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Choosing a product design partner

Making the decision to bring in external skills and services isn’t always easy or straightforward.

Firstly, it can be difficult to take the step at all.

But secondly, and especially when you’re looking at outsourcing some or all of your product design needs, it can be hard to know how to go about finding the right partner.

In this short article, we’ll run through a few of the steps you might want to take, starting with asking yourself some key questions.

We’ll also explore the reasons why outsourcing this kind of expertise can make excellent business sense, and then set out exactly what you should look for in a product design consultancy.  

If you ask the right questions – and more importantly get the right answers – then you’ll find yourself working with product design experts who are as committed as you are to your business success.   

Choosing a product design partner

Why choose the outsourcing route?

The first and most important question to consider is “Why should we work with an external product design partner?”

If you’re even considering it, then it’s clear that you’re already aware of the need to add new product design expertise, resource or capacity to deliver on your current and future product or technology development projects.

An external product design consultancy can offer the following:

  • New perspectives: new consultants will view your development projects from a completely different and objective angle. They won’t be influenced by existing conventions or assumptions that may have existed on your project before this point. Instead, as “fresh pairs of eyes” they will be able to take a more dispassionate view that allows them to spot vital details and new possibilities that you might be missing.
  • Additional capacity: the best external product design teams know how to work seamlessly with an existing in-house team, and how to slot in to expand the design capacity and resources without disrupting and upsetting current stakeholders. The ability to dovetail in this way with an existing team requires expertise and experience often built over many years and allows you to expand capabilities without the need for large scale investment.
  • Faster time to market: sometimes – indeed often – the success of a product development project hinges upon being the first to market. Bringing in the extra product or technology design expertise of an external consultancy team can reduce time to market. To achieve this, you may choose to outsource the entire product design element of the project or just key aspects outside the expertise of your in-house team.
  • Focus on your core business: if product design doesn’t form the core focus of your business, then it’s only natural that you won’t want to invest the time and money needed to put together your own specialist product design team. The right consultants can perform the role of such a team for as long as you need them to and over time will evolve to feel like an integral part of your business.
  • Current specialist expertise: any successful product design consultancy will see staying on top of the latest technology and software in the field as part of their bread and butter. By working with them you can tap into the value of this expertise without having to make the long-term investment required to embed maintain this specialist knowledge within your business.
  • Flexibility: using the expertise of an external product design consultancy means that your business will be able to react quickly to changing demands. Should you need to flex your resources up or down, the business efficiency and cost savings.
Using e-drawings

Choosing the right consultancy

Once you’re aware of the benefits and possibilities of using external product design consultancy, your next hurdle is the decision to actually do it.

Your fundamental criteria for hiring a consultancy will be very specific to your business, organisation, existing skillsets and project profile. But at a high level, you’re looking for a partner that can offer both breadth and depth in product design and engineering approach, skills, expertise and experience.

The qualities you’re looking for will include the quantifiable expertise demonstrated by a consultancy’s track record, as well as the ‘softer’ skills of flexibility and innovative thinking. I

Your checklist of criteria in selecting your ideal product design consultancy might include the following:

  • Understanding of product development processes from beginning to end
  • Expertise in a range of design areas e.g. Mechanical Design, Industrial Design and Engineering Design.
  • Understanding of production engineering
  • Knowledge of the latest software
  • Knowledge of the regulations applicable to your sector
  • Experience of prototyping processes
  • Track record in a variety of sectors.

The process of establishing that a design consultancy offers not just the skills and expertise you need on your current of future project, and that can also work closely with the practices and culture of your business might also involve question about track record, testimonials from past clients and the feedback and reporting processes which they offer. 

Ultimately, it’s about balancing up the various criteria – as well as your budget – to establish what works for your business. The core points are to understand:

  • the benefits of using external design consultancy
  • the process of choosing a partner that best fits with your culture and requirements
  • your core objective e.g. managing overflow from a range of projects, adding new skills to complement or boost your in-house expertise, or allowing you to focus internally on other priorities.

If you’re not sure where to look, you might want to speak to Cambridge Design Technology. We’re a specialist product design consultancy with experience and expertise honed over decades, and a working approach which operates as a genuine partnership.

Choosing a product design partner

Next Steps

Download our Buyers Guide to Selecting a Product Design Consultancy to read more about what’s involved in sourcing a product design partner. It provides a comprehensive list of specific of questions you need to be asking. Armed with this information, you’ll be ideally placed to choose a design consultancy that perfectly matches your requirements.

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