10 Things We’ve Learned About Product Development

product development

As D2M turns 10 this month, we have been looking back at the lessons that we and our clients have learned over the years.  As we celebrate this milestone amidst the turmoil of 2020, we wanted to let you in on our top 10!

  1. Product development requires money.

This seems obvious right? But we are often asked how much it costs to develop a new product.  The answer to this question varies depending on the complexity of the product and the manufacturing processes required to make it.   If you are trying to develop a product on a limited budget, the key is to get the concept to a point where you can get further funding in order to put it into production. This usually means you’ll need visualisations, a prototype that proves the concept, quotes from a factory so you know how much it will cost to manufacture. The bare minimum you will need (for a simple product) is £5k.  To get a product all the way to market will often need much, much more! 

Over the years, the main reason we’ve seen ideas fail is because they run out of funds before they are investment ready. 

  1. Design products for your end user, not yourself.

Get market feedback. As early as you can in the design process, get feedback from your end user on your product.  We have people phoning us every day with an idea that is ‘going to change the world’ that ‘everyone will want!’  The reality is that, more often than not, not everyone will agree with you!  The goal of product development is to sell products! So make sure that you are designing something that people will buy.  The best way to do this is to get user feedback from as many people as possible throughout the development process and listen to them, adapting the design as you go. 

  1. Know when to call it a day.

No one likes to hear it, but it’s the truth: Not all great ideas make it to market.  Getting honest feedback about your product will help you to know what the likelihood of your product succeeding is. It’s important to listen to feedback and get advice from experienced industry experts for each part of the process. We always aim to minimise our client’s risk by ensuring that they have a tangible prototype and the protection they need with which to go out and get valuable feedback, from factories and users, with minimal outlay. The hard part is listening to the feedback and knowing when to stop funding an idea. If it’s going to fail, fail early!

  1. Design for manufacture from the outset.

At D2M we always design for manufacture from the beginning of the project, starting with the concept phase. Sadly, clients often come to us with stories of wasted money and prototypes that are useless because they are impossible or prohibitively expensive to manufacture.  Any design consultancy that you employ should be considering manufacturing limitations and costs from the word go. Remember that an awesome looking concept or prototype doesn’t necessarily equate to a viable product! Making considered and informed decisions about materials and manufacturing methods as you develop your product will help to ensure a bigger profit margin once it goes into production.

  1. Don’t protect your idea with a patent too quickly.

New clients sometimes come to us with their concept already patented. You might think this is a great step to take, to protect the idea before you share it, even with a company who specialise in product development. While we don’t profess to be patent specialists, we do know that the development process our clients go through often means that their idea changes considerably from the point they come to us and the time it goes into production.  Often these changes to the design are vital to make the product manufacturable, viable and marketable. The problem comes when these changes invalidate your patent!  It’s often sensible to make sure that your idea is well developed BEFORE you apply for a patent or registered design.

  1. Iterative prototyping is vital to the product development process.

‘Can you prototype my idea?’ is a question we are often asked. Of course, the answer is usually ‘yes!’ but it’s important to remember what a prototype is and what it isn’t. A prototype is often the first time that an idea comes to life.  It rarely looks like the finished product will look because the important thing to establish first is that a concept works. Initial prototypes are usually made of parts and materials that are ‘off the shelf’ (bespoke parts come later), which keeps the cost down.  With each prototype (and there are usually several), the concept is refined and tweaked.  So expect early prototypes to look rough and ready. Later, colour, materials, finishes and final parts will all start to appear but it’s often not until the factory sample (when manufacturing processes are used) that the product looks exactly like you imagined.  

  1. Textile prototypes have limitations

Choice of fabric is always a key consideration for textile products. Rucksacks need to be waterproof and hardwearing; baby products need to be soft and washable; protective clothing might need an SPF rating or reflective elements; you might want to use sustainable or eco-friendly fabrics. When our talented textiles designers make prototypes, they always use fabrics that closely represent the fabrics that will be used in the final product. However, their primary concern in the early stages, is to establish the dimensions, construction methods and functionality. The fabrics will only ever by finalised when the product goes into production. Even the early factory samples won’t be made in the final fabrics/colour. This is because fabric is usually ordered in large quantities and a factory won’t commit to ordering rolls of expensive fabrics without an order being placed.

  1. Product development can change the future of a company.

We have worked with several SME’s over the years.  This work has usually involved taking a product that they already sell and re-designing it.  Sometimes it’s a question of styling an already great product so that it stands out from other products on the market. At other times we’ve looked at functionality and innovation, giving companies new USP’s within their marketplace. Small changes in the design of individual parts can have a big impact on manufacturing costs, profit margins and sales figures. Product development can be a key to unlocking the future profitability of a product-based company.

  1. A story really helps to sell your product.

It’s important to remember that there’s no point in developing something if you can’t market it.  Either because you don’t have the skills or funding to employ someone with the skills or because the message of the product isn’t simple enough to communicate easily.  So make sure you think about marketing early on in the process. Who will market the product and how will you market it? In these days of social media and direct to consumer selling, a story can really help you to develop a strong brand and market and sell your product. What inspired your idea? What journey did you go on to bring it to life?  Some of our most successful clients have recorded their product development story and used it as a launchpad for their product.  It’s good to bear this in mind as you work on the brand and marketing strategy alongside the product development. No product sells itself. 

  1. It’s worth it in the end!

Developing new products is never easy.  It requires persistence to find the right solution that balances the factors of design, manufacturing and market limitations and requirements.  There will always be highs and lows. Sometimes things go wrong…prototypes don’t work, factories fail to deliver, investment doesn’t come through or the numbers don’t add up.  But when you hold something, that you imagined in your head, in your hands for the first time, it’s worth the journey to get there!  Rest assured that D2M will work with you to add creative value, extensive knowledge and help you to connect with other agencies who will also support and advise you, to make the whole process as smooth as possible. 

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