Integrating Industrial Design into the Product Development Cycle

Originally Published MDDI March 2004

March 1, 2004

7 Min Read
Integrating Industrial Design into the Product Development Cycle

Originally Published MDDI March 2004

Product Development Insight

Although industrial design is becoming an integral part of product development, successfully integrating it into the development cycle begins with the proposal.

Stephen G. Hauser

Stephen G. Hauser

Industrial design (ID) has reached acceptance as a part of the product development cycle. For those product development managers who wish to include ID in their programs, now may be the time to learn more about what full-service industrial design consultancies—and their corporate counterparts—can offer.

The last 10 to 12 years have witnessed a continued and accelerated acceptance of the value of industrial design by industry leaders. However, designers are occasionally asked to develop a proposal for a potential client, only to realize that the client is often not prepared to ask the proper questions, or even to correctly evaluate the proposal that is eventually developed. 

That, in part, is the industrial designers' fault. For many years, industrial designers were a mixed bag. In the early days of ID, some design firms sold an art-oriented approach, a styling approach, and a superficial approach to industrial design. Industrial designers began to change their methodology to an engineering-oriented approach in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Today's market-leading industrial designers are receiving valuable recognition because their contributions to product development programs are identified as functional and cost-effective, as well as creative and visually appealing.

Because of the engineering-oriented approach most of the industry has embraced, ID is being sought out by leading companies as well as by companies who aspire to lead. Many of the leaders, owners, and managers of these companies know what to expect from the industrial designer. Others are learning rapidly, while still others are just beginning to recognize the value of developing a strong working relationship with the industrial designer.

The following will provide a few simple guidelines you can follow when selecting the proper ID team for your project.

Industrial design can be divided into two very compatible groups: the consultant and the corporate designer. There are many fine corporate ID teams. In many cases, a successful relationship has developed between the in-house ID staff and consultancies. Proposal writing between the consultancy and the in-house ID manager is relatively easy; each side knows what is required and expected and, of course, they both have a common language. 

The good news is that nonindustrial design program managers do not have to learn the language of the industrial designer to effectively communicate with the ID firm. First-rate ID firms know the language of the engineering and marketing manager of their prospective clients, and can communicate with them using those common languages. All the ID manager needs is technical information, marketing expectations, and a team of professionals from the client's side who can answer the questions the designer asks. It seems simple—and it is, if the designer asks the right questions.

But not all ID consultancies or corporate ID staffs are created equal. Most firms will tell you they are full service. While many are, full service can mean many things. An ID partner should offer a wide range of expertise, even if you don't think you need it based on your requirements when the program is approved. We all know that as product development programs develop, the rules will change. The team with the most experience and capabilities will be able to more effectively support the changes as they occur. Look for the following areas of expertise:

•Industrial design.
•Mechanical engineering.
•Electromechanical design.
•User interaction.
•User-centered research
•Color and graphics capabilities.
•Prototype fabrication and 
•Short-run, preproduction 
•Tooling and part cost estimating, from ballpark to production.

There are several approaches you can take when beginning a successful ID selection process. The following rules will work with either an in-house or consultancy design team.

Be Honest. The first rule is, as in all business situations, be honest with the firms you find interesting. If you are unsure of how you should structure a program, contact one of the firms you feel is capable and tell them you don't know exactly how to move through the process. Tell them up front that you will eventually ask two or three other firms for proposals, but would like their help in structuring an approach that will meet your needs.

Be Sincere. Do not patronize the ID firm with the promise that this is just the beginning, and that the really big programs will follow if they perform well; this is a sure sign of insincerity. Industrial designers are interested in designing products with a creative team of engineers, marketers, service people, and managers who want to create a successful product. The product you need help defining should be interesting to most industrial design firms if it is presented openly and honestly. Presenting a hodgepodge of disconnected information may lose the confidence and interest of the design firm. You also may receive a proposal that will not meet your real needs. Don't waste time by not being prepared—ask for help if you have doubts as to how to proceed. The response you get from a well-organized request can be very rewarding.

Be Informed. Be prepared to answer questions about production rates, marketing intentions, safety issues, FDA requirements, user types, manufacturing requirements, target costs, data transfer requirements, disposables and their costs, and so on. Your answers will become the basis around which the proposal will be structured. Make sure you share the same information with each industrial design candidate to ensure that you receive equally informed proposals.

Have Specifications Prepared. If possible, have functional specifications already developed when approaching each of the firms you have selected, even if the specifications are preliminary. Proposal writing, if done properly, takes an enormous amount of time. If most of the rules cannot be established at the outset, and at times they cannot, the proposals you receive will be varied and difficult to compare.

Be Flexible. While you want to be able to compare apples to apples when you receive the proposals from your selected design firms, allow the firms to modify the guidelines. It is to your advantage to have the firms present what they see as the most beneficial approach, even if it does present problems, and suggestions, beyond the guidelines you originally envisioned. If you feel the program should be expanded or reduced based on the initial review of the proposals you receive, restate your requirements in a formal outline and ask each of the firms to modify their proposals accordingly. Then you can compare apples to apples.

Be Open. When reviewing the proposal in the presence of the design firm, do not turn to the last page first looking for program costs. A lot of thought went into the development of your proposal. Allow the ID firm to walk you through the process they have developed. The numbers and the program costs will make a lot more sense if you can understand the rationale behind them. The designer's explanations will help you explain to your superiors, or to other team members, the intent of the proposal and, hopefully, the justification for the costs.

The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing an ID firm is your product. Make sure that the firm you choose will have the expertise to meet your needs and those of the product. Remain focused on the core requirements of your product, but listen to suggestions that may result in an improvement to its design. Maintain a sense of humor throughout the process—product development can and should be fun. 

Copyright ©2004 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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