Product development requires forethought and follow-through. The difference between a lengthy manufacturing fiasco and a profitable, high-quality product often comes down to an alignment of project constraints. Conceptual design must ultimately be compatible with realities on the factory floor, and someone must be watching the finer details along the way. An ongoing reconciliation between the theoretical and the practical must be managed from beginning to end. Decisions made in silos are prone to common mistakes that impact final production, causing delays, quality issues, or worse. Projects that avoid these pitfalls connect the dots ahead of time, by designing for manufacturing.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of great product ideas that fail in the production phase. Prototypes can be passed back and forth forever. Quality controls are lacking or nonexistent. Final deliveries are delayed months or even years, not because of shipping schedules, but because of poor communication between domestic designers and international factories. Each point of failure creates new headaches for hopeful investors, forced to triage the constant bad news instead of celebrating consumer satisfaction.
When the analysis of “what went wrong” occurs, it’s not always clear whether the designer was inept, specifications were unfulfilled, or the assembly line was flawed. A number of co-dependent variables may have contributed to failure throughout the process.
Fortunately, these issues can be diagnosed, and avoided altogether. The solution is a more holistic product design and manufacturing approach, rather than a series of disconnected, independent decisions. Piecemeal contracts pass a product from phase to phase, resulting in miscommunication and lost opportunity. Sketches from a studio over here, material specs from a lab over there, and assembly in third-party factories overseas are a recipe for disaster if the proper safeguards are not in place. If accountability appears to lie with everyone, in reality it lies with no one.
Domestic and international cooperation done right
Proactive steps must be taken to prevent important details from getting lost in translation. This all starts with design and extends into production operations. Designers with a vested interest in the final product line are more apt to perform their due diligence, ensure material availability, and verify that standards are being met.
Empowered by a stake in the future of the product, the best design firms will put forethought and rigorous analysis into development instead of passing it off without considering the next phase of production. It’s easy—and irresponsible—to blame product deficiencies on factory misinterpretations, rather than accounting for the fact that specifications might be clear from one side of the world but misinterpreted on the other. Without a design approach that preemptively addresses these issues, deficiencies and incompatibilities will surely occur.
At DesignStein, we have succeeded in overcoming these problems with a unique approach. Our home base is a California studio, but our Chinese management team—employed by us—drives projects to completion. Our on-site production managers visit factories in real time to refine and direct our understanding and control of the manufacturing process.
Language barriers are overcome through fluent translation and clear pictogram communication. Supply updates and test results come straight from the source, where they can quickly and accurately be integrated into design plans. Common mishaps with assembly procedures and component substitutes are proactively discussed with factory managers face-to-face, instead of waiting on each defective prototype. Manufacturing realities inform our design approach, instead of the other way around.
A real-life example of how this works
First, let’s consider the typical scenario. A designer develops conceptual mockups and delivers a set of spec sheets. They collect a fee, move on to another client, and add a cool image to their website. Of course, they don’t mention that the product was ultimately built with inferior materials because the initial spec was unavailable, and the product is being assembled in two different factories due to compatibility issues. The price of the product has soared and quality has fallen. One component lacks the correct safety certification for international markets. The owner did their best to hand off the specs for production, but the process took six months too long and the merchandise that arrived was defective.
In situations such as these, corners were cut to prioritize speed without commensurate quality control, but the result was the opposite. Significant delays and poor quality sent the project back to the drawing board. Design was not aligned with manufacturing because there was no reason for the designer to follow through. Better incentives or at least better cross-collaboration could have avoided these mistakes. Assurance from the factories that they had the right pieces, and they met the right standards at an earlier stage, would ensure that the design could adapt accordingly. Instead, the development fee was paid without any manufacturing responsibilities attached and all parties claim to be free of any wrong-doing.
At DesignStein, we’ve learned that all parties benefit from a structure that links design decisions to manufacturing success. In some circumstances, the development fee may be treated as a deposit instead of a one-time payout. Our priority is assurance that the correct product will be manufactured, and that its flaws will be corrected as they occur.
To ensure this, our employee in China oversees all projects with hands-on, in-process visits to the involved manufacturing plants. Parts and methods are all inspected for quality and proper specifications. To ensure the protection of your intellectual property, our manager shops out the various parts of the product to several factories, without the context of the finished product. The final assembly is undertaken at our own facilities in China.
Our designers see their product through to completion. Verification becomes an inherent part of the process, linking otherwise disparate decision-makers into a cohesive development team. You benefit from dealing with fewer parties and achieving shorter timelines; each designer has a stake in production efficiency and quality; and the factory produces more volume with reduced prototyping and revisions.
The key here is to design for manufacturing, instead of passing the product along from one stakeholder to another, and complete control of the manufacturing process overseas. We communicate proactively and ensure that design is aligned with constraints of final production. Using these methods, we have avoided the fatal flaws that introduce multiple points of failure in so many products; products that had great potential but did not benefit from communication and control throughout the process.
Projects that are on time, within budget, and functionally accurate require cohesive quality control from product design through manufacturing. We hang our hat on results because we put in the necessary forethought, and always make sure to follow through. If you want this kind of commitment for your next big idea, contact us to discover how we can help make it a reality.