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From concept to creation: The 10 steps of product design

Devising new products and bringing them to market are vital parts of growing a business, but successful new product development rarely happens by accident.

Product design is a complicated area, so we asked Chris Flynn, founder of product design consultancy Flynn Product Design to take us through the key phases of product design.

Successful product design is not a single process but rather an iterative cyclical system, in which ideation, technical design, market analysis, and testing all play their part in order to design, build and refine that perfect product / user experience.

Into this mix creativity, problem-solving, design flair, engineering, production knowledge and market research combine to perform Alchemy – we as industrial designers, think at least.

In this guide, I’ll take you through the ten stages of product design and how they can help small businesses approach the development of any new product in a methodical and systematic way, ensuring maximum success.

These stages need not be linear but they do form a structure that ensures a product comes to market looking and behaving as it should do, with a recognised consumer base ready to purchase.

1. Collaborate

A journey is often better for sharing the experience. When it comes to development, it’s key to reach out to specialists. Make it clear, what’s unclear, be guided by externals, they will be able to best help you, when gaps in your knowledge are set out from inception.

Good product designers will expertly guide you through the following process, collaboratively. Your established industry, Patent companies do not generally focus on efficacy of innovation or commercial success of a venture. In short, you can spend money here prematurely.

Search for Product Designers at this stage, they will guide you and revisit IP anyway further downstream when a commercial design is matured.

2. Research the market

Being entrepreneurial, taking something to market solo or via a startup is full of challenges, clearly or everyone would be doing it. It can pay dividends to reduce risk as much as possible.

Gaining true market intelligence is not alway complex. It can certainly depend on the market. Most often startups have a grounding in the sector they are entering. If you don’t then get industry expertise within the sector.

Look to understand the nature of this sector. Look to take its pulse, figure out the consumer behaviour, the trends. Developing a product takes time, so you need to be at least 18 months ahead of the curve. You will benefit from truly understanding your problem statement and how then you can better the competition.

3. Develop a brief

This is the single greatest influence on the ultimate product so we switched “create a brief” to “develop” simply because its worth doing over until it’s refined.

Check the brief carefully for implicit assumptions that need to be examined more carefully, sometimes you have to run with assumptions, but flag them from the get go.

For example in our workshops we will always emphasise the benefits of assessing the problem statement, to spend some time digging down on this, review, then review again. Clear exploration here, uncovers true opportunity.

By the end of this step, you should have a summary that clearly states what the product is for, who will use it and how the design project will be structured. It’s important to remember that the end product will only ever be as good as its brief.

4. Ideation – the creation of ideas and concept design

The research will have told you what’s different about your product and what the market wants. Developing a safe place for thinking. Letting ideas live, creating concept sketches.

At this stage, product styling, identity, materials, form factor, mechanics and basic functionality should become clearer. But don’t be too prescriptive. Look to birth ideas, we can see how they survive scrutiny in the next step. Pitch them internally, live with them a little then move to step 5.

5. Evaluate the concept

Conceptualisation is the process of taking the ideas that came out of the brainstorming and ideation phase and evaluating them more analytically. You don’t need to be restricted to a single concept; there may be competing concepts and each may necessitate its own prototype to establish efficacy and suitability.

Through further evaluation you will be able to settle on the one that is most likely to achieve the goals laid out in your brief.

Create a decision matrix, whereby you lay up aspects such as your “must haves” and weight them. A selection of concepts can be evaluated by placing this must have set of specifications in a matrix.

Each concept will be scored on how well it satisfies the respective specification. The weighting helps you total up how a concept has fared overall. This can be a useful guide when evaluating ideas.

6. Use digital tools to produce the prototype

CAD will be used by your designers to produce concept CAD as well as Virtual Prototyping. This is where the concept really starts to take shape and can be developed to allow its physical properties and structures to be tested.

In addition, the CAD model will allow the client to further evaluate the design and give final approval for production. CAD allows us to collaborate globally in teams to develop products effectively.

We can rapidly bring these designs into the physical realm in the next phase. CAD should never dictate the way your product looks, great product designers will be at one with their software and free to sculpt in this virtual environment. Our new Guide to CAD and CAM explains more about these tools.

7. Physical prototyping

You’re now in a position to produce physical models of the product. At this stage, check again that the product is still aligned to the market research and feedback you received earlier in the project. Then start testing the product with potential users and members of your team.

The prototyping is iterative. Feedback creates changes to the model which is then produced in a new version and re-tested. You may encounter unexpected problems, which will need to be resolved before you move to production.

8. User testing

This is generally dependant on budget and the status of the prototype work. It is more often than not, feasible to create working presentation prototypes using simulation materials which look and feel like the real thing.

Prior to that all important production sign off, it’s a vital opportunity to perform usability tests with focus groups, even with prototype packaging.

One time-effective way in which to gather feedback is to run a focus group wherein people try out the product and comment on whether it is easy to understand and use.

You can often integrate the emotional feedback into, colour ways, the pallets your intending to use. The end use materials and finishes as well as the packaging. This serves to give you confidence before making the manufacture infrastructure.

9. Design for Manufacture (DFM)

A more evolved set of prototypes designs signed off, will allow you to focus on Design for Manufacture (DFM).

A reliable product design consultancy will always be mindful of design for manufacture throughout all these 10 stages, however this is a phase conducted with manufacture teams.

In, for example, injection moulding or casting, software such as moldflow can help us assess and predict how a product will mould.

Large chunks of time and cash can be saved by validating the design for manufacture. Cutting steel injection moulding tool and other investments in the production process are likely one of the largest costs in the process, correct analysis helps get this right first time.

This starts a liaison phase with manufacturer’s where by we gain sign off of parts for manufacture and also finalise production costings. Which will be fed back to clients.

10. Launching the product

A well-designed product should essentially sell itself. If the correct actions have been taken at all stages with the right team, with the appropriate budget and time constraints.

Good product designers will want your product to success just as much as you do. They will want your product to win awards and set the web alight with praise. In a perfect world that’s how things work, however, practically speaking in competitive markets you have to push hard to penetrate saturated sectors.

This may mark the end of the design phase, but the product development team will still need to liaise with marketing and PR professionals to help create powerful promotional campaigns focused on core benefits and functionality.

Final thoughts

These ten steps illustrate the multiple factors and players involved in a successful product design project.

In reality this outlines a cycle of processes, that will be run over and over also many of these processes will be happening in tandem, so it’s important that the design team doesn’t lose sight of the intentions expressed in the brief.

This guide was written exclusively for ByteStart by Chris Flynn, founder of Bristol based product design consultancy, Flynn Product Design.

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