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.