A step-by-step guide to developing a product, with examples!
This guide will take you through the main stages involved in developing a new product. The article aims to give a good overview of the various steps involved with a particular focus on reducing risk and maximising commercial success.
If you are interested in developing a textile product, then you are better off viewing this page: Textile Product Development.
About the Author – Phil Staunton
Phil is a product design engineer who, for the last ten years, has run D2M Innovation – a design firm specialising in developing patentable products. Having worked with over 500 clients on their product ideas, Phil is well placed to advise on the best way to develop products for commercial success.
Product development consists of transforming an initial idea into a viable product that can be produced in volume. It is often necessary to commission a professional designer with strong creative ability and an excellent knowledge of engineering materials and manufacturing techniques to do this effectively.
The product design process should start with a clear brief. Always, always, always start with your target market, after all that is where the project ends (with your target market buying your product) and so why would you start anywhere else?
Research into materials, technologies and similar existing products is likely to be a next step, followed by a review of existing patents, if you looking to protect your concept.
This if often the right point to consider the overall styling direction, source significant components and develop basic physical models to get a good idea of overall dimensions and prove key functionality if possible.
An experienced product developer can, at this stage, start to assess the commercial viability of your project by running some desk based costing exercises and getting a firmer idea of tooling, development and unit costs. If your costing is way off achievable RRP, then the project needs to be reassessed to try and establish if it is still a viable project that is sensible to pursue.
Read more about surviving a viability assessment in one of our recent blog posts: Product Viability Assessments.
Technical feasibility, manufacturing feasibility and potential for strong Intellectual Property protection may also be key considerations before moving beyond this milestone. Don’t forget to also start thinking about how the design can reflect your brand and also an initial look at packaging can help ensure that sensible decisions are made now to make all this cheaper and easier once you get your project into production.
Detailed design with full consideration of materials, usability, manufacturing, functionality and ergonomics follows and this will be integrated with the necessary prototyping to prove various key points of the design.
This design stage will result in a 3D virtual (CAD) model that can be used to check basic form and function. The resulting virtual model can be viewed from all angles and then photorealistic visuals can be produced to visualise how your concept is likely to look in production.
Prototypes are a crucial stage in developing a product idea so that it is ready for presentation or manufacture. Prototyping can be very expensive and so it may well be prudent to ensure that the details are correct on the CAD model first. Reviewing the product development to date with a focus group of your target market is a great way of building confidence in the end product and that the project is still on track.
Alternatively, or as well as, you might want to talk to key buyers or potential licensees within your industry with the prototype. Most projects go through multiple prototype iterations building on the quality of finish and closeness to production item each time.
The more experienced product designers will start working alongside the manufacturer during earlier stages to ensure a seamless transition into production and to help realise potential savings in tooling and unit cost.
(It is incredible how much can be saved on tooling costs if this is done well and D2M have redeveloped designs from other agencies that have saved our clients ten of thousands of pounds of unnecessary mould tools.)
Innovative product design and prototyping will often help strengthen your patent application. It is not usually possible to protect an overall concept; instead, most patents protect the method by which an idea carries out an overall concept. Find out more about patent protection here: How to Patent an Idea.
It is also good to review from a marketing perspective to ensure that the final product is inline with what consumer wants and how your team plans to market the product. Focus groups, online surveys and talking to potential buyers at this stage can make all the difference between success and failure.
Now is also the time to think about brand placement on the product and the packaging. Involve your team or outside agency responsible for these elements to ensure that nothing is missed before going into the expensive and time consuming pre-production stages of development. It might be that some simple design changes now can make the product easier to box, pack and ship savings valuable margin once the product is launched.
Product development is a hugely exciting undertaking. Each project’s journey, from sketch to shelf, is likely to be different but overall the process of refining a product roughly involves the same stages. It is a difficult thing to do and most people will require the help of a professional designer or design agency to do it well. Once the product is developed, the next step is manufacture but that is the subject of a whole other article…
Article written by Phil Staunton, founder of D2M Innovation ltd.
D2M Innovation has helped hundreds of people and SME’s develop and manufacture their exciting new products.
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