We regularly discuss the complexities of product development as it relates to the larger product lifecycle, highlighting some of the limitations that all-in-one providers can have in one or more areas of the lifecycle. Over the next few weeks, we’ll go into more details around the key pillars that make up the life of a product, starting with industrial design.
To best articulate the deep level of skills needed to navigate product design, we’ve invited Joe Schappler, Principal at Helix Design to share his experiences.
Why is Industrial Design Important?
The design effort consists of multiple steps, each driving toward taking a concept and turning into a prototype and then into a production solution. The design phase is arguably the most critical, as it is where the product concept is aligned with the user needs and demands. Even a minor miscalculation in design could mean a product that isn’t embraced by the market. There are stories throughout the industry where ⅛ inch miscalculation in the size of a product directly impacted market adoption.
I once worked with a company that sold a handheld device that provided tremendous value-add to their customer base but was struggling with unexpectedly low levels of adoption. After working with the company, we learned the housing design of the product was cumbersome and users did not want to use it. Our team made adjustments to the exterior form of the product that better fit the users need better and sales took off. Design can be the difference.
The first part of any design is exploring ideas of what the product could be. This includes understanding how a user might interact with the new product. At this stage, it’s less about pragmatism and more about creativity. A good concept phase allows the product vision to come to light and offers stakeholders across the business the ability to provide input and develop a singular vision that carries throughout the product development phases.
As part of the concept, form factors, budget constraints, volume, manufacturing constraints all start to be considered in alignment with the product vision. For a scientific device, making sure it is sized to fit in the small real-estate of a laboratory table. Some early mechanical engineering may help determine where a critical component should be placed. Each of these inputs requires specialized skills and understanding to help develop the best concept.
For the concept phase, enough data and input must be generated so that the customer can make informed decisions
The implementation and refinement phase is where the product starts to come to life. 3D CAD drawings are created and risk is analyzed (cost, size, other constraints). This step requires close interaction with the stakeholders to keep the vision as close to the intention as possible while bringing the product to reality. At this phase, mechanical engineers and industrial designers collaborate together. They work to find the best solutions, and compromises, to deliver a product meeting the overall objectives. In addition, this phase starts to look at branding and informational graphics, and other details that affect aesthetics and the overall user experience.
This phase will include many prototypes on the path towards a production solution. Constraints such as ingress protection, drop testing, initial manufacturing processes are identified. At the end of this phase, the team is confident in the design and ready to move forward.
In the production design phase, it’s time to get the product ready to manufacture. This includes designing and optimizing parts with an eye toward minimizing the number of steps and tasks associated with the assembly. This could be as simple as reducing the variety of screw sizes.
Some level of prototyping is still happening in this phase, but with a focus on verification that components, ports, etc align.
The production design phase is where potential contract manufacturers are engaged. We work closely with contract manufacturers, and unlike and all-in-one provider can identify the best match of production capabilities to the product being made.
Why a Best in Class Design Partner?
Over the last few years, companies have begun to offer an “all-in-one” design to manufacturing solution. With certain types of product, this can be a good choice, but our experience has found that often an all-in-one design firm is designing to fit their manufacturing process, limiting the creativity to find the best solutions. This may not impact the adoption of the product, but is it worth the risk?
Best in class partners offer depth across different areas and avoid canned approaches. Industrial design is focused more on the real world needs than the partner’s capabilities, opening a much larger toolbox of options.
Learn more about best of breed industrial design at Helixdesign.com