Design for Manufacturing - before the design process starts?

I have a meeting next week to hammer out some problems we’re having internally in regards to how much influence manufacturing has on the design process. As it stands now, we (the designers) generally get 3 prototypes to work with before sending them off to production. The first prototype a test mule where we try out some new ideas. Sure, we take things such as cost and labor into consideration, but we have to push the boundaries at some point, right? Well now it seems that even our first chances need to be finely detailed and everything has to be thought completely through beforehand. It’s even to the point that R&D is now having to show manufacturing what we’re working on even in the conceptual stage!! Talk about design by committee. They even want to know the size and placement of graphics before the product is even designed!

So, I have a meeting on monday and would love to have some firepower for defending my stance that proper design needs to be open-minded. We’ll gladly tone down things as the process continues, but right now we’re being completely stifled.

I’ll probably lose my job over this one, but it’s the principle of the matter. I’m trying to stand up for design methodology.

That sounds pretty overly restrictive.

A great process to prevent anything new from ever happening.

A lot of companies have an “in line” process tied to marketing and production timelines (3 protos is pretty slim for that, most people need to really see it) and then an “advanced” timeline, market based projects with no production timeline, so you can explore. Maybe your company would be willing to open that second path, if the first is going to be that restrictive.

Are you working in a “Lean” facility? Or something similar to it like Six Sigma, and other creativity killers?

Read these articles if that’s the case.

I feel your pain man.

Thanks for the links. I’ll be certain to read those and have notes in hand for the meeting!

Yo!, I like your idea on “in-line” and “advanced” time lines. Very good idea to present at the meeting. For the past few years, we’ve have incredibly tight deadlines in getting things to production. Usually it’s a mad rush for the Outdoor Retailer show in early August. But now with new management we’re trying to extend the product development time-line, so having two paths makes for a really good plan.

Thanks. Any other thoughts!?

It sounds like the beginning of cross-functional teamwork instead of a design-silo methodology. Not a terrible thing.

You need to explain the concept of the “fuzzy front end” to your operations group so they understand the messiness of the design process and lower their expectations of your first concepts.

Good luck.

my 0.02$ worth somewhat differs from the advice given here so far. here goes-

I dunno your industry (it does make a difference), but to me it just sounds like a more integrated approach including sales/marketing/production early into the loop to avoid wasting time developing concepts that won’t work. it’s normally a good thing. it’s not about design by committee, but a more lean and efficient process. it’s sharing vs. doing your part and tossing it over the “wall” for the engineers to figure out (which usually ends up in worse products).

that being said, of course there should also be room in the front end of the process for enough creative exploration and “pushing the boundaries”. ideally this should be done while it’s cheap to explore, like in sketching, mockups, RP, etc.

Personally, rather than fight it, i think you’d get further by working with the other teams involved and managing the experience to allow for an open/transparent process. approaching the process as you’ve described- that they are encroaching on your turf or limiting your creativity doesn’t sound like it would go over too well.

if you look at the positives of the open process i’d even expect it could lead to better, more free designs. I know personally, i’ve often got some of the best results in discussing early concepts with production, and leaning on the expertise of the mold-makers, etc. to get the desired design intent workable early on. digging in your heels isn’t being open-minded.


You must work for a relatively small company or things have been going really well up until now. Quite frankly it is surprising that you are just now being required to work more closely with manufacturing.

Design cannot be done in a vacuum. The more you know about what manufacturing needs the more you will be able to design a product that does not need to be modified once they get it. Times are touch economically. Companies don’t want to wast money. Don’t take it as a personal insult, look at it as an opportunity to help your company remain profitable and for you to keep your job.

I think rkuchinsky has it right here. I don’t know if it’s just the frustration of the situation that’s coming out in the original post, but it sounds like there’s an “us and them” mentality in your company (on both sides). That’s almost never a good thing. And if that is the situation, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to swing things in your favour in a single meeting. Changing the mindset of a company is a long term project, no matter how right your argument.

I’d say the first thing you need to do is try to understand the situation from the point of view of the manufacturing guys. Are they trying to put these constraints on you because what you give them isn’t manufacturable within the constraints they have to work to (timescales, costs, expertise etc)? Is it that you’re trying to push the boundaries whereas they just want a quiet life? Is it that they’re being leant on by Sales to have a more defined spec earlier in the process? Unless you know what the problem is you’re not going to come up with a coherent argument, and that means talking with the manufacturing function in a spirit of teamwork.

If you can show that you appreciate there’s a problem and that you want to fix it, and that you have some ideas as to how it can be done, you’re much more likely to get a positive reaction than if your attitude is just to try to apportion blame. One strategy which I have seen work well is to get one of the engineers to work as a kind of liaison with the design function (you might also want to choose a designer to have a similar role with manufacturing). Get this person working with the design team on a regular basis, get them brainstorming with you, sketching with you, going to lunch with you. Get them to appreciate how much effort you put into user research, or trends analysis, or prototyping, or surfacing, and why it’s important. This has a number of effects: first they understand how designers work and what you’re trying to achieve (and communicate this back to the rest of their team). You also get a better understanding of the constraints they are working to. But what’s most important is that engineer feels a sense of ownership for the concept. When things are being questioned, they will be able to argue why those features are important and in the same ‘language’ that other engineers understand. You also have one person to go to to find out what’s going on with a project, who will feel an obligation to be honest with you rather than ignore your concerns.

If you take a pragmatic and transparent (as rkuchinsky says) approach, and make it work a few times, you’re in a much stronger position to argue why there’s a need to push the boundaries. The “that’s what designers do” argument generally doesn’t get you very far.

Definitely Richard has a good point in that whatever change you want to bring, you have to do it by working with the system, not against it.

I have one quick question: Do you manufacture in house? I work in corporate, so wherever possible, we prefer to use tooling and equipment we already have. Sometimes, this does limit the design from day 1. I understand it completely, this is a business and not an art museum.

If it were my company, I think I would start by buttering people up by letting them know that I noticed the improvements in efficiency or quality that were gained by their input earlier in the design process. However, it sounds like they want too much detail too soon. I would simply explain that like any project, I need to start broad and work down towards the final goal.

Another reference you might want to find is Creating User Experience by Bill Buxton. He has the most lucid description of the creative process I’ve ever read with some simple diagrams to describe exactly what I’m trying to say in the last paragraph.

Matt___ you make some great points, and they are very similar to what happens at my job. However, this can be constricting and claustrophobic at times. It really depends on how the office is set up. If you work in a Lean/Six Sigma facility, you literally have innovation time scheduled for you. Because, in upper managements eyes spending a few days/weeks developing concepts that don’t go anywhere is a waste of company resources. While they have a valid argument, how can you be expected to create new products? When 6ix mentioned that they want all details flushed out on the first prototype, thats what made me think of this. After a while you start telling yourself, “We can’t do that because we’re not set up for it”, “Or manufacturing will hate us for this, so we’d better not do it.” I don’t know for sure if this is the environment 6ix is in or not, but I can tell you first hand its a creativity killer.

If you guys are interested, the two links I posted earlier deal with how 3M went down in flames because of these management processes.

And, if this has nothing to do with your situation 6ix, my apologies for making the assumption.

There is a difference between being collaborative, and having to get approval on graphics placement before a product is even designed.

As a designer, you should be proactive in setting up brainstorm meetings with development counterparts, looping in manufacturing experts, working with marketing on market place analysis, business plans, 5 year strategies, meeting with retailers, qualitative consumer research… the issue comes when one of the other functions has ultimate say over design.

Take a read through this:

You might be able to use it as a way for design to have more influence over manufacturing, instead of the other way around.