The Design Process - Imagery Breakdown

The Design Process: A Masterclass

Achieving a beautifully designed new product, featuring all the key elements for success in the market place, is no mean feat. After all, you will need to achieve not only a fantastic user experience, but you’ll need to meet the desired outcomes for both the business and the end user in order for the product to become a success. You’ll want the quality to be on point, your management will almost certainly want the research and production to be cost effective, whilst your end user will want the final product to carry an attractive price tag. All this whilst scaling the production of said product to serve your target market. Getting from the idea creation stage, through to a fully-fledged market-ready product is not achieved without working through a fair few steps, known as, the design process.

This blog is designed to walk you through how this process works. We hope that you’ll find this piece informative, and a fantastic tool for gleaning the understanding and support from the business around you, to help you take your next idea to from concept to reality.

Planning and Research

So you’ve agreed on a concept which your team are on-board with – everyone’s excited and eager to get this project up and running, in order to get your product to market at the earliest possible stage! So what do you tackle first?

Planning and research is one of the most important design stages. You will need to be thorough, setting both long and short-term goals to manage not only your time, but that of your teams involved with the project. By ensuring that the timescales are met, you can reduce the risk of squandering budgets, whilst ensuring positive results are produced.

But what do we mean by research? Market analysis is critical to understand demand; what exactly is most important to your end user? Do they want a product which provides a bleeding edge user experience, or do they want something they can afford to purchase without too greater budget? (The answer of course, is probably both!) You’ll need to understand the technical requirements and potential scope of the project. You’ll also want to establish what’s most important to your stakeholders on this project; is it production time, quality of the end product or overall cost that is most important? Usually prioritising one of these areas impacts on another!

Executing in-depth research will give your design team a solid grounding and a clear grasp on the priorities and desired outcomes of the project and highlight the essential needs of the end product. Documenting your research correctly will enable a design team to reflect on the findings and efficiently locate key information related to the project, making for a leaner approach to the project.

And remember, this isn’t necessarily a swift process; the majority of product developments are long-term and can take place over months or even years, depending on the scale, the business, the funding and sometimes even the politics involved within the business.

As you can imagine, this initial research can make or break a product’s development.

Concept Generation

You’ve completed your planning and research, so it’s time to take a look at concept generation. This part of the design process allows you sanity check and evolve the concept; Often, having a great thought in your head can be a terrible idea in reality.

Concept generation is an iterative part of the process allowing the team to distinguish thoughts and ideas surrounding the desired product, which will allow the designer to sort through and pick out features that will result in a seamless design. Producing concept after concept ‘on paper’ (or in digital format) allows the practiced mind to wonder and manipulate a design, placing different mechanisms, schematics or forms on a page, giving the ephemeral a solid physical existence.

By creating many varying designs of form, function and capability to present to clients or teams will give perspective, understanding and help progress a design down the right path.

Concept Development

It’s time to make this project a little more real; following concept generation, the stakeholders in the project will likely have a number of concepts they prefer for varying reasons. It’s now time to start developing a select few designs to demonstrate the many facets of the product. You’ll want to see more detailed functionality, form exploration, aesthetics, interface ideas, potential material selection and the product in context; this really brings a product to life and highlights which areas need to be refined to make it ideal for its intended user or market.

This stage of the process is a powerful tool to convey the intention of a design to a client, in order to help communicate your vision clearly.

Concept development will also give an idea of the overall size and scale of the product, which will be used later, in the prototyping stage.

Prototype Concept

The previous stage will have allowed the stakeholders on the project to select a preferred design. We are well on our way with the evolution of the new product and at this point, it is recommended to move on to prototyping.

This stage is critical; it helps designers ensure their design will in fact work and that it is comfortable and intuitive. Whilst you may choose to address prototyping at this stage of the product development timeline; it’s also worth noting that prototyping can be used in parallel throughout the design process, in order to verify concepts, perfect them or enhance them.

Your product is now really coming to life; seeing a product in physical form is incredibly powerful for clients or investors alike. Producing a ‘looks like’ and ‘feels like’ prototype will steal any show and really help you to move your project to the next level with confidence.

Test Concept

Now you have a hands-on prototype of your new product, you can move on to testing your product to ensure you are on the right path.

Testing concepts successfully at prototype level will include material testing, ergonomics, anthropometrics, aesthetics and many more product features, which will ensure that the design will be successful and fulfil its intended purpose.

Test results will guide a products development and sometimes make the designer step back a few paces to refine and iterate the design for a better solution in order to attain the perfect design.

Customer Approval

The customer approval stage can be a stressful time for everyone involved on the project. Producing a design that is perfect for your client, whilst achieving the objectives of the business, can be tricky. You may have had to explore a number of re-designs on this journey, so it’s important that when it comes to sign off stage, all stakeholders agree that the final product ticks all the right boxes.

Once the customer has approved the design it can be moved forward into the detailed design stages. At this point intellectual property rights can be submitted if required.

Final Design Development

Now the customer has signed off the product concept following testing, based on the prototype, we are good to move onto the more detailed development stage. The Designers and Engineers will now look into the minute details including physical properties, final material selection, surface finishes, stress and forces which might affect the product, product resistance to the environment, IP rating, flammability ratings and many more regulations and approval requirements.

Detailed design stages will include Design For Manufacture (DFM) and Design For Assembly (DFA). These are practices which help to make sure that in reality, the design can be made efficiently and to the required costs.

The detailed design stage is heavily user focused. Throughout the process the design will be evaluated against its intended market or users to make sure the design is perfect.

Verification, Approvals & User Trials

This stage can be a very time-consuming part of the design process, particularly because you will need third parties to become involved with the sign off of the product. This is the part where you need to be sure that your product is fit for purpose, safe in the hands of the user once it leaves your stock room, and that insurances are covered. The types of testing you’ll be likely to need at this point include CE conformity, IP testing (Ingress Protection – for solids and water), flammability conformity, stress and impact testing, EMC requirements and many more, depending on the intended product uses and application.

The product will now be as close to complete as possible, which will allow for thorough and safe user trials.

Now is the time to verify the result against the original design and specification brief in order to ensure all product requirements are met. It’s critical at this stage that all stakeholders on the project have a clear understanding of what the product is, how it works, all costs involved, as well as all the other findings unveiled throughout the journey so far. This means you can confidently work through the final stages of the process to take your product to market.

Final Sign Off

Now everyone involved understands the product that has been developed so far, all parties can now sign off on the result. At this point all design and approval documents will be produced for audit and manufacturing purposes, to be sure that the manufactured product meets the correct criteria. Documents will be released to both the client and manufacturer and issue controlled from this point, to ensure any further alterations or fettling of the design are traceable. If you have decided to submit Intellectual Property requirements, you will want to see your certificate at this stage.

Production, User Trials & Testing

Now we’re signed off, trial runs will be coordinated, checking that all components of the product can be produced efficiently and to a high-quality standard. Once approved we are good to go to production stage.

More user trials will take place following production, ensuring that the final mass or batch produced product marries up to the expectations of the pre-production design. Final product testing will also be carried out thoroughly, now the product is in its final form, to make sure the new and final product performs, looks and feels as specified.

Market Delivery

The final leg of the design process, the moment everyone has been working so hard for; the product is now complete and ready for delivery. Supply and logistics will need to be agreed and coordinated between the design house, the manufacturer and the client.

It’s likely at this stage that your product will be sent off to be packaged, any associated documentation included, and of course, you’ll need to be launching your marketing strategy, to ensure that your target market is aware that your product has landed!

Once the product has gone to market, you will of course be anticipating a successful launch, some strong sales figures and hopefully some very happy customers. But that’s not the end of the cycle; continued product support and development will be needed in order that product updates are made. Improvements and next generation research needs to be carried out, to help improve the products’ lifecycle and reduce obsolescence – it’s critical to keep in touch with your customer base, new technologies and changes in the target market, to ensure you continue to fulfil your customers’ demands, creating customer loyalty. Your ultimate goal is to evolve a product that will keep them coming back for more.

The image below demonstrates the constant review and feedback loop required in order to make this happen.

We hope you have found this article useful and perhaps we have helped to demystify parts of the process that perhaps were unfamiliar. Perhaps the whole process is an education, in which case we hope we’ve made it a slightly more comprehensible topic! Either way, our team at Conficio are always on hand to answer any questions that we might have spurred, so please do feel free to get in touch with any queries. You can get in touch at contact@conficio.design or give us a call on 0117 313 1458.

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