Product Design Top Tips

Drawing on past experiences – good and bad – 4D Products, have compiled 10 product design top tips for trailblazing product design;

1 – Research existing products and existing solutions

It is rare to work on a project where there are no alternative solutions on the market. If you can identify an area where current products are failing to deliver, you have the opportunity to solve that specific issue, quickly establish a foothold and have a huge advantage over your competitors. Within the mobile phone industry, competition is fierce thanks to constant fast moving technology opening up new possibilities for offering improved features at a competitive price point.

4D SAY: Take advantage of the existing products on the market and set up some focus groups. Referring to the products available, ask the users what they like, what they don’t like and what they feel it is lacking. This information is invaluable and can place you on the right path for creating something brilliant.

2- Understand your position on intellectual property

The topic of intellectual property can be daunting and the infamous patent lawsuit between global consumer electronic/mobile phone corporations (not mentioning any names!) shows that patenting is not always a black and white issue. There are many businesses that specialise in the fields of patents, copyrights and licensing and the UK Patent Office is a great resource to assist and answer your essential questions such as; ‘will my product infringe someone else’s IP?’ Or, ‘is my idea patentable?’ Intellectual property may be an intimidating topic, however you are not on your own and there is plenty of help available.

4D SAY: We would advocate exploring your idea with a design professional (make sure they sign a confidentiality agreement!) prior to submitting patent applications. The designer should help you to maximise the new and useful aspects of your idea, so when you do protect the intellectual property, it describes something really valuable.

3- Don’t just copy the competition!

If the recent Apple vs. Samsung patent lawsuit has taught us anything, it is to steer clear of your competitors. Copying your rivals adds no value to your design; instead, think outside the box, try to innovate and add something new.

4D SAY: We were tasked with designing a football training product, something to compete with an existing product – their competitor. Although the competitors product worked well, it was large and bulky, making it difficult to transport and store. By approaching the situation from another angle, we proposed creating a collapsible device that was a similar size when erect, but a fraction of the size when collapsed – creating a great unique selling point and something that resulted in huge success for our client.

4 – Looks aren’t everything. Usability is key

Often, the success of a product relies heavily on the experience you provide for the user. Recently, the iPhone 5 has overtaken the Galaxy S3 to be crowned Britain’s Favourite Smartphone, largely thanks to its usability. Positive feedback from customers promotes positive sales.

4D SAY: Recently, we designed an enclosure to house wireless monitoring electronics. A key objective was to ensure the features of the enclosure were easy to use and reassemble, whilst maintaining the waterproof seal. This was to assist the end user – in this case, an electrician – to do this job quickly and efficiently, ensuring a positive user experience.

5 – Enhance your design with emerging technology

For years, the iPhone has been the king of screens with their innovative Retina Display. However, Samsung has grasped onto emerging technology, particularly with the S4’s futuristic full HD super AMOLED screen, and are now tipped to take the crown once the model is released later this month.

4D SAY: A start-up company we worked with utilised the latest wireless technology available in smartphones and tablet computers to re-invent the way the TV industry can synchronise film footage captured by multiple cameras. By leveraging this new technology, they became an international design and innovation award winner in a very short period of time.

6 – Explore the use of different materials and production methods

The release of the iPhone 5 back in September also marked the introduction of their aluminium back, creating a thinner, lighter, sexier phone and topping the best seller list once more.

4D SAY: During the development of a universal sunshade for baby buggies and cots, we were experimenting with methods of gripping smooth tubed sections with a quick release mechanism. By trialling different materials, we came across a high performance, non-slip substance at a medical exhibition that worked perfectly.

7 – Put yourself in the shoes of a potential consumer and provide a rewarding experience for them

Pushing a doll around your local supermarket in a buggy may get you strange looks from customers and shop assistants alike; however testing how your product reacts in everyday situations is a crucial part of the design process.

4D SAY: When the product is targeted at specific user groups that do not relate to you, identify impartial people who can test it on your behalf. No one at 4D has long hair, so when an anti-tangle hair brush was designed, we weren’t the ideal people to take it for a test drive!

8 – Ask questions!

Don’t assume you know what the end user is looking for, as your need may not necessarily be the need of others. Surveys, focus groups and trials can highlight issues/strengths within your product that you would have never otherwise noticed.

Some of our clients are veterans of a certain industry; they know all the existing products, customer needs, and the competition better than anyone else. We use this powerful knowledge when exploring new design possibilities.

4D SAY: Referring back to the anti-tangle hair brush; as we were clearly unsuitable to test all of its features, we opened our research to focus groups and trials, asking question upon question to the end user. Using the research gathered and answers to our questions, we developed an innovative, unique selling point for the product, setting it aside from its competitors. This is something we may not necessarily have discovered without asking the right questions.

9 – Prototype as often as financially possible

Ideas do not materialise into the perfect product without exploring and testing different variants and ideas. With this in mind, it is essential to create prototypes to test, learn from, and optimise a design. There are many methods of prototype available for all budgets.

4D SAY: When developing a baby buggy accessory, we used a range of techniques, from low cost 3D printing and hand crafted ‘sketch models’ to create prototypes for review internally, moving to the more pricey – yet very high quality – vacuum casting and CNC machined acrylics that created a fully branded, finished looking production item suitable to display at a trade show.

10 – Follow a path of due diligence when manufacturing

Can your manufacturer deliver to your expected quality standards? Often, it’s easy to concentrate solely on cost, which, whilst very important to the success of many new ventures, can take your eye off the vital aspect of quality.

4D SAY: We often use a UK business that manufactures under contract in China. This offers the benefit of competitive part prices, whilst also dealing commercially with a UK based entity. You may feel more comfortable with a UK manufacture as there is the ability to visit the supplier easily and quickly, if required. You may also want to check on the financial security of the manufacturer, are they in good shape? Do they have the capability to deliver if your production were to increase? Have they got an established trading history and satisfied existing customers?

Don’t fall into the trap of selecting the cheapest offshore manufacturer without knowing if they are able to deliver. Do your research; plane tickets across the globe aren’t as cheap as they used to be.

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