When I was in college, an award-winning product designer suggested that I’d become a better product designer if I learned how things are made. I took that to heart, working in both a sheet metal shop and an injection mold shop. Those experiences led to extremely successful early projects and the contracts that started our product design company, Studio Red.
36 years later, Studio Red is a team of industrial designers, mechanical engineers, shop technicians, and machinists. Many product design companies employ some of those disciplines and outsource the rest, but Studio Red operates them all in-house. This blended, multidisciplinary approach enables us to perform every step of product design, from research and concept development all the way through production. It makes us unique in the industry, and has been the key to our success in over 4,000 projects.
Our Quoting Process for New Product Development
Studio Red goes into detail about new product development here.
With such a vast array of skills under one roof, acquiring the right information is key. When a potential customer approaches us with a project, these are the pieces of information we gather, and the questions we ask before developing a quote1:
- What’s the product’s exact function and purpose?
- What market will it target and in what countries?
- What sets this product apart from the competition?
- What’s the aesthetic goal? (i.e. sleep, robust, elegant, etc.)
- Provide a detailed product list.
- Provide a complete parts list.
- Do you have a component specification of all parts?
- Which ones do you not have?
- Describe all human interface areas, front and rear; (switches, I/O connectors, LED’s, control panels, etc.)
- Name all safety and compliance requirements.
- Where will this product be manufactured?
- Life span?
- Manufacturing cost per unit?
- Volume produced 1st year, 2nd year and so on.
- Expected retail costs?
- Quotation date?
- Start of Project?
- Completion Date?
By starting with these elements, from product to schedule, we can have a certain enough understanding of the product and company goals to provide a quote.
Behind the Scenes of Choosing a Manufacturing Process
Behind the scenes of a quote, we’re crunching the numbers. Are we making 50 units per month or 100,000? What sort of manufacturing process would be best? A product and quantity will always lend themselves to an optimal manufacturing process.
For plastics, for example, injection moulding could easily make one million units per year, while pressure forming wouldn’t exceed a few thousand. Depending on the customer’s quantity needs, we could choose between (from lower quantity to higher quantity):
Each process has its own set of tradeoffs, and the right choice will depend on the product and quantity.
When going through this process, we also fold in the cost. Sometimes, a customer wants 50 units per month that they will sell for $19.95 each. At that few units, however, what if manufacturing costs $20? Since these dangers are so common, it’s better to flush them out as early as possible.
After receiving a customer’s information and before delivering the quote, we review the process to ensure they will achieve their goals. While it’s simply a process of kicking the tires, it’s an important step to stay within a customer’s tool budget and per-unit price.
Let’s say a customer chose injection molding, for instance, but the product needs holes on every side. Those holes will require moving parts of the mold, which costs $4,000 per slide and slows down the process, increasing cost of maintenance, parts, and per-unit price. A different process--such as a shut-off--might avoid that cost and keep the per-unit price low.
Keep Constant Dialogue between our Team
Even after gathering information, we keep a high level of communication within our team. We continually audit that information, using our project manager role to cross disciplines.
While a product is in design, for example, it’s the project manager’s job to remain cognizant of engineering requirements. If the device must be waterproof or require a certain amount of airflow, they ensure the designer respects those engineering constraints. Without this level of communication, it’s easy to miss key details.
TheraSense: a Success Story
A snippet of Abbot's Diabetes Care division timeline.
Before TheraSense, a diabetic would prick their finger and drip a big drop of blood onto a test strip. They set out to use a much smaller, freckle-sized drop, so patients could use alternate sites less painful than the fingertips.
TheraSense invented the science and hired Studio Red to invent the device. We made friendliness and trustworthiness our top design priorities, aiming to communicate, “We’re friendly, but also going to save your life.”
We ran five focus groups, analyzing two forms: a pumpkin seed-shaped device and a cigar-shaped device. After testing our mockups, the pumpkin seed performed best. We back-screened the lens to increase the screen size and simplified the consumer interaction to two buttons that looked like one.
When the device launched, it not only worked well; its branding and messaging fit the market perfectly. We quickly captured a 15% market share in a twenty-year-old market owned by LifeScan, a Johnson & Johnson company.
Challenges in IoT Product Design
Product design ranges from soft goods like tennis shoes and backpacks to large commercial goods like radiation chambers. Applied to the IoT space, product development typically includes:
- Electrical engineering
- Printed circuit boards
- Energy components
- Sensors that audit performance
- A communication protocol
Since size is always a constraint, IoT projects typically experience a conflicting dynamic between shrinking the elements to be as small as possible while still maintaining the product’s performance.
At the end of the day, the question is always about price: can the device be created at a price that the market would pay? Someone who wants to create a mailbox-based IoT solution that pings a user’s phone when the mail is delivered, for example, would be challenged by these elements:
- How long is the battery life?
- How does the sensor work?
- Does it work on every mailbox in the world?
- Most importantly, can we make it at a price point that the market will bear?
3 Key Elements of Product Design and Development
After 4,000 products over 36 years, I can pull advice from a depth of experience. If you want to get product design and development right, these three steps will get you far:
1. Understand the Specifics of Product Development
If you understand what a product designer does, you can have context on what each choice actually means.
Most clients don’t know how parts are actually produced. How is metal bent? How is plastic molded? We spend a lot of time educating potential clients on their design choices. Someone will often come in with a beautiful idea--a new handle with a rubber grip, for instance. We’ll explain how manufacturing would work:
“We can make an over-molded rubber grip. It’s a whole second tool, however, so it would increase both product startup costs and long-term costs.”
More often than not, they change their design to avoid heightened costs. If you’re manufacturing a product, you’ll have to learn eventually. We’re upfront with our customers, but not all design firms are. It’s much safer to come in with a basic working knowledge of how to design for manufacturing than it is to learn it on the fly.
2. Pick a Good Partner
If you’re making a few hundred big devices out of sheet metal per year, don’t hire a product development firm that specializes in plastics. They might be willing to accept the contract, but they won’t optimize it effectively for your goals. Instead, it’s better to find someone with experience in the manufacturing process you’ll want to use.
This same notion also applies to app development and UI/UX for IoT products. The best digital experiences are effectively paired with the physical/tangible experience. A high-quality partner will understand those connections and pull them together into a cohesive IoT solution.
3. Keep the End in Mind
As you consider launching a new product development process, it helps to consider the downstream elements:
- How much money do you have for the hardware?
- Where would you like to see it made?
- How will you ship to the customer?
- What are the service drivers?
A good product design company will keep an eye on these elements throughout the product development lifecycle, so the product becomes more than manufacturable; it’s successful.
Need help designing a product? Studio Red has over 4,000 new product developments under their belt in all sorts of industries. Check out their profile.