The 10 Key Stages of Product Design


The goal of the product design process is essentially to deliver better product solutions to market, helping establish and grow business, while delivering useful gains to the end user, be that functional or emotional engagement to a product that exceeds their expectations. Here are the 10 key stages of product design:

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Every company or product design agency will have their own specific way of achieving this goal, with various stages along the way. It should be noted that, although product design is an iterative process, these stages aren’t necessarily linear and it is not uncommon to go back to a previous stage if required in what we call “cyclical design”.

Let’s explore each stage in turn now.

1. Product Design Workshop

This is arguably the most under appreciated / under invested stage we see. We feel so strongly about brief creation we recommend a workshop, as a pre project - project. You really need to do this groundwork with clients in advance of a brief being created as a brief is one of the most limiting factors to how successful a product can actually be.

Without employing “Active Design Thinking” to this stage, often assumptions will be inherited, seriously limiting the design opportunity of the project. A workshop will often run through why do this, then understand the current thinking for any solutions on the table, be they from the client or the competition.

2. Creating the Brief

In simple terms a brief is the document where you outline the objectives of your product. It should answer every question as to why your product exists to begin with, who it is for, what problem it aims to solve, and how it will solve that problem, among others. This is the most important stage to execute properly, as all the subsequent stages follow the statements and assumptions you make regarding your product.

The perfect design brief will allow anyone reading it to understand exactly what your product is aiming to achieve, along with basic functionality and features, and is essential to get right before moving onto the next step. It is critical overall to set out the problem in its most drilled down form, along with the scope of works which are required to deliver.

Recommended reading: A Useful List of Market Research Questions For Startups or Product Launches

3. Researching your Target Market

Knowledge of your audience determines what the specific solutions your product provides and how you should be presenting or positioning your product. You should look to develop user personas as easy references to understanding the needs, mindsets, and pain points of the types of people to whom you are selling your product. Mood boards really help and we often use Pinterest to set out a private board.

Flow charts help, to map out how you envision their interaction with your product, from marketing exposure to product usage to customer support. Your research should also involve learning about the competition and the similar products they offer ,this is often cycled back into the brief as it informs the DNA of the product to be created.

4. Creating Concepts

Now you have a clear definition of the problems, a good product design consultancy will be able to “birth” new product concept ideas. This is a safe place to let ideas formulate, live and breath. They will often have interesting neaunce which might ultimately be fused or amalgamated into some other concepts. Such as the aesthetic of (a) with the functionality of (b) and the mechanism found in (c).

Concept work is often done via 2d sketching but may be visualised via 3D CAD as well as sketch modelling or early form factor prototyping.

5. Collaborating with Stakeholders

The concepts generated in the previous stage now need to go through a rigorous evaluation process. Not every element of the foundational concepts will remain as you flesh them out and open them up for constructive criticism and debate. Working collaboratively ideas can be heard and shake down the ideas on the table. List the strengths and weaknesses as they perceived them, and elaborate on how they arrived at these assessments.

Communication is critical during this stage of the process, as the purpose is to come to an agreement on what the final design will be for your product’s prototype. Where product complexity determines, it might be highly useful to create a decision matrix, including much of the “PDS” product design specification which should have been created in your brief. The matrix will allow you to score each concept for its aptitude in each category, such as looks, cost to build, weight, robustness, etc. Often this surprises with which comes out on top, as we make emotional decisions with products and looking logically contributes greatly.

6. Prototyping

Depending on the type of product you are launching, you will use Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) to develop a 3D model of your prototype and then to develop it into a physical working product. Prototyping can start at any stage, from the very loose sketch models into full prototyping where we are looking to test mechanisms, formfactor and fitment of enclosures etc. Physical models can be produced with CNC, Vac or RIM casting as well as 3D printing to name a few.

7. Iterating on Prototypes

We can also “virtually prototype “ where by the CAD model can be interrogated for strength and performance without the lead time for a real world build. Virtual prototypes are good for visualising designs and theoretical testing, but there is often no substitute for holding and operating equipment when prototyped in the real world.

Another aspect to virtual prototyping that can be very useful is flagging production readiness or DFM refinements which can be done with software that simulate the injection moulding process. This is vital and can save time and money in the production phase of the project.

8. Manufacture and Testing the Product

The production phase of the project is usually a massive undertaking. Working with a supply chain that understands the technology, as well as the key goals of the project, is vital if you are to produce a killer product. Don’t assume the manufacturer knows or even cares. You should point out the significant aspects that must be delivered and leave no stone unturned, removing the chance for assumptions to leave a fly in the ointment. You often have to work with supply chain here to refine the production or assembly, even materials choice, which is very hard to substitute in any earlier simulations. As the saying goes, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

The testing phase in the product design process is when you find out whether or not your product is functional, presentable, and commercially viable. Focus groups are some of the best ways to gain consumer insight.The objective of this stage is to close the feedback loop so we can confirm with high fidelity that the product tolerances are met and the simulations are effective in end use materials and real world production and assembly.

Consider every piece of data you receive to help streamline the design. Run multiple tests over time before finalising it. If the tests prove negative, it is better to go back to the prototyping stage than to press forward and manufacture a product that has a higher chance of failing on the market.

Recommended reading: How To Use A Strawman For Focus Groups To Get Feedback

9. Launching the Product

The philosophy that brought runs through every project and why good product design can be so vital for business, is our maxim “ design products the right way and they will sell themselves” to a great extent this is true. If you have taken the time to go through these stages, the client has been open and the project is well funded, the DNA should now be in the product such that it can thrive in its market.

If it’s disruptive tech, or a product that people are unaware of, then the launch stage must focus on revealing the good stuff and even seducing the audience. While the launch stage is often the client's responsibility, brands will have been created to complement and support the product, so now it’s time to let it shine.

Launches can be conducted through an array of online and offline channels. In fact there has never been a better time to reach targeted audiences with channels like Youtube, Instagram and Facebook offering never before seen targeting and capability to reach volume audiences with minimum advertising waste.

10. Supporting the Product Post-Launch

We often remind clients that first launch is MK1. Launching the product does not mean product design stops completely. Customer reception dictates how you will be supporting your product moving forward, whether that means adding or removing features, or retooling the product altogether.

A successful launch does not ensure longevity, so continue gathering feedback and testing ways to improve the customer experience. A strong product brand retains that momentum and should find the launch profitable enough to consider not long after the potential for evolutionary design, looking to create your MK2 and show your customers how to be market dominant. Companies like Dyson or Samsung for example have been doing an exemplary job of exactly this.

Keep the Customer Central in Product Design

A visually appealing style and an ergonomic form are important to attracting an audience to your product. But what the product does to solve your customers’ problems and how it accomplishes that goal are what keeps your small business profitable.

As your product evolves from idea, through to initial sketches and onwards to prototype there will be inevitable tweaks and changes. It’s important, however, to always keep the end user at the forefront of your mind at every stage of the product design process. This consumer focused way of thinking will be the key to the success of your next product launch.

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