Product Design Process: How to do it

Product Design process. How to design a product

You have a product idea that you believe can change the habits of a customer and innovate on how a certain task is performed. Having that idea created into a tangible unit that is sold on the shelves takes a lot of time, brainstorming, effort, testing, experience, and patience. These tasks make up the macro view of the product design and development process. The micro view includes a multitude of people and objectives which constitute the team behind-the-scenes of the product design process.

Young entrepreneurs just getting into the game, and the head of an R&D department at a large company will both agree that the product design and development process is exciting. While you may experience a sense of optimism and exhilaration, you will undoubtedly get anxious and stress as well.  Many aspiring entrepreneurs will try to rush the prototype t before it is ready or forget the most important part of building a product: RESEARCH. These two reasons are two of the many factors that make 95% of new products fail every year. While this is a scary statistic for all innovators, we are here to show you how to ensure you remain in the 5% of success stories.

You have the great idea and the persistence and determination to make it come to life and dive into the product design process. Do you know what you need to do? Are you sure you know where you should invest most of your time and money? Maybe you have a product that everyone wants to get their hands on, but how about scaling the production or even developing a new product line? Read further, and we will educate you on our product design process that rarely disappoints us.

Product Design is Customer-Centric

When you design a product, do you create it for your ego or to solve a problem for a customer bas? In our opinion, being able to answer the question, “what problem does your product solve?”, is more important that your company mission or brand slogan. A company with a great mission that has a product that doesn’t solve as need will often fail (with a few exceptions). From research, to testing, to delivery, every step in the product design and development process must revolve around the customer.

Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” -Tony Hsieh – CEO, Zappos

Research

The first part of research that any human can conduct is asking questions directly to their customer base. This can be done by in-person interviews or using a survey online. A good rule of thumb is to perform a minimum of 100 interviews or have 100 surveys answered. This may require you to send a survey to over 500 people to elicit 100 responses. Maybe you need to approach 300 people at the mall or at a festival, that is fine. This data is important.

To further explain, you need to grasp an understanding of your potential customer base needs. What is the piece the market is missing to satisfy them? Maybe there is already a product on the market, but customers are complaining about the quality or high costs. Conducting surveys and interviews will result in a few of these, “A-HA,” moments that will formulate your product design.  

Analyzing keyword search volume data on SEMRush and Google Trends will give you a clear understanding of the frequency people are looking for a product like yours. This analysis will enable you to gauge whether designing and developing this product will be worth it. A self-brushing toothbrush for dogs may be a great idea in theory. Your mom may love it and think you may be able to retire her at age 48 with the idea. Unfortunately, that type of product only gets 10 searches per month. Consequently, you realize that “dog toothbrush,” gets searched 22,200 times a month. Better yet, you found that “Bamboo dog toothbrush,” is searched 50 times a month and has a low keyword ranking difficulty. Now you can take your initial concept and pivot since you studied the data and understood what your customer base needed.

Invest in Product Design

Some parts of the product development process can be done by yourself. Often we find that it is better for the solopreneur to do most of the research since it is their company and customer base they are communicating to. This will help them better understand how to brand the company once they begin selling.

If you only afford to spend money on one part of the product development process, it would be product design. Especially if this is your first rodeo, partnering with a well-versed product designer and seasoned product engineer is omnipotent. With a bad design, manufacturers will not be able to produce a tangible product that works efficiently. Your customers may be unhappy with the quality, or worse, not even know how to use it. These are all death sentences to new products and what contributes to 95% of them being failures.

What does a Product Designer do?

Product Designer’s responsibilities include sketching your idea and creating a 3D render. More importantly, they make the product look sharp and on-brand. Product designers are usually very creative and have great computer literacy.

What does a Product Engineer do?

Product engineers work together with product designers. Their responsibilities are more mechanical and technical. Their job is to make sure the product design is functional and efficiently. More importantly, they are more in tuned with customer needs and current habits. While the product designer can draw it out, the product engineer figures out how to make it work right and still look how the designer drew it up to be.

Find a Reliable Manufacturer

A good design is nothing without a factory that can produce it correctly. Rarely will you find a manufacturer in the US that will give a cost compared to those in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc. In today’s world, most overseas manufactures have a liaison that speaks pretty good English. While this is a huge benefit, our cultural norms are still very different than theirs. Additionally, the factories may be starting up their machines when we are getting ready to go to bed. While we have a large network of reliable manufactures, it is common to see people get taken advantage of and ripped off. Therefore we have a serious vetting process when we approach a new manufacturer. We ask a multitude of questions and look for any red flags in their responses.
  • Do they live up to AQL standards?
  • Have they made products similar to this before?
  • Can they show us samples?
  • How vertical are they as a factory?
  • Is there any conflict of interest?
  • How do they protect my IP?
  • Are they in a sound financial situation?
  • Are they a lean manufacturing plant and are they continuously updating their processes?
It is also important to know when and how to negotiate with the manufacturer. In their eyes, they know you can pick up and move to another manufacturer at any moment. They want your service more than you need them, remember that. It is your job to find the most reliable and transparent manufacturer in your niche. Working with them and building a relationship will have a range of benefits as you get into higher production.

Get samples made (PROTOTYPING)

Understanding how to make a product prototype is easy when you first go through the steps listed above. After you have made a connection to a reliable manufacturer or sourcing agent, you can send them your design (usually in the form of a tech pack) to have samples made. This is the fun part. While you may get very excited, you cannot rush this process.

Your first product prototype may not look anything close to what you visualized. Albeit it rare when you send a well design tech pack, it still happens. Do not get frustrated. We understand you may now get anxious that you will be behind schedule for a brand launch. Launching at a later date with a perfected product is much better than launching too early with a flawed product. If you push a manufacturer to move faster, they will cut corners to satisfy you. We know this from experience.  You must iterate until you have exactly what you want and look at every detail to ensure it is made correctly.

Testing

Finally, you have exactly what you wanted! Or do you? Maybe you analyzed the data for months to understand what your customers needed and finally figured out exactly what product to design. How could you go wrong? If possible, order a very small inventory round and send out to a few influencers and potential customers that are interested. There are times that you miss something little that ends up being a big problem, and these people can help you spot them before you invest money into a large order. Below are a few examples of entrepreneurs with tunnel vision and tester’s negligence:

Entrepreneur 1:

This person created a hydration backpack but failed to recognize that many people wore their pack without a shirt. In the design process, they decided to utilize a cheaper fabric that was abrasive on skin. This resulted in a large portion of the customer base being unhappy

Entrepreneur 2:

This inventor was a female that created a waist belt for construction workers. While testing for her own comfort she failed to realize that men’s hips are built differently. After placing a large order from the factory she realized men experienced discomfort while wearing the belt.

Entrepreneur 3:

created a special flag to utilize when towing passengers in a boat. The boat she commonly drove and tested on only had a top speed of 35mph. The product broke when operating in wind speeds of 45+mph. In effect, this shrunk her potential target market.

As you can see, there are many reasons why you must but your product to the test in all scenarios. To reiterate what we said in the beginning, you must focus on the customer. While you may be a customer, you only represent the characteristics and habits of a very small fraction of potential buyers.  

Full Line Production

Once you have put in the hours of research, invested the money into design, found a reliable manufacture, and tested the product vigorously, now is the time to put your product design into full-line production. Based off of your search analysis and feedback, you should be able to make the call on how many units to order and how many variations or styles to incorporate in the production run.

While you may have been led to believe you found a great manufacture that promised a reasonable PPM defective rate and the factory sent you flawless prototypes, the only way to become fully confident is to have feet on the ground at the factory. Weather it is you or a third-party, having someone walking around over the shoulder of factory workers will decrease the possibility of defective units. To supplement my point, Chinese culture is very big on relationships. Unlike the US, the Chinese want to get to know you and build a friendship together through work.

Here you should have a plan on where you are going to store this inventory. More importantly you should have a marketing plan in the works that incorporates SEO, PPC, ambassador outreach, product reviews, and whatever other form of marketing that works well in your industry. While this seems overwhelming, you will have plenty of time to put together a marketing plan while you are waiting for your production run to be delivered.

Shipping to your Distribution Center

You are in the final stretch of the product development process. All you need to do is delivery the bread to the basket. This is much easier said than done. You are not simply telling UPS to drop off product at a desired address. First you need to decide by what medium you are going to move your product across the country. Will it be boat? Or are you in a rush to get that product to your warehouse? Air freight is going to run you about double the price if not more depending on what kind of product you are shipping.

Paying tariffs is another headache. Depending on the current political situation, you may pay anywhere from 3-10% on your goods. If you do that calculating, that ends up eating a generous amount of your bottom-line margins. You may be able to split up a few boxes via DHL to avoid these tariffs, but the price increase may not be worth it. Therefore, we stress that you work with a season product design and development expert so that you know what to expect when jumping into the world of product design.

This entire process is long and can be extremely overwhelming. Product design and development requires the attention of many people that are experienced in multiple facets of product development. By working with a company that consistently pushes ideas from sketch to shelves, you are able to avoid all of the mistakes, sit back, and learn. You are able to utilize their design, production, and oversight experience. In return, you can focus on the more important parts of starting a company while having peace-of-mind knowing your product is going to turn out better than you’ve dreamed. 

About the Author
Ryan Lange

Ryan Lange is the Founder and Lead Product Designer of Persistent D&M. Ryan began his product design career developing soft good products in the outdoor industry and has since broadened his skills in 3D design, industrial design, and design engineering.

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