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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.

 

gethin@iterate-uk.com

holly@iterate-uk.com

Contact: 01291 408283

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Celebrating 7 Years of ITERATE: Our Take on the Design Sprint

On the 21st of May 2021 ITERATE Design + Innovation turned 7. To mark this business milestone we set out to try something new. Drawing upon recent success trialling the design sprint concept for a Client project, we felt this milestone provided the perfect opportunity to involve the full team at ITERATE in another, bigger design sprint. So, to celebrate our 7 years designing disruptive products, our 7 team members (from design, electronics and marketing) took 7 hours to push the boundaries and see just what we could do. Our ambition was to develop a targeted, considered, purposeful concept by the end of our 7-hour sprint.

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Journey to Prototype: Bringing Technical Validation into Concept Development

To develop a product is to take an idea and turn it into something real and physical, something that can be seen, touched, and used. This ‘something’ could be tiny or large, simple or complex, it might even be lifesaving. Whatever the product, the process of transforming a thought into a tangible item is no easy feat. New product development is fundamentally challenging; this is why a product design consultancy develops a structured process to facilitate the development journey and reduce risk along the way. Each process may differ, but for the Client the pinnacle moment is reaching a prototype. Reaching a prototype is absolutely a key moment in the development journey. Nonetheless, the magnitude with which the prototype stage is revered can sometimes lead to opportunities in the earlier design stages being undervalued in a race to reach prototype. Often these are opportunities that can maximise the success of a prototype (and final product) and, in fact, can significantly save time and revisions in the later stages beyond the initial prototype.

The moment of reaching a prototype will always be a priority for the Client. Why are we so obsessed with the prototype stage? Why is this stage often afforded more value than any other? The answer is simple – it’s perceived as the first moment the Client gets to see their idea in reality. It offers validation; when with bated breath and healthy nervousness you unbox the prototype and get to see how your idea has translated into a real product. You can touch it. You can use it. You can interact with it. You can show it to people. The prototype gives a kind of ROI: you can now see in a physical form, the manifestation of all the ideas and conversations, the energy, time and investment. On a personal level, it’s a highly rewarding, even emotional moment. From a business perspective, reaching a prototype can be equally significant, it can be a key pre-requisite for further funding (potentially via crowdfunding or investment). It’s clear then that prototype is worth the hype.

But what is critical from a designer’s perspective, is that all of this validation can be seen in the earlier stages too. In reality, the prototype stage, the physical output, is an accumulation of all the design work that has come before it. Every idea, conversation, strategy, concept sketch, CAD detail, sourcing exercise, and in-house test contributes to the creation of a prototype (and obviously, the final product). It can be hard to see the value in these individual activities until you’re looking back over your journey with a prototype in your hands. However, recognising this value is essential. The work carried out in the early stages will determine the success of your product’s prototype. The quality and depth of design work carried out prior to prototyping is what will create that gasp of delight when you first unbox the prototype.

A key question evolves out of this, that question is, how can you ensure the prototype delivers on this expectation? By building technical feasibility into the early development phases.

Prototype may be the obvious moment when you are able to see and touch your idea, but there are numerous hands-on activities that come before this. As much as we love blue sky thinking, ideation and sketching, there’s more to concept development than visual exploration. There are strategic ways to bring technical validation into even the earliest stages of product development to make more evidence-based and informed design decisions that lead to a high-impact prototype and product.

Foresight 

The foresight stage includes the thorough research, sourcing, testing and evaluation of possible components to use within a product. This can be especially valuable when there are a number of technologies that could work withing your product. By sourcing and evaluating components for performance, price, size, power consumption, applicability given the intended use and more criteria, you are able to gain a solid understanding of the basis of your product right from the off.

Concept 

Different product concepts can be designed with particular manufacturing processes in view. This capacity requires a product design consultancy with strong manufacturing knowledge but can allow you to quickly get to grips with what may or may not be feasible. This can push you to consider your design priorities, whether it be achieving a very specific form, or realising the product through the lowest-cost manufacturing route.

Development & Detail 

Carrying out FEA (Finite Element Analysis) of 3D CAD models greatly informs the prototype creation. FEA gives an indication of where forces are going to be applied to the design, allowing a designer to assess the integrity and quality of a design before ever utilising (and potentially wasting) materials to create a prototype.

Our Thoughts

The process of realising an idea is broken down into stages precisely because product development is difficult, but it’s important to recognise just how interrelated these stages are. The purpose of stages is to de-risk development step by step, though the development process is still an interconnected one. Don’t wait for the prototype phase for confirmation that your idea will deliver as you expect. Fluidity, and new levels of forward-thinking can be built into every design stage in order to validate decisions and give you confidence in the product as it’s being developed. Reframing the way you see value throughout the product development journey could help deliver the excitement of prototype in every single stage.

Email: gethin@iterate-uk.com

Email: holly@iterate-uk.com

Contact: 01291 408283

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Inside ITERATE: Chris Tyler on Why You Should Design a Business, not a Product

This week’s insight from ITERATE comes from Chris Tyler; Chris is Senior Design Engineer at ITERATE Design and Innovation. Day-to-day Chris is closely involved in early-stage conversations about new ideas, whilst also working closely with every designer in the team to support the development of numerous products and designing new products himself. One thing Chris always does is ask our Clients to think of their projects as opportunities to design businesses not just products. Within this article, you’ll find out why Chris strongly believes this mindset leads to better results all-round.

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So, you didn’t think you were creative?

As a leading product design agency, we work closely with clients to solve their problems. Our clients are often experts within their field but lack the ability to view existing challenges from an alternative perspective. This isn’t because they lack creativity, but simply because we all get stuck in a rut from time to time, with the repetitive nature of everyday work-life keeping a tight hold on us and our ideas. Read more

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Collaboration: the Key to Innovation

Collaboration in the workplace is not just about employees working together as a team. Collaboration between company founders is also an important part of today’s business environment, and it can involve two or more companies reaching out and coming together to make something that is stronger and better than ever before. Collaboration is generally seen as two companies working together, but in the case of Intel-Microsoft-Cisco, three companies have successfully come together to make their mark in the tech sector. Read more

How to Formulate a Design Brief

We deal with a wide variety of clients, some have very specific project requirements and some have a much more general idea of what they want to achieve. We approach every project with the intention of solving a problem or adding value through design. This means that we are able to bring clarity to the fuzzy front-end and work with our clients to formulate a solid brief before embarking on a new project. In the first instance, we always ask these basic but essential questions:

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