What to Look for When You Are Choosing an Industrial Designer
When you have a vision for a product that you want to bring into reality, anything short of perfection is unacceptable. After all, this is your dream project, and you don’t want your aspirations put on hold because of hangups in the research, design, or manufacturing processes.
That’s why choosing the right industrial designer could be one of the most critical decisions you make during the development of your new product. And it’s a decision that happens so early on in the process that many people don’t understand the gravity of the choice until they’ve made the wrong one—and it’s too late.
The following suggestions will help you hire a solid industrial design company.
1. Be wary of industrial design companies in California that pack their quotes with unnecessary items.
You want to pay for only what you need. But if you’re not familiar with the process of taking a product through development, you may open the doors for an industrial designer to take advantage of your inexperience.
Know what your project entails, so you ensure the quote you receive from the industrial design company is reasonable. If your prospective firm includes patenting, too much time allotted for research, or something similar, this isn’t necessarily a solid red flag. However, it is an indication that you might want to examine the rest of the firm’s claims more closely.
We prefer everything to be above board and completely clear before we start work, so there is no confusion or disappointment at the later stages of the process.
2. Choose a company with a robust network.
A design firm may have excellent design capabilities, but if they only do design, you’ll have to find your own production team. Trying to find a firm you can trust will be incredibly difficult and full of risk. And there is no guarantee that the design firm and the manufacturing company will work smoothly together. The optimum design firm will have its own trusted partners, domestically and overseas, with their own “feet on the ground” manager at the overseas location. They will have experience working with a variety of manufacturing companies and methods and will be able to choose the best firm and method for your product. They will also have processes and agreements in place that ensure that all parties will communicate professionally and cost-effectively.
In our case, we have a full-time production manager overseas on our staff, who has relationships with more than 500 factories.
3. The production manager should take an active role from the very beginning.
Designs can look fantastic, but if they don’t translate into reality, you will be blindsided after you’ve poured time and money into the design and are then told by the factory that the product can’t be manufactured as designed. This leads to additional time and cost, not to mention missed deadlines and a lot of frustration.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, choose a design company with a production manager who takes an active role in the design process from the start and who can identify possible “gotchas.” Common issues include designs that are too complicated to be cost-effective, use of methods that are difficult to put in place or require too many vendors or assembly steps.
The most successful product designs factor in manufacturing realities from the very beginning of the design process.
4. Ask how the design firm will keep your intellectual property safe.
When working with manufacturers—especially manufacturers from overseas—clients often worry about their intellectual property being stolen. This can make the process of looking for a suitable factory nerve-wracking because you don’t want to let your product’s plans fall into your hands.
Be careful to choose a design firm that understands how to keep your intellectual property safe. Ask how they plan to ensure no one can steal your idea. It’s okay to ask this directly; you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with their answer before you move forward.
In our case, we have solved this problem by not giving anyone overseas (or even domestic) vendors the entire part to manufacture. Parts are created in separate factories. As an added precaution, our production manager has assembly lines in his building, which are used to build the final product. No third-party factories ever see the finished result.
5. Look for a company that truly cares about every project.
You want to feel like a valued partner, not just a number or a source of income for your design company. If possible, choose a design firm willing to say “no” to clients whose products aren’t right for their capabilities. When they say “yes” to your project, you’ll know it’s because your project is a good fit.
Ask prospective designers to tell you which projects they have turned down and why. What they talk about will help you decide if you want to trust your product to them.
6. The firm should have consistent repeat customers.
If you’re interviewing prospective design companies, ask what percentage of their clients are people they’ve worked with on previous projects. Zero repeat customers mean that no one wanted to work with that industrial design firm twice. But 90-100% repeat customers can also be a red flag because it indicates the company rarely takes on new clients. New clients keep design firms focused on staying current and providing quality, competitive services.
Here at DesignStein, about 65% of our clients are people who have worked with us before.
7. There should be an emphasis on collaboration, not dictation.
Your design team may be experts at their jobs, but at the end of the day, it’s your product they’re working on. At the same time, it may be your product, but they are the experts you’ve chosen to hire for their skills and experience. In a great working relationship, neither party should dictate to the other what should be done. Collaboration and cooperation, with everyone putting their heads together as equals, are what will make your product design and development a success.
We’ve always operated as a team, and it’s worked out well for our clients and us.
8. Look for a firm that’s willing to stay nimble.
Sometimes you have to adapt mid-stream. The design company you choose should be able to make changes as necessary without derailing your whole project timeline or budget. This isn’t always easy to do when a team has just a few members because their expertise may be limited to doing things a certain way and only that way. Likewise, huge enterprises often follow by-the-book protocols because they’re too large and unwieldy to adapt and change course with short notice.
The “sweet spot” is a firm that is large enough to provide a diverse set of skills and experiences but small enough to change direction when warranted.
9. Choose a company that can help you develop your product from beginning to end.
It’s tempting to only ask your designer a general question such as, “Can you help with production and market research as well as design?” The answer you’ll get will probably be something along the lines of “Yeah, sure, we can do that.” It’s only when you get to the market research or production phase do you realize how limited their capacities are in those areas.
Instead, ask the design company what they offer when they work with clients from the beginning to the end of the process. Their answers should be fairly detailed and include everything from market research all the way through to launch, without you having to prompt them
As we’ve mentioned, while we can—and have—done portions of an industrial design process, we much prefer making sure that your product will meet a real market need and be competitive (market research) and working closely with you and trusted suppliers from the start to make sure the product can be produced properly.
10. Make sure market research is a part of the plan.
You may already have a fairly good idea of how customers will react to your product. Many inventors want to skip market research altogether because they know their product will find a place in the market eventually, as long as it’s designed and built well.
However, market research is always a good idea. If you can nail down exactly how your customers will be using your product, you can design it specifically to meet those customers’ needs. That means more success right out of the gate and fewer iterative improvements down the road.
That’s why we offer a wide variety of market research options, depending on what makes the most sense for your project. This could include anything from sending out online surveys to standing in the mall and interviewing people in your product’s target demographic.