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The Challenges of Product Design

New product development

Product development is difficult. The invention of a new product, new functionality, new customer interaction and experience is challenging enough that if we can simplify the development process, this results in high value to the developer in reduction of time, cost and excessive do overs. Here we’ll explore some of the biggest challenges of product design.

Price Alignment with the Market

One of the challenges of product design is to try to make sure the product objectives can be achieved within the cost margins the market will bear. In other words, check that the amount of money that can be spent on making the product is enough to deliver what is being developed.

High-end products like the Sonos Speaker cost far more to make because of the high-end engineering. However, many customers are willing to pay premium for higher quality.

Production Method Experience is a must

How you make 100,000 units is much different than how you would make a production quantity of 100 units. So find and work with a development partner team who has the most history and experience with the production methods that match your new products production quantity and manufacturing methods. In other words, if its injection molded or stamped sheet metal, assure that your chosen team has released products using those methods before and hopefully many times.

Tooling for high volume manufacturing
Tooling needed for high volume manufacturing

For tips on how to avoid high tooling costs, we’ve got a guide here.

Require Transparent Communication

Find a firm with extremely transparent communication. It starts with the initial agreement. If it’s clearly explained what each member of the team will do, how the work will flow, easy to understand how and when things will happen, that indicates a much more comfortable interaction going forward. Regular and ongoing program, phase or deliverable review points assure alignment with the overarching goals and unsaid nuances before it gets too late and costly in the process.

Find an Expert Risk Advisor

Very experienced teams can advise and assist in assuring the product does not take on unnecessary risks in complexity, tooling, production options etc. This helps with feature creep and requests that are super complex or expensive but are not fully understood without experience. As an example, asking for a rubber over molded grip may be great, but just know the cost of tooling doubles (must make a hard injection part and a soft over mold tool as a second mold) or if the unit requires safety UL flame rating, certain materials are out and wall thicknesses are driven by the safety spec.

Physical + Digital Design

On screen experience can be just as important as the product itself.

If possible the physical product design should be done in concert with the digital experience design. This especially relates to devices which have onboard screens since the user’s touchpoints (and pain points) will be in both the physical embodiment as well as the onscreen interaction. If done by the same team, it can have amazing results and the company branding is reinforced even stronger. A design can message the devices function through the shape and form as well as the digital workflow.

Hatch Baby Rest Design
If the product has a “nice, friendly” feel to it, so should the app.

Design for Manufacturability Early (DFM)

Get the manufacturer’s input early as possible. We generally bring the manufacturing partners into the development process as early as possible. Often we ask for manufacturing feedback during early CAD development and sometimes even before that. Items such as attempting to mold a thin wall section is sometimes possible but minimum thickness for mold flow depends on materials, distance from the gate, how thin etc. To do a minimum wall thickness, we must get a molder to agree with the detail design and have a path to get the mold to deliver on it. This takes an interactive process where they are asked about our concepts, provide feedback and iterate as needed until we collectively find an acceptable solution.

Stakeholder Alignment

Since product development reflects many areas and disciplines from the market and user definition to the final country of production, a designer is naturally at the center of the hub of all those spokes affecting successful product development. Designers consider the market and user, keep an eye on product cost, assure engineering is simplified through smart and appropriate design and in the long run, assist in making sure all the stakeholders; Industrial Design, User Experience Design, Mechanical, Structural and Electrical Engineering, Safety Compliance, Tooling, Molding and Contract Manufacturing are brought in at the right time, own their roles and are integrated to the other team members. And if very capable, will save money and time along the way by keeping the project on target throughout the whole process.

Previous Version of this Post:

The field of product design is constantly evolving.  New methods and processes constantly change the game for designers.  Part of the reason for these changes is a result of innovators who try to meet the growing challenges of product design that are faced every day.

  • Development Speed – Many design processes can be improved, and there are a lot of ways for the process to be slowed down. It’s very easy to get to a place where the design is being constantly and endlessly revised or some parts of the process are being done inefficiently.
  • Complexity Management – Both the design process and the product itself can suffer from far too much complexity. If the product is overly complex, usability may prove difficult.  If the design process is too complex, error and redundancy may creep into development.
  • Customer Involvement – Part of product design is keeping the clients and potential customers involved; however, focused, incisive questions are needed in order to get the appropriate feedback that will move the project forward. It’s very easy to people outside the design process to give opinions that are not productive.
  • Sustainability – Some designers have killer design ideas, but they’re not sustainable either on an economic or environmental level. The product may have an amazing design, but it costs far too much to produce in large quantities.  Furthermore, the use of recyclable and natural materials ensures good global citizenship.  By taking this into account, the best designers can ensure that the product design can be continued far into the future.

Networking – By staying in touch with the best manufacturing companies, designers are provided with the best possible input from leading experts in materials.  Cultivating those relationships and relationships with other business leaders is crucial for long-term success.

For a more in-depth explanation about some of the challenges of product design, check this article /connected-hardware-design/

About the Author:

Philip Bourgeois is a product designer and President and Founder of StudioRed, a Product Development consultancy in Silicon Valley, CA providing Design Research, Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering, Prototyping and Production in-house.

During his tenure at StudioRed, he has personally managed a creative team of designers, mechanical engineers and a full machine shop, with casting and production painting. After completing over 4600 programs in medical, enterprise, consumer and technology industries worldwide, he brings an unparalleled range of experiences to the product development process. He holds about a dozen patents in multiple industries.

After 37 years at Phil’s leadership, StudioRed has developed a unique process that along with a worldwide team of partners can produce injection molded parts in the broader SF bay area, but with the lower cost of Chinese tooling. Tying this with its internal design and engineering, they deliver Design for Manufacture (DFM) at first build. This process called “Rational Emotional Design” (RED) connects all these separate disciplines into a single brand-focused event.

Phil’s unique RED approach and incredible experience can help to steer product design, technical and manufacturing problems toward quick, low-cost and smooth paths of resolution which is often missing in young teams. This can assure product success by making margins attainable at first production.