Although it is often only associated with appearance, design is just as concerned with problem solving, whether it is an engineering challenge, finding a way to minimise costs or communicating a marketing message.
Above all, design is a business tool. It is a means of maximising the profitability of any product, however simple or complex.
If the term ‘design’ is rather vague, the terms used to describe its function within product development are downright confusing. It is often referred to as 'industrial design' and 'product design'. The two terms are - to all intents and purposes - interchangeable.
According to Wikipedia, the definition is:
“Product designers conceptualize and evaluate ideas, turning them into tangible inventions and products. The product designer's role is to combine art, science, and technology to create new products that other people can use”.
Yes, but is it art?
The description of a product designer’s work often results in the question “Are you an artist or an engineer?” The somewhat unhelpful answer is… ‘Both and neither’.
Product designers should know enough about contemporary culture and market trends to create design concepts that will delight your customers. They also need to know how to visualise those concepts and communicate them clearly to colleagues and clients.
Equally, they need to know how the product will work, and how it will be built, used and maintained. Finally, they need to know enough about manufacturing processes and materials to deliver that design concept as a technically viable, safe and economic product.
The key to product design skills is the integration of all these technical, commercial and aesthetic issues and the ability to resolve the many competing requirements that products need to meet, from cost and appearance to performance and efficiency.
This is the challenge and the satisfaction of being a product designer: being able to consider creative, economic and practical issues at the same time, and make them work together in order to create a commercially successful product.
But how does it help you?
Examination of your product idea in detail and the market sector that it is aimed at. (Though not experts in marketing, product designers have wide experience of new ideas for products, and are well placed to direct you to the appropriate market specialists).
Creation of a product development strategy, including concept models, test rigs, prototypes, short run production samples, and early production samples. This type of planning ensures that the project is developed at an appropriate technical and cost level at each stage.
Design of the product in stages, from initial concept ideas through to the finished item. (This is most obvious input, but it can only be made successfully if the first three are worked out first).
Assistance with the implementation of a manufacturing strategy and plan, including identifying the right producers, component suppliers, test houses, etc.
Creation of a full set of production data, including drawings, CAD models, and specifications that can then be used to get the product manufactured to the right standards.
The bottom line
All of these benefits are important, and all can deliver real commercial benefits. The most important factor, however, is bringing them all together with effective teamwork.
This may seem a simple truism, but it is actually quite rare in our experience. However, when a genuine team can be built between design consultants and internal staff like researchers, engineers, and marketing specialists, the commercial results can be truly spectacular.