Define YOUR Industrial Design Process

I am exploring the idea of how to educate non-Designers as to what is involved in Industrial Design. How it can, is and should be more than just a couple days worth of concept sketches and then a hot photoshop rendering or three. So, with that said, what is your “perfect world” ID process? Read the following summary and walk us through YOUR process. How would YOU go about getting through the Industrial Design process.

You have access to the RIGHT amount of bodies to work YOUR process (e.g. you’ve honed your team to your process not a bottomless team)
You have access to an Engineering Team that are experts in working the process of product development (e.g. They can provide you with the engineering you need to get the job done)
Your client has NOT gone through process of Industrial Design before

We all have a process. I am assuming that they will be similar, but nuances will show.

Here’s the product:
Someone hands us a 1 page brief/specification of a new product. Let’s say, it is a new portable gaming device to compete against the PSP and DS (pulling something out of the air).

So, it is a relatively well defined market. Relatively well constrained product. It requires a visual interface, joystick, button inputs for game play (x 6), button input for other functions such as power, removable battery, and DC jack. It has wireless technologies such as wifi, bluetooth, and/or 3G.

In other words, this is a relatively complex job. It can’t be framed in a few sketches and hoped to be done RIGHT.

So, what’s your process? Ideally, Step by Step…or by phase. There is no wrong answer. You are defining what SHOULD BE DONE to get to the best solution you can come up with.

(PS: I will be writing mine up as well in a separate post, so as not to get lost in this OT post)

  1. Discovery
  2. Strategy
  3. Implementation

Rinse and repeat as necessary

Here’s my process:

Phase 1: Product Specification Phase

This, for me, is the most important phase. It defines the boundaries of the project. All team members (e.g. ID, Mech, Elec, Software) all provide feedback and input into the constraints of the product. Here’s what must occur during this process for it to be successful:

1.1 Physical Size Constraints
Start with straight wooden blocks to define various block configurations (e.g. flip open, candy bar style, etc.). Use these blocks to define an envelope of physical size (e.g. ideal size, “cool” size, boundary for “too big” . This will also be the beginning of ergonomic definition (e.g. button placement, size, etc.)

1.2 Market Bracketing
Working with the Marketing Requirements of the project, create a framework for who the target person is. Research existing products (past and present) that define how the product was created. Create a style map of the existing products. This map is to be used for allowing framing the styling phase of the process into desired Design Languages. Use this information to develop 3 target Design Languages for the product. Name the 3 languages something that attempts to illicit an emotional response for the design language and allows the client to refer to them by a name other than Option 1, 2, or 3. This will be placed into the specification document at the end of this phase (to be signed off by the client).

1.3 Technical Constraints
Using the Physical Constraint Blocks, and Market Bracketing the whole Design Team gets brought together (ID and Technical) to define the physical constraints. The wood blocks are used as reference for what is possible and what is not from a technical perspective. In other words, the technical team gets to call bullshit on your physical size based on the target battery consumption, screen size, etc. as defined by the client (remember, they’re called constraints).

1.4 Specification Sign-off
Some might call this a Design Brief. It is a document that contains the technical guidance for the program. Very little sketching/styling has happened at this point. Rough sketches, and wooden blocks at this point so as to keep options flexible. Client must sign off on the agreed to design language definitions, technical constraints and physical size constraints.

Phase 2: Styling/Ergonomic Development

Pen starts hitting paper in a big way during this phase. The end goal of this phase is to have 9 fully fleshed out product 2D concepts. The number 9 comes from the idea of creating 3 product configurations (e.g. flip open, candy bar and/or something new that comes out of the sketch phase) in context of the 3 Design Languages defined in phase 1.

2.1 High Level Sketch Development

Sketches come in the form of a LOT of 2D sketches. Several days of pen on paper. Sketches can also take the form of quick “bubble gum and tape” mock ups. The intent of this phase is about moving towards 9 well defined Design Concepts which will have thought about button placements, Design Language. High Level Details at this point. DO NOT niggle with ensuring the joystick is in the perfect location or has the perfect form for the language (at this point).

At the end of this phase we should have a book of sketches. Everything from rough cut 2 minute concepts framing a styling direction, to more detailed sketches tuning the high level concept into a resolved Design Language. The book of sketches will be broken into 3 sections based on design language.

2.2Refined Sketch Development

Out of the book of sketches 9 concepts will be selected to begin tuning. In this process, details such as button locations for the specific configuration will begin being finalized. 1:1 sketches (2D and 3D) will be created to ensure that allow for buy-in from the Technical Team. I expect that 3D skeleton models will be created quickly to realize the 2D into a tangible form ASAP. 3D prints (e.g. SLA models) will be created of the skeleton models to be used as models for the refinement sketches.

Target deliverables of this phase are 9 photoshop/Illustrator renderings with their design language and configuration defined on each presentation board. There should be some kind of 3D print to go along with each rendering so that a real world tangible and emotional correlation can be made between the 2D and “reality”. This correlation to reality is crucial to any kind of critique of the product, especially with people who can’t project a 2D image to 3D.

Phase 3: 3D Concept Finalization

Client must choose 3 of the 9 concepts presented to be brought into formal resolution. Enter 3D as a major player in my process. Use of parametric 3D Models will begin to define the external surfaces of the 3 Concepts. Working with the Technical Designers, internal constraints will be created and refined (PCB, physical button locations, etc.).

The output of this phase are 3 3D CAD models that can be used to create full cosmetic models of the final concept (I outsource my models to a modelmaker in Asia).

Along with each model a cosmetic specification will be needed. Defining color, materials, etc. This is critical not only for the model maker, but for the client to understand what this product will look like.

Phase 4: Industrial Design to Engineering Transition

Selection of a single direction to move towards manufacturing must be chosen. In many ways, this is where a lot of the difficult work begins for ID, IMO. We now have to ensure that what we’ve designed translates cleanly to high volume production development. We have to work with the engineers to ensure that the 3D Model fits with the reality of engineering requirements. Will that button really be able to be there, can it really be 10 mm thick, can the rechargeable battery fit within the enclosure. These are all things that were looked at and designed as closely as possible, but nothing ever goes as smoothly as you desire.

Details in a product like this can be adversely affected by a change of less than 1mm. This is a VERY difficult expectation to be managed with someone who has not “been there, done that”.

Industrial Designers in my process need to be well versed in how a product is manufactured. They need to be cognizant the idea of things like tolerances and draft and must be able to work with the Technical Team to ensure that the technical needs mesh with the defined Design Language and create a product that stylistically, functionally, and ergonomically adhere to the product goals.

Deliverable of this transition phase is the final 3D CAD model that will be used to move towards the Engineering and subsequent production of the part. Details such as draft

All the technical specifications need to be addressed and met within the context of the Design.

I know I’m asking a lot, but can you spell out your process? I understand that it will take quite a bit of time to do so.

This is a request to everyone looking at this thread. Please don’t answer this thread flippantly. Take some time to think it through.

We, as an industry, seem to struggle with the Value design brings to the table. Anyone that understands that Design is as important a part of the process as the Engineering, or Marketing will still question WHY it costs what it costs to do industrial design.

The more feedback we have in a thread like this helps people see what goes into the process of design.

If you look at my post, I haven’t even BEGUN to go into the nuance of each phase, how many bodies that are required. But after writing what I did…I’m exhausted. Seriously. I try to wrap my head around what the process of ID is and how to “sell” it to someone and you very quickly see what it takes to get a job done right.

Now, if my client doesn’t see the value of 9 concepts being developed, we can then talk about taking out deliverables, and what the ramifications are of reducing the scope.

This applies in both corporate and consulting. If we’re trying to sell Industrial Design, and there is a gap of understanding of the Value, I believe it begins with the understanding of the amount of work that goes into the creation of a product. A well designed product requires a LOT of manpower.

Whether I’m right or wrong in the process I outline above, read it, try to put a time frame on everthing that is in there:

How long does it take to do a book of sketches?
How long does it take to create block models?
How long does it take to do 1 detailed photoshop or Illustrator rendering?

Break out the bits and pieces and put a time frame to it. Then, pick a dollar figure. If we bring similar value to the product as Engineering, start at $100/hr and go up from there to get your final figure.

I believe if we do more of this kind of exercise, we start to educate the world as to what it takes, and why it costs what it costs.

Here’s the product:
Someone hands us a 1 page brief/specification of a new product. Let’s say, it is a new portable gaming device to compete against the PSP and DS (pulling something out of the air).

So, it is a relatively well defined market. Relatively well constrained product. It requires a visual interface, joystick, button inputs for game play (x 6), button input for other functions such as power, removable battery, and DC jack. It has wireless technologies such as wifi, bluetooth, and/or 3G.

Step 1:

Contract with teeth.

Step 2:

Project framing meeting. Review the brief with client side stakeholders to establish consensus about desired project outcomes - most specifically to articulate what a “win” would be. Do they have ideas about a particular niche they’d like to pursue or have market data that supports one particular product/market strategy over others? Discuss key milestones, objectives, internal decisionmaking process, client side resources, timelines, etc.

Step 3:

Fieldwork. Based on stakeholders’ “win” strategy, find demographically correct users and engage with them - work with the client to set up screening guidelines. Go online to user groups/forums and learn about the product space. Use the forums to map out key topics, learn the vocabulary, and formulate an interview strategy before meeting one on one with users. Observe. Ask questions. Take copious notes. See what they do, how they talk about it, where they do it, what they are responding to, behaviors, trends, etc. Create a summary of key topics, focusing on user definition of needs/wants, including how users evaluate their needs/wants and in what units if possible. Prioritize them into a list of “these areas are worth focusing on,” or minimums/differentiators/delights. Detail key interactions and common existing scenarios. Call out opportunities. This is the Real Design Brief. Review findings with the client and reset the brief. Make sure to agree on criteria and importances, since this will be used throughout the project to weed through concepts.

Step 4:

Concept/prototype. Create lots of scenarios/storyboards that respond to opportunities outlined in the design brief. Mockups too if needed. This is all about the product experience. Create visual language boards where helpful to help establish the emotive feel of the product experience. Review with the client and get signoff. If there is an opportunity, get concepts in front of users to get early feedback before client signoff. Refine concepts until you can narrow it to 2 or 3 overall user experience concepts. Keep track of feature set impact of each experience - this will drive the part level design.

Step 5:

Proof of concept. With my horde of EE’s and programmers, build functional, ergo correct mockups of the key concepts and test/refine/test/refine.

Step 5:
Styling. Based on visual language feedback and user experience concepts, create styling concepts. Do lots of loose marker and pen drawings. Do a couple rounds of this, get it into design intent 3D and build looks like works like models. Get final feedback from user groups and make any additional refinements as needed.

Step 6:
Part design. Having locked the concept, the experience, the aesthetic - design parts for appropriate and cost effective processes.

Not to be flippant, but I did. If you want to sell something to someone who doesn’t know about it, you start and stay broad, minutiae will not help the matter.


Discovery - A situation analysis and opportunity assessment of the customer, competition and company.
Strategy - A plan of where you are and where you want to be.
Implementation - Make it so.

These three things are always done in varying degrees in all phases of concept development. That is my process.

You seem want a list of phases. This is my list, but as a consultant, all aren’t mandatory and sometimes they are combined.

Phase 1 - Market & product definition
Phase 2 - Concept development
Phase 3 - Concept refinement
Phase 4 - Concept finalization
Phase 5 - First lot to stock production
Phase 6 - Production transfer

As for a list of the tactical crap, well, that is endless and varies from project to project.