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5 Questions to Consider When Selecting a Product Design Agency

When you decide to embark on a journey to develop a new product, it is important that you select the right product design agency as it may determine the success of your project. Product design is a broad field with some agencies specialising in specific sectors, such as consumer or medical product design. Whereas others may prefer to specialise in a particular aspect of the design process, such as the front-end where research and creative tools are more value than knowledge of engineering and manufacturing principles. Talking through the following questions with your preferred partner will help you determine whether they are right for you and your project.

1. Do they have the technical expertise to develop your product?

There is no doubt that product development is a complex discipline that requires the ability to produce a great looking product that functions as intended, and can be manufactured at a sensible cost in order to make downstream profit. Depending on the nature of your product, it is important to identify the key technical requirements and ascertain whether this aligns with the capability of the agency. For example, does your product incorporate moving parts that will require input from a mechanical engineer; does the product require electronics and software; does the product need to look beautiful or have a high level of usability, which may demand input from an industrial or user experience (UX) designer? Gaining a deeper understanding of the specific skill sets that lie within your chosen agency will help you determine whether they are the right people to deliver your project.

2. How will the project be managed and/or delivered?

The product development process is well established and it should be expected that the chosen agency delivers your project over a series of stages – the exact number will vary depending on the complexity of your product. A staged approach is considered industry standard; allowing you to input throughout the process and ensure that the project remains on track. Ideally, end-user feedback will be gained throughout with opinions being gathered using concept sketches and working prototypes, which will aid adoption when your product reaches the market. A staged approach will also enable the project cost to be spread across the length of the project. It is a good idea to establish how you would like to communicate with the design agency as some individuals prefer to receive ‘ad hoc’ telephone updates or formal weekly teleconferences. A quality design agency will adapt to your preferred method of communication and ensure that it is consistent throughout.

3. Does the product design company have an established portfolio?

Reviewing their back catalogue of work is a great way of finding out whether a design agency is suitable for your project. Some agencies will have a broad design portfolio covering various market sectors, whereas others may focus on developing niche products. In either instance, it is good to see numerous successful pieces of work, rather than just one or two examples. If you want the design team to create a new chair, don’t be put off by them not having a chair in their current portfolio. It is more important to recognise that the agency has the technical and creative ability to develop your product rather than intrinsic knowledge of your market. Question the agency on whether they have experience of working with the materials and manufacturing processes that your product is likely to require as this is where a large proportion of projects fall down.

4. Do they have a catalogue of clients willing to provide positive testimonials? 

Any reputable product design agency will display testimonials on their website from happy clients they have worked with in the past. These often include names of the individuals and their employer. If you are intending to employ a design agency, it might be worth using these testimonials as references and gain direct feedback from the clients themselves. It is worth keeping in mind that the agency is unlikely to display negative testimonials on their website; however, third party platforms such as Google and Facebook allow customer feedback to be left. These forums can not be controlled and are likely to offer a more subjective point of view. Developing a new product can be costly, this is why you should undertake sufficient background research before engaging your preferred supplier.

5. Who will own the intellectual property on completion of the project?

This is a very important fact to check before commissioning any design agency as some will retain an element of the intellectual property (IP); which could in theory prevent you from commercialising your product at a later date. It would be considered bad practice if an agency was not upfront about IP ownership at the start of the project, especially if they were intending to keep part of it. However, such an agreement could be advantageous as some product design companies are willing to accept a reduced hourly rate so that they can retain a proportion of the design registration or patent. If you are unsure about this, ask the agency directly or refer to their terms and conditions.

If you need support developing your next product, please contact us to discuss you requirements in confidence by calling 01291 442181 or emailing gethin@iterate-uk.com