8 Commercial Touchpoints in the Product Design Journey
Not every Client we work with chooses to develop their product for commercial reasons, but many do. And, as we are increasingly seeing business play a bigger role in social, health and environmental impact, entrepreneurs have an opportunity to make a difference and a profit. So how, as entrepreneurs looking to materialise ideas and as designers helping to achieve this, can we develop products with intention and direction, products that build lasting businesses, products that ultimately will flourish in the market and make a real contribution. Bringing a commercial awareness into the product development journey can completely transform both the experience and the end-result.
While a keen commercial sense is valuable throughout, we have compiled 8 critical points during the design journey where a commercial perspective can have real influence. Recognising and exploring the commercial consideration or opportunity at each of these points will result in the creation of a better product in the end. These 8 touchpoints stem from many years supporting entrepreneurs and helping our Clients grow future-focussed businesses that can thrive. These touchpoints run alongside our product development journey, starting from that very first idea through to pre-launch strategy.
Perhaps surprisingly, the first three touchpoints are pre-design project considerations.
1. Knowing Your Why
Being able to clearly and concisely articulate why you want to develop your product in the first place is simple yet essential step. Understanding whether your design venture is commercially motivated or not is crucial, especially given that the journey from wild idea to tangible product can be an emotional one. For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that commercial success is a part of your why – by maintaining an awareness of this why as you progress through the development journey, you can ensure any design decisions or project directions align with that why; this helps keep the project on track. What’s more, it’s not just your personal why that matters, if your ambition is to create a commercially effective business, you also, and even more importantly, need to know and deeply understand your end-user’s why.
2. Market Opportunity Validation
No matter how well a product has been designed, if the market is saturated and the opportunity is slim, the likelihood of achieving commercial success will remain small. On the other end of the scale, if your product will establish it’s very own, new market, it’s imperative to understand whether this is something that is needed or wanted by the world. This point can be particularly challenging when you are personally invested in your product idea; while it’s true that passion can be shared, it’s vital to ascertain whether enough people are likely to buy into your product in the same way that you already have. If the market opportunity is not validated at an early stage, you could invest heavily in product development, only to find upon launch that the demand just isn’t there. If this isn’t something you’re clear on from the beginning, it could be worthwhile to explore this through a commercial feasibility work package. Thinking about the market opportunity through a commercial lens, could also illuminate further opportunities that weren’t previously known, it might even unearth the reality that your product could be more successful in a different market – leading to your first pivot. The scale of the commercial opportunity may also open up a discussion around IP on competitor products.
3. Establishing a Design Approach
The commercial position of the entrepreneur or business will influence the design approach. While ITERATE has a tried and tested, structured pathway to deliver high quality products, this can, nevertheless, be flexible and adaptable to suit each project. An example of this is the fact that the activities or design milestones could look different depending on whether the Client is self-funding entirely or seeking investment mid-development. New product development can require significant budget, nonetheless, if budget is limited in the early phases, the design approach can be tailored to produce valuable outputs that might help the Client attract further investment. Without this understanding, you could risk investing a sizeable amount of finance and end up with an incomplete product. Balancing this long-term perspective with a step-by-step approach is key.
The next four points are in the thick of product development. In this period, it’s all-too-easy to lose sight of the starting point and the target endpoint. Commercial awareness is arguably most essential in this phase of product realisation.
4. Concept Selection
The first focus of the design journey is concept creation, following which comes concept selection. This is where the Client must decide between a range of concepts (typically, anywhere from 4 – 6), or must identify elements from this range to produce a hybrid design. This concept design will be taken forward for further development (including the detailed and time-rich 3D CAD model creation). In light of this, it’s important to make this concept selection armed with a knowledge or appreciation of the end-user’s perspective. Drawing on the commercial reality of what’s being undertaken will help to identify the concept that best aligns with the user’s habits, mindset, and desires, rather than defaulting to the concept that may be the most personally-pleasing. At the end of the concept stage of the design journey, the Client should receive these designs to take away (often digitally sketched), this output is the perfect resource to share with members of the intended target audience, to garner first-hand feedback and insights to fuel this choice.
5. Channelling the Consumer Voice Throughout Development
The Development and Detail phases are when the product function, usability and aesthetics are refined. It is during these specific phases that the majority of the design trade-offs and decisions will need to be made. This can be the hardest phase of the journey to navigate and it’s easy to get lost in the tiniest of product details. A clear way to manage this is to harness your knowledge of the target audience and decide through their eyes. Not only will this ensure that decisions are made quickly, keeping the project on-track, but it will also create a better final product, one that fully meets the original brief. By retaining an awareness of your end-user’s priorities and desires – often drawing upon foresight market research – you can ensure that the design direction is consistently guided by the consumer’s voice.
6. The Purpose of Your Prototype
There are a number of approaches that can be taken when it comes to prototyping a design: from a simple desktop-based, proof-of-concept prototype to validate a technical unknown to a refined prototype produced in mimic materials. Returning to a consideration of project finance, different prototypes suit different commercial needs. Do you need 10 product prototypes for a focus group; do you need a proof-of-concept prototype to intrigue a potential investor and prove that a ground-breaking step is possible and technically viable; do you need a more polished prototype because you plan to launch an attractive crowdfunding campaign. The prototype outputs are likely to be determined by the commercial position of the business and communicating this is key.
7. Prototype Testing
The point in the development journey when you receive a working prototype is a critical moment from a commercial perspective. This provides the perfect opportunity to collect real market feedback and to drive any design changes with direct suggestions from the target market. Being able to place the product in users’ hands will also allow you to gauge, for the first time, a sense of how much they’d be willing to pay for the product. And here, you have a chance to not only ensure the product meets a market need, but that, in practise, it delights users, surpasses their expectations, or surprises them in a novel way. At this point, the question should not be is the product effective, but how could the product be made more compelling? Even if the refinements cannot be integrated into V1 of the design, this prototype testing process could help to tease out and capture ideas for V2 or for a related product to expand the business. It’s a prime opportunity to be influenced and inspired by the market you will serve, to listen and respond.
The last point is an important one, IP is an integral part of commercial strategy but knowing why and how you plan to use it is vital.
8. Filing Your IP
Filing your IP may take place prior to prototyping, but if you are seeking to register your design, it’s important that the design being filed does not change. The point in your design journey when any IP rights are registered is likely to prompt a commercial conversation, potentially around brand identity and trademarks. Design protection is inherently part of your commercial strategy and leveraging your IP will help to create the conditions for a successful launch. Design Registration specialist Michelle Ward explained this in detail in our recent interview; when we asked what should be considered when settling on IP, she advised, ‘there’s the question of what elements in the design have the real commercial value and I understand that sometimes that’s difficult to gauge … And some of it is a fundamental emotion.’ When it comes to design protection, it’s a good opportunity to evaluate what matters most about your product, this clarity and prioritisation can feed into the launch and marketing strategy.
This list is not exhaustive, commercial considerations can help in every aspect of the product design journey. Breaking the journey down however, helps to illustrate that it is achievable and that the business opportunity will solidify and grow as you continue to move throughout your design journey.
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