to variations and scope extensions after you have committed, making it difficult to change suppliers at a later date.
6. Fit
Does the company have values that align with your own values? Do you think you can work with this company for an extended period, and can you trust them to develop your precious idea? Most multidisciplinary projects will take more than six months to complete and could extend to several years to achieve certification of complex medical devices, so you need to make sure you can get on well with the team and that there is a designated account contact for project communication. To ensure that the company can provide service over the life of the project you need to consider their financial stability, their internal culture and their staff retention strategies. Are they a growing or contracting business, do they have repeat business from long term clients? Referrals from existing clients are a good source of this information. You also need to consider their business motivation, is the company purely profit driven, or do they have a higher purpose to build value, give back and make the world a better place.
7. Focus
Does the company have a commercial focus? It is one thing to design a proof of concept prototype and completely another to develop a commercial ready solution. In a highly competitive world, for a product to be commercially successful it often needs to be technologically feasible, cost effective, power optimised, size optimised, performance optimised, easy to use, aesthetically pleasing, reliable, durable, good quality, compliant, manufacturable and serviceable. Balancing these often competing requirements requires experience, commitment and know-how. This is why you will want a team that is focused on designing your product to meet the required commercial outcomes right from the start of the development process and carry this through all the way to the end. In fact, if any one of these critical areas is not appropriately addressed, it may lead to a failed product! Is the company asking the right questions to get to the bottom of your commercial needs? Are they planning the project and estimating what product can achieved right from the early stages of the project? It’s always more efficient to make changes to a design early in the development process. Leaving commercial success factors as an after thought, can lead to unnecessary rework, iterations, increased development cost and delays. This is why its always more efficient to address mandatory success factors early in the development process, leading to a great product design that supports your commercial success.
Glenn Bevan 
Business Development Manager 
Ingenuity Design Group 
Glenn has 30 years of experience partnering with clients to design, develop and commercialise innovative technology products for many industries and market segments. He has a background in industrial design and applied science, coupled with deep knowledge of business and technology development. He has built and managed a successful design consultancy, been a lecturer in industrial design, advisor to creative industries, a judge in design award programs, and delivered state government sponsored design in business initiatives.