Designing with the End in Mind

by | Sep 26, 2019

With years of expertise and a strong international grounding, Real DFM has designed products that range from augmented reality glasses to kitchenware and gym equipment. We sat down with their founders, Anna Finch and Brien Teasley, to hear how they’ve achieved their impressive success:

What does “Real DFM” mean (as opposed to normal DFM)?

In design jargon, DFM stands for “design for manufacturing.” Real DFM is a play on that: to us, DFM means design from manufacturing, and so we use manufacturing knowledge as the beginning of any decision.

Having taken on a myriad of projects from start to finish, we’re able to apply this start-at-the-end approach at each step along the way. When a client approaches us with an idea, we often respond, “When doing something similar before, we discovered this method works well.” Design from manufacturing also means we can take customers all the way through the design process--from concept to market.

What is your experience of being headquartered in New Orleans?

We actually started our business in Los Angeles. After a year of trying to carve through the overwhelming number of design firms, we moved. We’re now headquartered in New Orleans, with offices in Dongguan, China, and the U.K.

New Orleans has been a great location. There’s huge, untapped innovation in the American south. We often meet clients who would never have considered using a design firm in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Additionally, the lower overhead permits us to put client money toward designs instead of an expensive office.

Locally, having a leadership team of an African American and a woman has posed an additional benefit. Clients who might’ve been intimidated by another team makeup feel comfortable with us. We had one client directly say, “I’m so glad Anna is here. I can’t imagine talking through this idea while sitting in a room with two guys.”

Since we strive to meet our clients in person when possible, we also keep an office in Somerset, U.K. It allows for more of an international base, extremely helpful when connecting with European clients.

Where does your team work?

A portrait of Real DFM founders, Anna Finch and Brien Teasley.

(From left to right): Anna Finch handles the day to day management of all of Real DFM’s projects, making sure that deadlines are being hit and that our clients’ goals are being met. Brien Teasley is the head designer and developer at Real DFM.

Our core team consists of wife-and-husband team, Anna and Brien in the U.S., as well as another wife-and-husband team, Jack and Lucy, who lead the China office.

Depending on the project, we will expand our team to satisfy any required skill sets. We also have three additional team members in China--all three of whom happen to be named Mr. Liang. One is our electrical engineer, another is a technical renderer, and the third handles quality control. We also have a U.S.-based team of electrical and mechanical engineers and recently added a new biomedical engineer.

We like offering clients the option between working with a Western team and/or a Chinese team. If this is your baby of an idea, for instance, we understand the concerns you may have sending IP to China.

What is your process for product design?

Philosophically, we like products that serve a purpose—that are cleverly solving an important problem rather than simple cash grabs.

Then, we start from the end. Our first question is always, “Can it be manufactured?”

Designing from manufacturing frequently saves clients the time and money that would have been spent on fruitless exploration. It can be all too easy to spend months creating beautiful mockups for a project, only to discover that ultimately a complete redesign is required in order to make it manufacturable.

Design from manufacturing also means we don’t leave our clients high-and-dry. Shipping and tariffs have both been hot topics recently with some duty rates skyrocketing from 10% to 25% overnight. While some design firms might end their customer assistance when they put your product on a boat, we work with you all the way through to delivery, ensuring that your product arrives to the shelf.

When should a company come to you?

We love to see entire projects from beginning to end, as it’s typically cleaner than working from another firm’s files. That said, we work with clients in a variety of scenarios:

  • Some clients approach us with nothing more than an idea.
  • Often, clients approach us with a patent, wanting to work with us to prove out the concept.
  • Some clients have already shown success in the market and come to us for adjustments or customizations.
  • We’ve also helped customers with unique needs like lowering high price points or managing difficult factory relationships.

Important: come to us before crowdfunding!

We always do our due diligence before putting a product on a crowdfunding website. Many inventors don’t, and it comes back to bite them.

Once you put out a price to early backers, you’re locked in. If you don’t have a manufacturer, unit prices, and tooling costs, you might move into production without nearly enough money. You may have to delay production and change the design, both of which tank quality and customer satisfaction.

What sets Real DFM apart from other design firms?

Collage of interior studios of Real DFM

Real DFM has a studio located in the Garden District in New Orleans and a small run manufacturing facility in Dongguan, China.

Protected IP

Founders are often concerned about having their IP stolen during manufacturing in China. We don’t have that issue. We split up the parts between factories (which the factories would do anyway--subcontracting different materials to specialists). Then, we assemble the final product in our own facility so no one outside our team has the entire IP or full schematics to your product, preventing them from replicating the whole product.

These days, many IP theft issues can actually come from America, often in crowdfunding. Someone spots a successful campaign and wants to knock off the IP. We’ve rejected several potential clients who have approached us requesting we redesign and manufacture a project, clearly intending to speed it through production to steal the market from the inventor.

Healthy factories

Our diverse factory locations have also helped us flourish where others have failed. Most of our relationships are with Chinese factories in Dongguan, not Shenzhen. Over the last 12 months, as the Chinese government has moved factories out of Shenzhen (aiming to turn Shenzhen from a manufacturing hub to a technology powerhouse), we’ve been minimally impacted.

Additionally, we have healthy relationships with U.S.-based manufacturers. While many customers choose China for its low cost, we’re proud to say we also produce products right here in the U.S.A.

Our specialty: quick turnaround

Clients are sometimes worried to admit they need a project done ASAP. Those are actually the projects we love most. We like fast-moving clients committed to action. We took only four months to take the BHIVE webcam from concept through production and landing in the client’s warehouse.

Photos of the Bhive product, a webcam.

More info about the BHive can be found in our launched products section

We would rather be close to the fire than work for years and years on a project that drags on. After all, we believe in achieving results. That’s what designing from manufacturing is all about.

Do you want to design a product with the end in mind? Visit their profile on Ioterra.

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