What Does a Product Design Firm Do?

Need product design and engineering assistance? Read on to find out what you could accomplish with a little help.
A compilation of design and manufacturing activities.
An experienced and capable product design firm can be a crucial partner for your business, able to handle a wide range of projects: from the development of your product, to prototyping, dealing with manufacturers, producing user manuals, marketing materials, and lots more.

Turning an idea into a functioning and profitable product is more complex than most people might think. Even the best ideas can fail to make it to market due to fundamental execution errors.

Good product development requires a comprehensive process that involves multiple industries and areas of expertise. This is where a product design firm is invaluable - they have access to experts who are experienced across a range of different industries, and they understand the product lifecycle from concept development to planning, design, manufacturing, and beyond.

To understand how a product design firm can elevate your business, it is important to understand exactly what it is they can do.

Concept development

Any new product always begins with an idea, which needs to be further developed using a formal concept development process. A product design firm can help refine an idea and generate different options to meet functional requirements, and do so within the framework of what is possible to manufacture.

At this stage, designers will also start to solve some of the larger technical problems, and create proof of concept prototypes if needed to reduce risk and save time down the road.

Many successful products are improved or redesigned versions of existing products, in which case the goal is to rethink the product, keep the strong points, and improve the weak areas.

Research

A product design firm can perform the required research to determine if similar products are already on the market, whether or not they can be reverse-engineered, and which technologies can best enable the product’s functionality.

A competitive analysis can highlight gaps in the market and help set target specifications, and working with manufacturers at this early stage can uncover areas to look out for during the design or new ways to create the product more inexpensively or quickly.

Another goal of the research phase is to find relevant government or industry standards on which to base the design, so that the product is safe and easily certified, preventing costly rework later.

Some time spent researching and planning saves significant time and money in the long term as it allows for a solid footing on which to develop the product.

Industrial design

Before any technical designs are undertaken, the physical appearance, ergonomics, and functionality of the product can be visualized. This is the job of the industrial designer and is a critical part of the design process.

A perfectly functional but physically unappealing and difficult to use product will not sell well, and will fail regardless of its underlying functionality. A good product design firm will have experience with industrial design and can ensure that a product is both easy to use and physically appealing.

Keep in mind that there are some firms that only do industrial design, and while they can sometimes design simple products, for most projects you should look for a firm which also handles all the other stages of development.

Mechanical design

The design phase of the project often requires designers and engineers with specialist skills and access to the costly software tools required to correctly design a product.

If a poorly designed product manages to enter the market, it could fail and create irreparable harm to the product owner’s business. In the worst case, it can result in customer injury, which could invite costly litigation.

A product design firm employs professionals who are familiar with proper design practices, and can use specialised tools like FEA (finite element analysis) to ensure that a product will not fail unexpectedly as well as making sure that it conforms to the relevant manufacturing and quality standards.

Material selection is also a critical part of the mechanical design process. Every material has its strengths and weaknesses, and a product often contains multiple materials. It is important to understand how these materials will behave when exposed to the expected operational conditions. Strength, corrosion resistance, manufacturability, and cost are some of the many factors that need to be considered.

Electrical design

In addition to the industrial and mechanical design, the electrical systems must be closely integrated with the overall product.

This might include development of custom PCBs (printed circuit boards), circuit design, component selection, wiring harness design, motor sizing, custom firmware and software development, and all the associated documentation.

Design for manufacturing

Products and their components need to be designed so that they can be easily manufactured at the lowest cost while still maintaining high-quality standards. This process is known as design for manufacturing and requires an understanding of a wide range of manufacturing processes and their limitations – a field in which a product design firm is well versed.

Design for manufacturing isn’t a separate stage in the process, but is constantly improved through the design and prototyping stage, as well as during manufacturing.

Drawings

At the end of the design process, a product design firm will have generated a complete 3D CAD model of the design, as well as a set of professional manufacturing drawings plus other manufacturing files. This will help streamline engagement with manufacturers later on in the process.

For more on why good drawings are critical, check out our top 5 reasons to have professional manufacturing drawings.

Prototyping & testing

Prototyping is a critical part of the product design process. A design may seem perfect on paper but there are always things that can be improved once the physical product is tested, and this can help eliminate wasted production runs.

Prototyping also helps evaluate the manufacturing process and identifies any potential manufacturing and assembly challenges.

A product design firm can produce prototypes in-house, or engage with manufacturers to develop the prototype while ensuring that the intellectual property is protected.

Once the prototype has been developed it can be put through realistic testing regimes that simulate the product’s expected operational conditions. Product design firms can set up realistic testing protocols that can validate the performance of the product before mass production.

Manufacturing

Once the final prototype has been approved, the manufacturing drawings must be updated to include any changes identified in the prototyping and testing phase. These drawings can then be used to source manufacturers.

If a manufacturer was engaged early on in development to provide recommendations, they will be able to provide shorter lead times, lower costs, and usually favour production of your product as it will be well designed for their facility.

Having a positive relationship with your manufacturer can go a long way for the success of your product and business. One note on this - see our other article to learn why you shouldn't rely on a manufacturer to design your product, and why separating responsibilities is the best way to go.

A product design firm has extensive experience in dealing with manufacturers, which helps ensure that the lowest possible manufacturing prices are achieved while still maintaining the required quality and timeframe.

Documentation

Product documentation is important as it helps the customer use the product correctly and safely.

These manuals must be produced using clear and concise language, and follow any relevant standards. A poorly written technical manual can result in customer injury, damage to the product, or at the very least, a negative user experience.

A good product design firm will create high quality user manuals and other user documentation that is accurate and consistent with your branding.

Marketing materials

The 3D CAD models which were created for your product can be the base for a range of photorealistic renders, animations, interactive experiences, and other marketing materials which can help you sell your product.

Even before manufacturing, photo real renders can feature your product in advertisements and on websites. A good example of this is Apple's website - all the product imagery you see are computer created renders. Another example is IKEA’s catalogue, in which most of the furniture is completely digital.

As an option, a product design firm can produce these types of marketing material, essential for a growing business to sell high quality products. They can even integrate them into ads and websites for you.



An experienced product design firm can help you successfully bring a high quality product to market cost effectively, while avoiding all the pitfalls that would normally present themselves to a first-time product designer.

To learn more about how you can use a product design firm as a force multiplier and give your product the best possible chance of achieving commercial success, reach out and see how Riganelli Design can help!

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