Bah, humbug! What's the point of product design?

22nd December 2020

Bah, humbug! What's the point of product design?

Despite overwhelming evidence that companies with well-designed products perform better than those without them, design is still seen as an expensive luxury in some sectors.

Faced with such Scrooge-like behaviour, how do designers respond? Sadly, we often resort to mumbling darkly about ‘lack of vision’ and making predictions of doom for what is left of British industry.

A better response would be to tackle such views head on, and demonstrate that design, far from being just about making things look good, is a serious business tool. More importantly, we need to back this up with clear, demonstrable facts.

So, what are the benefits of industrial design in commercial terms, and can we prove them?

1. What does it look like?

The first and most obvious benefit of product design is improved appearance, but not just for its own sake. Making things look better has two very tangible commercial results – it adds perceived value to your product in the eyes of the purchaser and – more importantly – it reinforces your brand values, making your company look more substantial in the marketplace.

The proof? One example is the Quest and Quazar hand driers, designed for Airdri Ltd. As Dave Lewis, Engineering Programme Manager, put it in 2018:

“From the initial product strategy meetings through to the concept design and technical development, Crucible has delivered two stunning new hand driers that represent an exciting new chapter for Airdri”. 


2. How does it work?

The second benefit of product design is improving function and, like appearance, it has two distinct roles - technical performance and production efficiency. Good designers are as passionate about improving function as they are about making something look good, and the commercial benefits can be substantial. This is particularly true if new features can be added at little or no extra cost. Similarly, the knowledge of production processes and new materials which designers use every day can offer significant benefits in terms of cost and profit margins.

The proof? We were asked by SKC to help them get their air particle monitorto pass stringent ATEX tests, including repeated dropping of the product onto concrete at sub-zero temperatures. We developed a two shot moulded housing that met all the sealing requirements whilst also incorporating a protective rubber shell that could withstand all the knocks and test requirements. As Adam Clatworthy, Technical Project Engineer at SKC said,  

“Crucible used their knowledge of injection moulding – and particularly the two-shot process – to deliver a very successful solution to an exacting brief that required ATEX approval.”


3.How do you use it?

The third benefit of design is the human interface, which dictates how easy, safe and enjoyable your products are to use. This aspect of design is all too easy to overlook if too much emphasis is placed on performance or appearance, but it can make a huge difference to the perceived value of the product. A well-designed product incorporates the interface into its form, minimising the need for instructions and putting the user at their ease.

The proof? We helped Codelocks develop a new cabinet lock that was designed to make it easy to secure cupboards and lockers with the minimum of effort. The product has a very simple key interface, clear leds status lights and an operating lever which shows if the cupboard is locked or open. The product has now sold several million units and has generated not just new products for Codelocks, but a whole new brand – Kitlock. As Grant MacDonald, MD of Codelocks put it in 2016 –

“We can comfortably attribute a significant part of the success to Crucible’s involvement. The design is not only stylish. It is very easy to use and fit.”


4. How do you make it?

Finally, and not always closely associated with design, are the benefits of improved manufacture. These can be derived from reduced production costs or can result from new material, production methods or processes. The critical aspect of this is the involvement of design from the earliest stages of the process – there is little that a designer can contribute to manufacturing efficiency if the brief is to simply to ‘put a nice box around it’.

If, however, the design and manufacture are considered at the same time, significant commercial benefits can be realised in terms of reduced costs and increase profits.

The proof? We worked with Suez Water UK, a manufacturer of laboratory water purification equipment, on a new range of products. The old products (left, below) had become overly complex, and there were too many variants, resulting in a large parts inventory and fragmented production. We worked closely with the development engineers at Purite to develop a modular range of products that could be assembled from pre-built sub assemblies, reducing inventory costs and assembly time.

Specifically, the production time went down by 26% and the improved production efficiency reduced warranty costs by 44%. Mark Bosley, the Development Manager at Suez, commented:

“Crucible’s design input has substantially reduced both production costs and operating overheads. Their manufacturing concepts and designs now allow us to assemble products from pre-assembled modules, thus reducing our build times for finished units. This has dramatically reduced the time taken to convert customer orders into finished goods.” 

What it looks like, how it works, how you use it and the way it is made. These are all issues where design can deliver significant commercial benefits to your products and your company. If you are still feeling sceptical, please call us in the New Year – we would be happy to talk to you about how industrial design can make a positive contribution to your business in 2021.


Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!

Product design consultancy

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Crucible Design Ltd, 16 East Lockinge, Wantage, Oxfordshire. OX12 8QG