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7 Characteristics to Look for in a Product Design Partner

Innovative companies of all sizes with a new product or technology idea or a concept need to go through the process of design, development, testing and market readiness.

Along the way, many such companies, particularly entrepreneurs with funding but little in-house expertise to draw on, must outsource some or all the skills needed to progress through the development cycle.

In this article, we’re going to look at what sort of factors you should consider when seeking a product design company to partner up with. How do you separate the truly innovative from the ‘along for the ride’ – and, crucially, how do you identify a product design partner that will truly add value to your potential new venture?

So what makes a great product design partnership?
Product Design Experience

Experience

Case studies are notoriously difficult to find among product design consultancies mainly to protect confidentiality and competitive advantage. So, any product design team that can show off the fruits of their previous contracts deserve respect because their clients have allowed them to display their work.

Likewise, testimonials are useful because it takes a very happy client to put a name to a positive reference.

However, a key factor to look for in a product design partner is experience in designing the same kinds of products, components or technologies that you are looking to design. As well as that specific experience, a wider knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of the sector will also be invaluable to you.

A questioning approach

Product Design Questions
It’s often said that it is far better to ask the right questions, than always to have the right answer. A serious and credible product designer will never be happy with a standard brief. He/she will need to develop a fuller picture, and one which will allow them to put your requirements into a broader context.

Having reviewed your brief and developed an understanding of your requirement, an intelligent product designer will want to ask a raft of further questions to add this context and fill out the map of where you want to get to. Often these questions may seem intrusive – but at the same time they may introduce a new angle or dynamic to your intended goal.

Achieving a successful product development, requires in-depth understanding of how the product is going to be manufactured, how and where it will be sold, and who will ultimately use it, and why. Understanding every aspect of how and why a product is used, and what problems the new development will overcome are the key to success. An in-depth awareness of the commercial aspects is also critical. Budgets for manufacturing costs, logistics and shipping methods, and life cycles and warranties, all help to ensure that the results of the investment in development are profitable.

Far from suggest any shortcomings in your brief or a lack of understanding on the part of your designer, the questioning approach will be aimed at solving every problem and arriving at the right solution, and will demonstrate that they are engaging with you in a full and meaningful way.

Interest in you and your product

To begin with, from your first conversation with a potential product design partner, you should try and gauge how genuinely interested in your concept or idea the designer is.

A genuinely passionate product designer will engage with you and develop a real interest in your intended product or technology, purely because they enjoy the challenge of designing something new from scratch.

It’s a gut feel thing, but if you feel that your product design partner isn’t really interested in what you want to achieve, there’s probably a more suitable one out there for you.

At the same time, as well as challenging you (as described above), your potential design partner should show an interest not just in the pure design aesthetics and functional usability elements of your product. They should also seek to understand the business application(s) of it, how it will go to market and factors such as support and ongoing development.

Weighing up all these potentially conflicting considerations is a key skill and one that isn’t necessarily found in every product designer. 

Depth of understanding

To deliver your product successfully, you’ll need to fully embrace and tackle the many different steps of the product development process. If the conversation with your product designer takes place relatively early in that process, how much better will it be to know that he or she fully understands all the steps involved e.g. prototyping, patenting, validating and testing and market launch.

Look for a product design partner that either knows what’s involved in all these steps or at least can point you in the direction of recommended partners that can help you at each stage.

For example, a product design team that knows about prototyping and materials can make recommendations to you from the off, which may be instrumental in manufacturing feasibility.

 Communication and Commitment

Design Team Communication
A design team’s enthusiasm for a project will also display commitment to providing the best service possible. It is an advantage to find a design team who are prepared to use their wealth of knowledge and experience to advance your project.

Reporting and communication, establishing a team of specialists to manufacture your products, and providing an interface for the many teams that may be required to see fruition of a product are crucial. Managing and organising these entities on behalf of the clients, will take away the minutiae of details which can be confusing and daunting to a client.  A good design team will do this daily and be able to present executive summaries for clients, allowing them to concentrate on the overall vision of their product development investment.

Tools of the trade

Product and technology design requires the use of highly evolved software tools which may take a great deal of time to master. So it goes without saying that your potential product design partner should be expert and adept with highly complex industry standard product design software such as Creo and SolidWorks.

Different designers and engineers favour different design tools, so whatever they use they should be able to demonstrate skills certifications in their preferred platform, which in turn will give you an extra confidence boost in their abilities.

Core skills

It’s very common in 2017 for products and technologies to combine multiple ‘traditional’ disciplines. So for example, many medical devices (for example, dialysis machines) incorporate elements of industrial/product design, electrical engineering/firmware and mechanical design/engineering.

As the Internet of Things phenomenon continues to evolve, many such devices may be networked for remote monitoring and logging, requiring further design considerations.

Some design consultancies combine all the disciplines you need, though due to their size and structure may not always be as competitive or efficient as you would like. Smaller design consultancies may also offer all the skills in-house, but if not will offer and showcase trusted strategic partners with similar values and experience levels.

Fit for your business

It’s tempting to put ‘business size’ in this list of factors to consider.

But ultimately, working with a large multinational product design consultancy may not be right for you – and equally, you may be better off working with a smaller and very focused design team.

So in weighing up all the factors described above, consider whether potentially working with the organisation you’re looking at feels right for your organisation.

In addition to the points already covered, this sense of fit can come down to:

  •  The overall terms of the contract
  • How well you gel with some of the personalities you’ll work with
  • How closely aligned your business philosophies are
  • The price they’re looking to charge you
  • Their levels of flexibility and agility
  • Their responses to your enquiries and questions

In summary

Ultimately, working with your new product design partner must feel right, and the ‘deal’ you get must be beneficial.

Finding the “right” development team may well be a simpler process than we’ve described. After all, the amount of business that’s done based on recommendations is huge.

But if you’re starting out and don’t have an obvious choice, check out Cambridge Design Technology and we’ll be delighted to share our experiences and advice with you!

Here is a selection of our recent articles and case studies that you may find of interest:

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