- IDology #8 - Dos and Don’ts of product development
This article is a transcription of episode #8 of IDology - the industrial design podcast by Mindsailors. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube or listen to the audio version on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.
In this episode Voytek Hołysz - the COO of Mindsailors and Anita Rogoża - researcher & designer, literally discuss the dos and don'ts of product development. They go through the entire product design process and point out best practices to consider and most common mistakes to avoid.
Voytek Holysz: Anita.
Anita Rogoża: Hello.
Voytek Holysz: Today we'll talk about the dos and don'ts of product development, I don't know if it's difficult, but maybe concrete, let's say I'll play the devil's advocate and I'll ask questions from the client's perspective.
Anita Rogoża: Worst possible client perspective.
Voytek Holysz: Worst possible client perspective. No, I'll try to keep it mild, more or less maybe.
Anita Rogoża: I'm glad.
Voytek Holysz: Maybe most common problems or suggestions that we may have for a client. And that's one thing. And the other thing for the listeners, we are going to base this conversation more or less on our Mindsailors design process. So we'll go through all the steps and talk about the dos and don'ts at each step of the design process. And if anyone wants to talk about our design process, I think you had this conversation with Rafał?
Anita Rogoża: With Mikołaj.
Voytek Holysz: With Mikołaj. Great. So everyone go and check that out. So let's start maybe even before we get into the process. In general, R and D and industrial design are very complex. They have a lot of stages, a lot of iterations, a lot of things are dependent on a lot of circumstances and people. So as always, with such a complex process or system, a lot can go wrong. So let's start with a general idea of how we can minimize the risks when even approaching or considering developing a new product.
Anita Rogoża: Basically the whole idea behind creating organized design process comes from the fear of failing or maybe making some mistakes along the way. Because as you mentioned, implementing new product to the market is very complex, very costly and takes a lot of time. And cutting that whole long process into small more manageable pieces, that helps us a lot when it comes to organizing your work even. So it's not only for our clients to understand how we work and how we create and then engineer those designs, but also for us to more easily work on the project.
Voytek Holysz: Sure. But let's say I'm considering contacting you about developing a product and before, I even do that, what should I bring to the table to try to avoid any challenges that may appear at the very beginning?
Anita Rogoża: Okay. When we are starting at the idea level, and we build on that, it is good that this idea is really well described. It doesn't have to be a brief already. But it is good to have maybe use case scenarios, maybe the purpose of that thing that we will create. And then this is the basically conversation starter for us to maybe go towards the pre-design phase and to gather more information and collect more data.
Voytek Holysz: So I shouldn't be vague and I should be as precise as possible with what I want to achieve. But I'm the med scientist slash inventor, so you guys are the R and D and the development process team. So is it like I can come to you and say, oh, I want this blue stick that will write on paper with black color, let's say. Or do I need to say it needs to be like five inches long, it needs to have a cap on it and I need to be able to sell refills or whatever, how precise do I need to be to start a conversation?
Anita Rogoża: You can be as precise as in the first example you've mentioned because then we will ask you questions about functionalities, for example, because you trust us that we will deliver our work, and we trust you that you will tell us all we need to know to make as good design as you want to do as possible. Also the thing that always help us to work, but it's not really very technical, it is a drive of our client.
Voytek Holysz: A what?
Anita Rogoża: A drive of our client. For example, if it's a company that delivers medical product, or maybe this is the company from a more leisure or entertainment industry, or maybe this object dedicated to educational purposes...
Voytek Holysz: So understanding why even the product needs to come to life.
Anita Rogoża: Where the idea came from. Because this usually shows us where our client looks in what direction looks and wants to develop.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah, sure. So let's say that I did my homework, I tried to be as specific as possible. I don't have a brief yet, but I came prepared. I have some prints. I have maybe like a very simple mood board of what I'm looking for. And we decided to work together. So what would be the first step and what should be on the lookout for?
Anita Rogoża: Okay. So I believe that we are entering the pre-design phase. So we are at the end of that phase, we will have a brief that will be for us designers setting stone and will be a set of directions regarding how we should work or design. And this is the time that we should never let any unknowns at this point, and any last minute changes should be applied. So when you are not sure about the budget you can have for the final product, this is the time that you should settle up or at least have some idea regarding the cost. This is the time also when we are lining up the priorities. So we are asking our client what is most important, is it an economical factor? Is it the ergonomical factor, for example, because the ergonomics will be different. You design differently. For example, the sensor of a smart city system that is rarely touched and rarely this mental and you design differently. For example, wearable electronics that will help you to monitor your health. So these are the different stuff that lining them up and thinking of which of them is most important helps us as well. Another thing is talking a little bit about the scope of production that is planned or the budget we have, because this is the very strong direction for us in the studio to think about the future technology of production because we will know and that technology will influence the way we design. Because we design differently wooden objects, and differently, the injection molding must produce things.
Voytek Holysz: So one thing is what I would like my product to be made of, and another thing is what my budget allows to plan for.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, exactly. And another thing more from the humanities side of the design I would say, would be also trying to get to know a visual language of our client's company. Because we work differently trying to suit an already existing line of products with a company that's already been on the market for a long time and has customers, and we will differently plan the design for products that will be the first step towards being a successful company.
Voytek Holysz: So if I understand correctly, if I don't need to have like a...
Anita Rogoża: Brand book.
Voytek Holysz: Brand book or corporate identity or whatever we can start with something that is not yet described.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, we can, but it's definitely something we should discuss. What's the general direction or what's the idea behind the visual aspect.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. So what would be the things that I should avoid doing? Or what are the don'ts of this stage?
Anita Rogoża: Believing that we will guess correctly what you are planning to design. Because some clients have that fear of maybe, when they show us, for example, some mood board or different products that they like, that we will blindly follow in that direction and almost copy what we've been shown, this is absolutely not the case. It's the opposite. It helps us to read the whole vibe, I would say, on the aesthetics that it's demanded from us. So not mind reading, just exchanging some examples is better.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. So I shouldn't expect that, one thing that you'll copy, something that I brought up in the mood board, and the other thing is that, the first proposition will be a 100% hit, right?
Anita Rogoża: Yeah. That's probably the case, but we want to be as close to the hitting as possible.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. But still, this is an early stage, so I assume I won't be able to, I don't know, answer all the questions or you won't have all the answers, and I maybe won't be able, even able to ask all the questions. So is it possible to start with like, I don't know, a general basic concept work and then leave the details for later? Or how much do we need to describe now?
Anita Rogoża: I think we need to describe as much as possible, and if we are not sure about the precise technological solutions behind some of the details, we should at least know that details will be wanted in the future product. So I don't know, even such qualities as waterproofness can influence the design in matter of size, in matter of looks, and separating the whole casing for different house, for example. Even though we don't have a perfect technical solution during the conceptual phase, we need to know about the functional demands that are in that product.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. So I should definitely state all the most important and basic functions and try to be as specific about them as possible.
Anita Rogoża: Yes.
Voytek Holysz: I imagine if at this stage, at the pre-design stage, I wouldn't tell you that I want the device to be waterproof, and I would tell you that like two stages later, that would be a problem.
Anita Rogoża: That would be very time consuming and work as we pivot in the project.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. Okay. So what's the end of the pre-design phase? What does it end with?
Anita Rogoża: Actually in our process, each phase ends up with a measurable outcome, and the outcome of the pre-design phase is a brief that will be brief and specification, that describes all the functionalities demands.
Voytek Holysz: But I was supposed to come with some sort of brief or fill the brief at the beginning. So this is like a different brief? What is it?
Anita Rogoża: So usually that differs because most of our clients are not able to come to us with the fully defined technical brief that we need to work with. So that's why we have the pre-design phase, and we ask a lot of questions, meet a few times, and gather all the knowledge base to start.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. So the initial brief that I need to prepare is sort of more the business side of the product, the concept?
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, that's correct.
Voytek Holysz: The general concept side of the product, and I shouldn't point out exact maybe technologies or ways of production.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah. That's exactly true.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. So once we have the brief that is both from my end focused on the business and the idea of the functions and the form, et cetera, and on your end, you have given it the full technical detail that is possible at this stage to go and at the next stage prefer the first designs. Right?
Anita Rogoża: Right. Next phase is a conceptual design, and this is the phase when we are building on the brief that has been finished on the phase before. And we are also basing on the priorities that have been mentioned before. So we are having our team, we work on our concept and we are creating all of the stuff that are necessary to communicate our idea of that product that we will show at the meeting, which is ending that phase.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. So I understand that's the dos, because you will follow the brief, not necessarily like the technical specs, but the must-haves of the brief, and discover maybe, I don't know, new paths visually but still I should expect what you deliver to be not outside of the brief basically. That's why the brief needed to be so specific before, right?
Anita Rogoża: Yes.
Voytek Holysz: So what would be on my side, or maybe let's go straight to the meeting.
Anita Rogoża: Okay.
Voytek Holysz: So you have had your time to work on the designs and what is it that you present and how we should approach it?
Anita Rogoża: Okay. So we are presenting most often three different concepts that are the answer for the brief and all the demands that have been there. And this is the first time when we have the visuals we can talk about. So it's also very good to have a feedback session during that meeting. But leave the final decision of choosing one of the three ways for a little bit later to have some inner conversation. And that feedback is really important, because that will be a great use on the later stage of the project, which is a targeted conceptual study. And that feedback should be really honest and consider all of the, not only our personal clients ideas of that product, but also the general idea of how that product will fit to the organization or company that comes to us for it.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. What are the clashes, for example? Because you said that we should involve the personal ideas and keep in mind the company's target, but from my own experience, it's hard to set aside my own personal preferences or one's own personal preferences when talking about a design that is basically being made for someone else, not for me. Even if I work at a company that is producing, I don't know, glasses and I like a certain type of glasses, that doesn't mean that I am in the target group of my company. So how would I separate this?
Anita Rogoża: Well, crowdsourcing is a good idea as you mentioned. So maybe you can use the service or you can maybe have some targeted group interviews. That's always a very good input and helpful direction in choosing one of the concepts.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. And this is a purely visual phase, graphical phase. You schedule the 3D models from different perspectives in different settings, and that's the form that we use as a reference for feedback.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, usually yes because the visual part is always there, but sometimes regarding the information hierarchy of priorities. So what is more important in which project, sometimes we use some very early and crude prototypes. That's especially very important during the projects where ergonomics are really important. For example, when you are designing some of a tool that should be handheld and should be very comfortable to use, because sometimes this is the point that we make some prototypes to choose the best way not only regarding the looks, but also regarding the future use.
Voytek Holysz: You mean, for example, the shape is dictated by ergonomics and it's not just a matter of coming up with a shape, but making sure that this will be a practical shape.
Anita Rogoża: Exactly.
Voytek Holysz: Oh, okay. So you have shown me these designs, I know they're the right shape because we did some rough prototyping, and I give you feedback on those designs.
Anita Rogoża: Yes.
Voytek Holysz: And for example, what type of feedback do you like to receive? What is good feedback in your opinion?
Anita Rogoża: Well, in my opinion, good feedback is the one that has some why behind it. For example, when talking about colors you can tell me, I don't like the color of your design, and you can tell me I don't like that blue color of your design. I'd prefer it to be pink, for example. Or I don't like that blue color because it doesn't suit my brand book. Et cetera. Because we have some starting points for a future, a creative work and for maybe making some new propositions regarding those colors.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. But brand book is pretty obvious for me, but like, when I want to pink because I like pink, is that something also useful?
Anita Rogoża: Maybe it is a good conversation starter, because we have some points to grasp to ask you why pink?
Voytek Holysz: Yeah I know.
Anita Rogoża: And then we can go on.
Voytek Holysz: Once I choose a design, I think it's good to go in that direction. You take it and you refine it according to the feedback that I have given you. So is there any space for feedback with more refined design or is it basically something that we just go on with to the next stage?
Anita Rogoża: No, the feedback is crucial for that part because this is the time of a better quality conversation because we have example, and we have a common ground to talk about that developing design. And this is also a very good time to maintain being on the same page. So we need honest and very constructive criticism, and that is not taken personally, but it's taken as a very valid input towards making better projects example. And this is very important to be certain and sure about the design we are finishing that phase with, because after that, we are closing some very important stage. We are closing the looks part and we are moving towards working on mechanical stuff and all the insights of our projects.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. Okay. So when you said honest criticism, I assume that since we are moving on to mechanical design, I shouldn't keep anything to myself, like thinking to myself, I'm sure they'll change that or I hope they'll change that or whatever. Whoa. It's windy up in here. So anything that comes to my mind, I should state it, right?
Anita Rogoża: Yes, exactly. We should discuss those fears or maybe if you're hoping we will do something, tell us that you are hoping we'll do something because, for us, this one detail might be crucial for our idea of that design. And we won't be able to guess what you need until you, or tell us what you really need.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. Once we go through that, we get to the mechanical stage and what do you do at this stage?
Anita Rogoża: We've developed the, not how it will look, but we will develop how the project will work. So we are focusing on all of the functional aspects of the future product or of the object in general. And so we are developing for example, how the parts of the housing will hold together, how the electronics will fit inside and et cetera, et cetera, and this is the part that it's iterative, it takes time, and it takes a lot of prototypes to develop. So a big do, and very demanded by us, is to be patient and not to expect us to hit the nail on the first go, in the first hit.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. You mean for the first prototype right?
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, the first prototype won't be perfect because we are not able to forecast all of the material requirements, all of the, for example, changing dimensions of some components we put inside of our product and stuff like that. So it is an iterative process, and with each prototype, we push the project further basically.
Voytek Holysz: I understand that the first prototype or the second, or even maybe the third won't be exactly what we were aiming for, especially the more difficult a project is. But I assume that at this stage, the final prototype will be something that I can go and manufacture?
Anita Rogoża: Not really. It won't be the master copy for future production. It won't be a golden sample, but it'll be a fully functioning prototype that will execute all of the demands and functionalities. So this will be a great tool to maybe talk with the future subcontractors, and maybe to launch the next step such as DFM, which is designed for manufacturing.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. So DFM is the next stage. So the final prototype that we get, I shouldn't expect it to be shelf ready or something like that, but it's the type of prototype I can go with to the manufacturer to talk about tooling and possibilities, what technologies to use right?
Anita Rogoża: Exactly. At this point, the technology is already chosen, so that prototype is correct in terms of demands of, for example injection molding, but it's made with a surrogate technology that doesn't require tooling or the production line. So for example, mealed or 3D printed.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. Once I take that prototype or you take that prototype and go with it to the manufacturer or a couple of manufacturers, what are the dos and don'ts there when starting to work with a tooling company or with a manufacturer?
Anita Rogoża: This usually happens during DFM, which is designed for manufacturing. And this is the phase when we are testing the ground and testing the possibilities of different vendors to see if they can deliver the quality and pricing or cost and technology we are looking for. And a very important part of that process is remembering that it is also iterative, and it brings another person or another company to the table. Because different production plants or different subcontractors have different demands regarding the very small technological details that will affect the design or shape of the product in a small way. But we have to think about them if we want to fight for the best possible quality.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. So how do I talk to such a contractor? Or how do you talk to such a contractor to find one that is suitable for me? Is it like just showing them a prototype and saying, do this exactly like that? Did they say, no, I go to the next one and then to the next one until I find the perfect one?
Anita Rogoża: I think it's more of a conversation. They're telling us that for example, some radius is too small, they need it to be bigger, and then we ask how big, and we are still engaged in the process to not lose the design we worked so hard for, because we know how to make technically correct designs. And we know that also some changes are necessary, for example, due to the industry demands. But some of them don't have to be made, we don't have to sacrifice each styling feature to make the project super easy for manufacturing. So it's like the moment of balancing different motivations from different sites.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. At the end of the mechanical design stage, I, or we end up with a prototype that is not yet ready to be manufactured.
Anita Rogoża: Yes.
Voytek Holysz: You said it's still made with some surrogate technologies, and we take it and go to a manufacturer or manufacturer's, plural.
Anita Rogoża: Exactly.
Voytek Holysz: How do we start that conversation? How do we approach that?
Anita Rogoża: Okay. So at the beginning we have to accentuate that it's important to hold to one method of production. And because for that method of production, the fermented prototype was made for, and then we are aiming to work with the vendors or manufacturers that we trust. This is very important because we know their quality, we know their demands. So this is a very good starting point for the future corporation.
Voytek Holysz: So preferably once we have already worked with, and we know that they will deliver. What if with this project we don't have such a...
Anita Rogoża: Okay. So then it's important to verify them. So for example, when they're telling us that some solutions are impossible to be made by them, we need to ask maybe two or three different vendors to test the ground and see if it's...
Voytek Holysz: Yeah, to see if it's possible...
Anita Rogoża: Possible for them or...
Voytek Holysz: Or in general.
Anita Rogoża: So this is a very good distinction. And also we should always verify the fact if they are able to meet our requirements, because home appliances doesn't have any special requirements, but everything is different when you are making the medical products, because medical products have different class of being medical products, and they demands different surroundings during the production, different level of cleanness and stuff like that. So these are the very important qualities to have, for those vendors.
Voytek Holysz: And when we decide on a vendor, how do we even decide that we go with a vendor? Do they just tell us, yeah, we'll do it and we say, okay, let's do it. Or do we order a sample batch or how does it work?
Anita Rogoża: A good thing is always to ask for some samples or maybe they're some products that they already produced, manufacture assembly, because that's also a thing. So therefore we can understand what they mean by the best quality possible, for example. So this is also a good do, usually it doesn't happen overnight because all of the starting the corporation with some vendor on the law level or the law platform can take months because these are sometimes very big investments. So both sides need to feel very safe in that corporation. So it usually takes some time.
Voytek Holysz: You mentioned assembly so that's also something the manufacturer takes care of right?
Anita Rogoża: Sometimes yes. It is also a thing that it's good to be certain about because some vendors are only producing the injection mold parts, and then we have to collect them and bring them to a different facility that will assemble those, I don't know, housing with the electronics that are inside. And this is also the big part of DFM to make sure that all of the logistics and all of the supply chain are in order.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. So best to work with vendors I know and rely on if no such are available, I should definitely get a second or third opinion. And even when I decide that one is better than the other, I should verify whether what they say about themselves is actually true.
Anita Rogoża: Yeah, exactly.
Voytek Holysz: At the end of the DFM stage, we have a vendor picked and we do a test batch with them. And let's say the first batch comes out and I'm not satisfied, I don't like it. How should I react? What should I do?
Anita Rogoża: Okay. At first don't panic, only ideas are perfect. And even this stage of the product, of the project can be iterative. Because we are creating totally new injection molds, for example, and we still need a few batches and sometime to tweak it, change it a little bit, and fight for the quality that we are demanding. And it's quite natural because we are developing the new production line, we are developing a new supply chain. So this will take some work and this will take some, maybe thinking about compromising and again, lining up priorities between costs between the enterprise, between the quality and quantities of those product patches.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. Compromise, compromise, compromise.
Anita Rogoża: Exactly, yeah.
Voytek Holysz: Okay. But it's still important to remember that even though one might think that, okay, everything is set, let's just go. No, it's still an iterative process. Just as we needed to prepare the product, we need to prepare the production line. And the manufacturer can do a lot on their own when preparing for the first batch. But then after they've done their basic work, we have a more hands-on approach for the process because we see the batch samples and we can give feedback.
Anita Rogoża: And we cannot forget that this is not the last step in the life cycle of the product, because we are just producing something. And then we have to sell it. And it's also a good idea to think about it during the supervision of the production, because high quality products can be, for example, rarely returned, rarely fixed, and stuff like that. So, the price of the production and the quality of production can influence the business runnings in the company later on.
Voytek Holysz: So I should also keep in mind that maybe choosing a less expensive vendor won't always be the best business decision because I might have more returns?
Anita Rogoża: Yeah. For example, yeah.
Voytek Holysz: Yeah. Okay. I understand it. Okay, cool. I think we went through the whole process at this point, and we've covered quite a lot of dos and don'ts. Some might have been maybe a bit obvious for us, but from experience, like you mentioned to me before, they're often not for someone who is not in...
Anita Rogoża: In the process on a daily basis.
Voytek Holysz: Doesn't have experience with developing new products. So I hope we have managed to clear some questions for the people who are listening.
Anita Rogoża: Still do some designing. Thank you.
Voytek Holysz: Thanks for the talk.
Anita Rogoża: Thank you.
Anita Rogoża is a researcher & designer at Mindsailors. Her priority is on making functional designs that are both user and environment friendly.
Wojciech Hołysz is the COO of Mindsailors, with 15 years of experience in running a business in creative B2B services, marketing, sales and video production.
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