What’s involved in taking a product from an idea to fulfilling a real need in the market? What makes a product viable and profitable?
The product design and development process is an expedition of twists and turns, learning and refinement. We know and expect this and in fact, we thrive on the journey into the unknown to yield the results we want.
Turning an idea into a real, tangible, commercially viable product requires a defined, staged process to weed-out problems early on and at the same time, to discover what else is possible. Throughout the product design process, we maintain a clear end goal – to design and create a product to market that will help you grow your business.
Our industrial design and product development process has evolved through the extensive collective experience and knowledge in design that sits under one roof at Whistle.
We’ve outlined the design process from concept to commercial reality below.
Before you get involved with an industrial design company to kick off the product design process, there are a few things to get done at your end. This includes your business plan, design brief, NDA’s and more.
To help you get started with your business plan, these are some of the questions we ask our prospective clients about their project and objectives:
By asking the right questions up front, you uncover costly pitfalls down the track and set the scene for a successful product design process.
We’ve outlined steps below which will prepare you for the product design phase. These steps will help you develop your product concept, understand patents, budgets and there is an NDA to use if you wish.
After you’ve completed this background work to define your objectives, you’ll naturally arrive at a point where you ask: “How can Whistle help me with this product design?”
That’s where we come in. To get those discussions underway, we need your Product Design Brief or Product Specification. The more preparation you have done, the more productive our discussions will be.
The Product Design Brief will help you capture and detail the purpose of your product in a methodical manner. At this stage it doesn’t need to be overly detailed, but it should capture all the important pieces of information you need us to know.
Include things like background information, a statement of the problem, the goals for the project, and what the expected timing might be. You should also include any reference images, sketches or photographs of mock-ups.
Commercialisation is about getting your product to market, the pathway to turn an idea into a tangible product. It’s the process of planning, funding, development, production, distribution, marketing and sales – all critical steps to the successful introduction of a new product. We’ve honed our product development process to best support the commercialisation process.
Whereas most product designers will focus on getting products to market “fast,” we focus on getting products to market “right”. Our stages are built to de-risk the process, with multiple test, evaluation and documentation procedures in place to catch problems and address them early in the process when they are simpler (and cheaper) to resolve.
In our experience, no two projects are the same. However, each follows the same process. Plan. Design. Release. It’s that middle design stage where the variations occur. We know that some projects work the first time and we know that some go through several rounds of changes or improvements before being fit for release. Therefore, our process is based on the fundamental idea of a “Design-Build-Test-Evaluate” loop.
On average, we know that most projects will typically have three to five loop stages. Traditionally these might include an ideation stage, an initial concept stage, and a refined concept stage, before getting into engineering and prototyping. But what happens if we need to further refine? Or re-engineer? Or prototype more?
We’ve developed a best practice process to support the natural ebbs and flows of the design process, and to keep costs in-check while creating the best product for the end goal.
A visual representation of this process is shown below. This constant feedback loop is inspired by the Agile process used in software development. It allows for early development to proceed quickly with the aim to build more prototypes and test sooner, which means we identity issues or areas for improvement earlier. Importantly, it also involves stakeholders earlier on to make it a much more collaborative process.
Through the Design Loop, we are able to de-risk the development process and keep a close eye on timing and budget. The end goal of our process is to successfully achieve your project goals, to move from an idea right through to production handover, and to ensure you are the owner of an outstanding final product.
This is the setup phase of the project. It’s super important to develop a complete understanding of the project, its requirements and plan for the development. Typical steps in the stage include:
1a Begin the Product Design Specification (PDS).
This is a shared technical specification listing out every requirement, be it technical, functional, environmental or otherwise, that provides direction and records decisions made.
Research and document information relating to market, competitors, materials, process, manufacturing methods or any other area relevant to solving the problems.
1c Investigation into Standards and Product Safety requirements.
1d Build Development Plan.
Once we have a better idea of the requirements, research and Standards to conform to, we flesh out a more complete plan and timing.
This is where the magic happens. It’s the iterative part of the process where the product comes to life. The major steps include:
Always beginning with a design step, this is essentially where we plan for the build. Be it proof-of-concept, aesthetic, functional or detail design. This is where we develop the solutions to the problem
Following each design step, we build the solution, to be able to see whether its solves the problem. Continuous prototyping is paramount to developing great products. We use a number of technologies, from hand made forms and in-house 3D-printing for quick turnaround testing, to FDM, SLA, SLS, CNC for accurate production material properties, Direct-Metal 3D printing, and low-volume casting/moulding methods.
As we are developing something that people interact with, being able to handle tactile prototypes provides invaluable feedback early on. Following pre-defined criteria established during the planning stages, we test the builds to identify issues relating to ergonomics, function, aesthetic and other required areas.
Did the build pass? Where did it fail? How can we improve it? For all the virtual simulations and checks we can do in CAD, having the builds to evaluate provides the best feedback to determine whether we have developed the best product we can. On evaluation, if we pass, we exit the S02 Design Loop and move to the S03 Release stage, and if we fail, we document and plan the required changes, and re-loop to improve the design.
Once the design and build is signed-off, we prepare data for production release. This can include assets such as:
3a Final Specification.
Product Design Specification up to date with all latest information.
3b Bill of Materials (BOM).
Build list with all assembly/part/drawing versions and release history and dates of all files/types packaged for suppliers
3c Manufacturing Drawings.
2D drawing set to accompany final 3D, covering critical dimensioning and tolerances, materials and finishes by location, and any other information required to fabricate the part. These drawing need to be able to convey EVERYTHING the supplier needs to know to fabricate the part correctly, without us being there to explain it.
3d Colour, material and finish (CMF) specification.
A separate CMF document with Pantone or RAL colour references, materials and finishes, referencing industry standard Mold-Tech or Yick Sang finishes where applicable.
3e Final render set.
Orthographic and 3D renders of final product for use in your strategy material.
3f Packaging specification (individual, bulk carton or otherwise).
How is the product sent from factory to you or your distribution channel?
3g Other production documentation.
The final stage in readying for full production requires working with the chosen manufacturer/s to ensure the parts/products are built to the highest standards. Here we assist with:
4a Supplier visits.
Local or overseas (at Time + Costs).
4b Supplier liaison.
Supplier management, including technical support and multi-supplier co-operation.
4c Tool design reviews.
Review of production tool designs for items such as flow/gate/pin position to ensure best finished part quality.
4d Quality control documentation or test specifications.
Preparation of test procedures for quality control at production level, including specifications, go/no-go tests, rigs and assembly line tools and jigs.
4e Off-tool Sample Reviews (OTS).
Review and reporting of off-tool sample issues or approvals (Eg. T0 (Mold verification), T1, T2 etc.).
4f Gold sample specification and storage.
Inspection, documentation, approval and preparation of Gold Sample sets.
The number of design loops varies project to project, and is generally lower on simpler projects with a more obvious solution, and can be higher on more complex projects or those with a large number of unknowns.
A rough overview of loops may look something like the following.
First design and build for prototype purposes to validate the concept and test initial solutions.
First detail build, more accurately representing final design direction, including aesthetic design.
Second detail build, correcting issues from the first build, as well as making improvements and adjustments.
Each subsequent loop progressively improving and refining the design to pass defined test criteria and receive client sign off.
All builds work, tests passed, Design-Freeze for Release.
The question everyone asks, “What will it cost?”
Unfortunately this not a straightforward answer as every project is different. Number of parts, mechanisms, electronics etc can provide a good indication as to complexity, in that a single piece product will (generally) be much more straightforward to develop than a 200+ piece of equipment. This goes on to affect the number of design loops required and builds needed. Below we give some very rough, ballpark type numbers to help you with your planning.
Once we’ve discussed your project with you, we’ll be able to give you a more accurate estimate.
Throughout the development program, we’ll generally complete work on a Time and Materials (T&M) basis. For the purpose of Client budgeting, we provide Stage Fee estimations and are committed to working within these estimations. Unless Stage Fees are explicitly stated as Fixed Price, the final Stage Fees are calculated on a T&M basis. These are supported by work reports and breakdown of material costs.
Estimated timeframe 6 – 9 months
Smaller projects, consisting of fewer parts, generally using known or existing mechanisms or technologies.
Estimated timeframe 9-18 months
Medium projects, consisting of larger assemblies, with some unknowns, simple electronics, more testing standards to conform to.
Estimated timeframe 12-24 months
Larger projects, consisting of high volumes of parts and assemblies, unknown solutions to complex problems, in-depth electronics builds, and significant testing with stringent pass criteria.
Fee estimates listed in our Proposals are based on an agreed scope of work. These estimates will be subject to change according to the evolving requirements of the project.
All fees are quoted in AUD and exclude GST. Fees can also be quoted in RMB, USD or EU for international clients.
A Deposit, equal to the S01 Stage fee, is required to prior to commencing work.
Progress payment Invoices will be issued at completion of stage milestones as laid out in the Development Plan.