5 Tips For Successful Product Design
Some folks think being an inventor is just about having brilliant ideas. Well, having brilliant ideas is certainly part of it, but ideas are cheap. To be a professional inventor you’ve got to translate those ideas into inventions, and then turn those inventions have to be polished into desirable products. That’s what product design is all about: bringing an idea into the world as a functional, competitive product.
1. Plan Ahead: Know Your Needs
Take time to consider what you’re going to need for your product development process. The early phases of the design process can be the most important. The more preparation, planning, and research you do early on, the higher the likelihood of your invention ultimately succeeding. Avoid costly mistakes with proper planning! Take stock of your skills and what the product design will call for. Knowing what your resources are and what your needs will be will help you develop a realistic budget and expectations for your project.
Consider the needs of your product throughout the entire development cycle. Are you planning to make something simple which is really only a matter of design? Well, at the very least you’re going to need some CAD design skills. Is it mechanical, electrical, or otherwise complicated? Will you need engineers?
It’s quite possible that you’ll have some of the design skills needed to get your product off the ground. But more than likely, you’re going to need to hire help, too. Plan ahead and know what to expect! Think of the parts and components your invention will need, and consider how you’ll source them, both for the prototype and for the ultimate product.
2. Be Prepared to Invest Up Front
Some novice product designers think the best strategy is to save all their money for the manufacturing phase, and so they end up cheaping-out on the early development and market research. This is a big mistake. If you get to the point where you’re ready to start real production runs but you still haven’t actually worked out who you’re going to be selling this product to and how you’re going to reach them you could be in for some trouble.
The early phases of the product development cycle involve a lot of research into what your potential customers want and expect from a new product. You need to be responsive to these dynamic demands, and you have to be able to incorporate them into your product design from the beginning. And you certainly don’t want to cheap out on the design! Working with a professional CAD designer that understands industrial design will help you in coming up with a design that will be both appealing and feasible.
3. Design With an Eye to Manufacturing
One of the reasons to work with an experienced product designer is that you want to be designing with an eye to manufacturing right from day one. The eventual goal of any product design is to be actually made. The more attention that is paid to the eventual manufacturing process during the design phase, the less likely you are to run into costly and frustrating problems down the road.
It might not be immediately obvious, but the majority of your manufacturing costs are going to be determined during the design process. Your design will dictate the complexity and cost of the manufacturing process. There are a number of principles that you should keep in mind when making any design decision:
- Reduce the number of parts. You want to keep the total number of parts as low as possible without compromising on functionality. The less individual parts you have to produce, the less your costs and assembly time will be. Certain manufacturing technologies, like 3D printing, make it much easier to design with fewer parts.
- Design multi-functional parts. Designing parts that can serve multiple functions within your product helps to cut down on the total number of parts you need to produce. If you’re designing several different products, you can aim to produce parts that can be used in multiple products (see planning for the future below).
- Design parts that connect. Ideally, the different parts of your invention will be designed so that they can connect directly with each other. Parts that can be directly fastened without the need for any mediating component or part cut down on costs, complexity, and assembly times.
- Design for simplicity. Keep in mind that all the parts of your design will have to be assembled by someone or some thing. The more complex that process is, the longer your lead times and the higher your costs. Design for the simplest possible assembly without sacrificing performance.
Designing for manufacturing requires experience and knowledge of the production process. Working with a qualified industrial designer can really help you to avoid costly mistakes during production and to keep your overall project costs down, making your product more affordable and, therefore, more competitive.
4. Design for the Real World
Remember that no matter how superbly fantastic your CAD design may be, it will eventually have to be made into a real thing that is used by real people. The material world can be a lot less forgiving than AutoCAD. You always need to be considerate of the materials you intend to build your product from and how those materials might actually interact when it comes to putting the thing together in the real world.
Materials don’t always get along together. Certain kinds of material are very difficult to sew, and some types of materials might not be easily glued to one another. These are things which you would like to find out before it comes to the actual production run. So test out materials in advance, while still working on the design.
Consider too how things will look and feel to the end user. Will your product need to undergo any finishing, like painting or sanding? Will it be comfortable to hold it or use it? These are all important design considerations that don’t make themselves obviously apparent when you’re looking at your superbly rendered 3D models and CAD designs. This is why early prototyping and materials testing are important elements of any successful product design.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s good to avoid unnecessary complexity. Remember that, while you’ve been intimately involved with this product since the moment of inception, the public (and your investors) won’t have the same degree of familiarity with it as you. Complex designs can complicate the manufacturing process, and may leave potential consumers scratching their heads. People tend to like things which they understand immediately.
These are all important design considerations that don’t make themselves obviously apparent when you’re looking at your superbly rendered 3D models and CAD designs. This is especially true for those without experience in manufacturing. This is why early prototyping and materials testing are important elements of any successful product design.
5. Design With the Future in Mind
This obviously applies to everything that’s already been said. Design is always about the future: it’s about making something that doesn’t exist yet but will. But, depending on the nature of your project, you can improve productivity and reduce costs by keeping the future in mind.
We talked earlier about how part of the process of designing for manufacturing means coming up with creative ways to take advantage of multi-functional parts in your product. Similarly, you can design parts that might also be useful in future product designs. Once you’re riding the wave of success from your current project, you’ll already have a leg up when it comes to designing the next great thing because you’ll already be set up for some of the parts.
Consider how what you are designing might become applicable in future projects. You might even be inspired by a new idea while working on developing this one. A failed prototype may give you inspiration for a new product. Do a sketch or leave a note, and file it away for later. Plenty of great ideas are discovered while working on something completely different.
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