Please be aware that not all projects are created equally and while all these stages happen with each project, the amount of time spent in a phase could vary from an hour or two to many months.
The order is also something to mention, depending on the project, these phase are weighted differently.
For instance; we could circle between research and ideation a couple times before moving to prototyping. Or head from brief through to prototype in a few days, and then spend months looping between CAD, prototyping and testing.
In the brief stage and initial meeting, we will advice and discuss where we think most of the time will be spent and help the client understand what to expect in this exciting journey.
At the start of any project there’s a discussion about what we want to achieve, this becomes the guideline for the project and the launchpad into the design process.
We say guideline because throughout the process things can change, and most of the time we listen and adapt to research and feedback. While keeping an open mind between the team is crucial, staying on track towards the initial goal is vital.
From the beginning we soak ourselves in knowledge of the specific category the product is placed. We investigate competitors, technologies, customers, and whatever is necessary to help add value and cement the idea. Research is a never-ending phase, we’ll see it in material and manufacture selection, user centered research, focus groups, product testing etc. A part crucial to keeping the product/system relevant to the current/future world.
We take the idea plus research and begin crafting solutions. Ideation can involve sketching, modelling shapes, 3D printing ideas, and very basic prototyping. No judgement here, we learn from one idea to the next, exploring and discussing potential solutions, failure points and noting important aspects we need to be aware of throughout the process. Often, we start tweaking the brief of the project here, as this is where we start challenging our assumptions and what is possible. In short, we develop as many ideas as possible until we are satisfied with a few of the results which moves forward into more detailed solutions.
The phase where we evolve those ideas and start developing them into something that can be made in the real world by using real manufacture methods. We constantly reference back to what the product is, what it’s potential market value could be, and how we can keep the details and design in check with the business it needs to fit into. We understand the materials and manufacture methods available, we also know how to custom design parts to suit the mass production of those parts. We take this knowledge and apply it to the design, this is achieved by using all the correct dimensions and design of what the end product will look like after being mass produced. This takes the design from an idea, to a feasible mass producible product which we can then prototype and test.
With the current technologies such as 3D printing, we can go from idea to prototype in a matter of days. We test prototypes for feedback and to make sure our assumptions on how the solution will solve the problem is viable. Prototyping can involve anything from a basic shape made from wood like a Chair or table, to 3D printed moving parts like a pair of sunglasses or GoPro mount to a functioning electronic enclosure like a wifi router or smart phone. We have to ensure at this point what we want to find out from building a prototype? Is the purpose to test the aesthetics? Then we need to focus on surface finish and less on the internal structure. Is the purpose to test the function? Then the surface finish might not matter too much. These decision help us understand where to put the time and money to properly test the product in the most efficient way.
We observe, listen, cry and laugh a little. We put on our big girl panties and we ask the hard questions, will this work, what can we improve, what about this, what can we do to improve that. Nine times out of ten, iterations will be required, hence why we like to get to the first prototyping phase as fast as viably possible, so we can learn and apply our learnings back into the design. An important mindset through product development is to have a somewhat open mind regarding what the outcome will be. This phase can be the make or break for products, and we must make an effort to open our ears and eyes.
It can be as simple as using the engineering drawings from making the prototype and moving into mass production. To a more complicated scenario where we must work with mould makers to develop specialised tools to produce the parts at large quantities. Most of the time we can let you know early in the development what you can expect when taking the product to mass production and what sort of costs you can expect so everyone can plan accordingly.