Have a look around you. Every product you see has gone through a product design process – that chair, those shoes, this computer or phone.
Give your new product idea the best chance of succeeding by working with a product design company that works with you, not against you!
Before commissioning a product design agency, it’s important to be aware of the various traps, tricks, and cons that are used in the industry. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to avoid some of the most severe problems when choosing a product design company.
These can range from hidden fees and a lack of transparency to unethical business practices, some of which, frankly should be illegal! By understanding these potential issues, businesses and entrepreneurs can protect themselves and ensure they get the best possible service from their design agency.
Here are 10 things you must know to avoid traps, tricks and disappointment:
1. Don’t get caught out by hidden fees
One concern when commissioning a product design agency is hidden fees. Nobody likes surprises when it comes to invoices!
Some design agencies may charge extra fees for things like revisions, prototyping materials, additional design work, file preparation, packaging design, 3D renderings, and even expenses for delivering a stage of work. If there’s no transparency, it’s hard to budget and the project ends up costing much more than anticipated.
To avoid these hidden fees, it’s important to have a clear understanding of all the costs involved before entering into a contract with a design agency. This includes asking for a detailed quote or proposal that outlines all the costs associated with the project, including any potential additional fees. Also, make sure it’s clear if they are providing a fixed price for a stage, as some agencies quote low only to land the client with additional invoices at the end saying that they were only able to estimate costs before they did the work.
Be certain to ask for a breakdown of the design agency’s hourly rates and any other charges that may apply.
2. Know your product design company’s pricing structure
Different companies offer different pricing structures. Each client should find the one that works best for their needs!
It’s key for businesses and entrepreneurs to be aware that design agencies will often have different pricing structures. Some may charge a flat fee, while others charge an hourly rate.
Flat fee pricing can be appealing as it seems to provide a clear and fixed cost, but it can be risky, as it may not account for any changes or additions that arise during the project. Check the small print!
On the other hand, hourly rate pricing can be more flexible and allow for changes, but it can be difficult to predict the project’s final cost. This may also lead to a larger cost than expected. When opting for a company or freelancer that offers an hourly rate it’s important to ask for an indication of the predicted timeline. While they can’t give exact details, an experienced product designer will be in a position to offer a rough estimate. If they can’t, this should be a big red flag.
3. Always get regular updates from your product design company
The agency should always be transparent and keep you in the loop.
Lack of transparency doesn’t only include costs, it can also extend to the design agency’s process and timeline.
Clients should be aware of how the design agency works, what their process is and what the expected timeline is for the project. This will help to understand the different stages of the project and to anticipate launch dates. Often marketing, packaging, brand management and other internal teams or external agencies will need to fit in with this timeline. If it isn’t transparent, particularly when there are changes, the project can quickly turn into a nightmare.
A good design agency will keep the client updated at every step of the way, including providing regular progress reports and details of any changes to the timeline or budget.
4. Make sure your visualisation design can actually be manufactured
Here’s another thing businesses should watch out for in the early stages of developing a product idea – Fake Design!
Long before the manufacturing stage, a business might want an idea of how the finished product may look, so they pay a company to create a visualisation of the design.
Without much research, they could think it’s fine to go with a cheap company because it’s just to get an idea of the aesthetic, but if they’re serious about the product, in the long run, this is a mistake!
The problem is that a company offering a cheap design probably hasn’t actually done any research and may not have any production experience. So, the visual looks great but when it comes to production it might simply not be viable.
Picture this, the business owner falls madly in love with the design and decides it’s exactly what they want. They present the concept to key customers and stakeholders.
However, when it comes to manufacturing, they’re told the design isn’t practical. Maybe the motor won’t fit correctly, or an essential part needs to be custom made and that will come at a huge cost.
If this happens, they’ll need to go back to square one and start the whole project again. Leaving the business owner with a feeling of disappointment and a bigger bill than they’d expected. They may also end up feeling just a little foolish to the other people they showed the design to.
They’ll then need to find a company that has knowledge of both the visualisation design and the production process and then pay again, with all the delays to the product this creates.
To avoid this situation, when working with a design agency to create your visualisation design you need to ask the important questions. Find out if they are simply creating a ‘pretty picture’ or a product that will be possible for manufacturing, albeit with further development once the design is approved.
Here at D2M, when we create visualisation designs, we consider every stage, so that when you’re ready to begin the production process, there will be no nasty surprises!
5. Ensure you own all intellectual property rights to your product
Before commissioning a product design agency, many businesses do all the necessary legal work and file for a patent. They then, understandably, assume that their IP rights will be safe.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always true, and it may just be one of the worst tricks of all!
When a business pays a product design company to create a product for them but doesn’t actually end up with all the intellectual property rights, it can be both heart-breaking and infuriating as well as very costly. We’ve seen products that never get to market because they’re simply too expensive once the design agency’s commission for the IP rights is included.
During the design and production process, if the design company adds something or alters the aesthetic at all, they can claim that this new element is their intellectual property. If a business gets caught in this trap the results can be devastating. Not only because they will need to pay the design agency every time a unit is sold but also because it’s a major concern for future investors.
If a potential investor sees that someone other than the business owner has any IP rights to the product, they’re unlikely to get involved. This can hinder or even completely stop the business from bringing the new product to market because of a lack of funding.
Imagine this, you pay a product design agency for their skills, knowledge and resources, only for them to take ownership of some rights to your product. You’d think this would be an illegal scam, but it’s not. Alarmingly there are agencies out there who do this every single day.
To ensure they have full intellectual property rights, a prospective client should always read the contract in detail. Avoid signing a contract that states the company has rights to any part of the end product because if they do, they’ll receive a royalty for every unit sold.
It should also be written in the contract that any changes or new elements brought to the design belong entirely to the originator of the idea. If you’re in any doubt, ask the design agency to sign an IP Assignment Agreement which means they are transferring all of the IP rights to your business.
6. Always know the quality of labour and materials
Another trap to watch out for when commissioning a product design agency is the use of low-quality or outsourced labour. A business can be working on a ground-breaking new product idea but if the finished product is of poor quality, it won’t be a success.
Some design agencies may outsource the work to other countries where labour is cheaper, but this can come at the cost of quality and communication. The final product may not meet the standards of the business and could even damage its reputation. We recently signed a new client who previously had been using a US based design engineering company, only to discover that they’d outsourced the work to freelancers in Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, their project got held up at the beginning of 2022 and so they dug into it and found out what was going on!
Communication with an outsourced team could also be difficult due to language barriers and time zone differences and this can create a delay in the whole project.
Additionally, using outsourced labour can also raise ethical concerns, such as the use of child labour or poor working conditions.
To ensure that the design agency is using senior experienced designers, prospective clients should ask about the agency’s labour practices and where the work will be done. They should also ask to see examples of past work done by the agency to gauge the quality of their work and ideally meet the lead designer who will actually be designing their project.
7. Confirm access to software and technology for future updates
Businesses and entrepreneurs should be aware of the possibility that a design agency may utilise proprietary software or technology. This can be a problem if the business is not able to access or use this software or technology after the project is complete. The design agency may retain the rights to it, making it difficult for the business to make changes or updates to the product.
To avoid this problem, businesses should specifically ask about the software and technology that will be used in the project and what rights they will have to it after the project is completed. They should also ask for a detailed explanation of how it will be used in the project, as well as any associated costs.
8. Choose a product design company that will deliver on its promise
It’s essential for businesses to be aware of design agencies that overpromise and underdeliver. It happens a lot!
This can be a major concern when it comes to product design, as a poorly designed product can cause the business to lose customers and revenue.
To avoid this problem, businesses should research the design agency, read reviews and check if they can find any complaints about the agency’s work. Ask for examples of previous work to help ensure that they deliver what they promise.
9. Be cautious if choosing a design company that offers a super-fast delivery
Slow and steady wins the race, maybe not tortoise speed but taking enough time to make sure everything is done thoroughly is sure to set any new product on the path to success.
Clients should always be aware that these “quick and easy” solutions may not be sustainable in the long term. These designs are unlikely to be able to adapt to market changes or evolve with the business’s needs.
It’s vital for businesses to invest in a design agency that takes the time to understand their goals and creates a product that will serve them well in the long term. Additionally, it’s equally important for businesses to understand that a good design takes time, effort, and skill. If an agency promises quick and easy solutions, it may not be able to deliver high-quality work.
New product developers will see the results they want if they balance the need for speed with the need for quality by finding an agency that can deliver both.
10. Always choose a design company with the RIGHT experience
Finally, there are so many product design companies that never actually bring any of their clients’ designs to market. And for this reason, they simply lack the experience needed to convert an idea into a manufactured product.
A firm may have created hundreds or even thousands of product designs but if their clients are entrepreneurs or small businesses, it can be difficult for them to get the funding they need to bring it to the market and so they might never have had to deal with production.
If a business wants the best chance of making it past the idea stage, it’s key to work with a design agency that has experience in turning a concept into a desirable, manufacturable product.
Even when a business does find a design agency that can prove its experience in bringing products to market, the job’s not finished yet. It’s time to make sure they’re the right fit. Do they have the relevant experience to bring your specific product to market? If your product is complex, innovative or very different from anything else, you will want to ensure that a designer with many years of experience is leading the design process. Junior designers, who have recently graduated may not be able to handle your project effectively.
Before making a choice it’s a good idea to interview the agency. Ask them questions and find out if they’re able to produce the exact product you’re looking for, with a design that can be manufactured in a cost-effective way.
In conclusion, commissioning a product design agency can be a great way to create a unique and effective product. However, prospective clients should be aware of all the traps, tricks, and cons that can arise.
By being vigilant and working with a reputable and transparent design agency, businesses and entrepreneurs can protect themselves and ensure they’re getting the best possible service.
If you’re after more guidance on how to successfully get your idea to market, head on over to our resources page to find everything you need to know to get started.
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