industrial design process

I was thinking this weekend about the Industrial Design process.

Is there one? Or, more to the point…does your company have a Standard Operating Procedure for ID?

If so, is it anything more than Research, Ideate, Iterate, Refine?

I think a lot of places have a “product development” process that is structured around key dates and gates, which are back filled from a launch date. But, that isn’t really a house ID process.

Well where this comes from is a discussion with a guy who is on the business side of life. He put the bug in my ear that successful small businesses become successful once they figure out that they need to act big and implement processes.

I was wondering how well that applied to Industrial Design. Does a company like IDEO, Teague, Nike (Converse), or whoever have a SOP? A checklist (for lack of better term) that allows any designer to step into a role in the company and fulfill his duties.

To what lengths do these companies train their employees on these operating procedures? This question doesn’t have to be just for the consulting biz…just Industrial Design in general.

I’ve seen various structures for product development, as stated by Yo. That structure ranged from non-existant, to very structured, right out of a text book.

As for the ID process, I’ve always had to figure it out on my own. Even companies that had decades of ID history and a few staff designers seemed to have no process. I’ve always found this strange, but every time I’ve attempted to structure the process, no one is interested.

I’d love to hear about a company with a structure and also the advantages and disadvantages of the process.

ISO 13407: Human-centered design processes for interactive systems
This is a great place to start. It puts what we do into a nice SOP format. But it does not get into specific design disciplines–you won’t find details about all the things an Industrial Designer does.

The standard specifies an iterative cycle of these 4 activities:

  1. specify the context of use
  2. specify the user and organizational requirements
  3. produce design solutions
  4. evaluate designs against requirements

You can buy the PDF from ISO here.

No? You’ve worked with a well established ID firm and they came in an freewheeled? Or was that the “image”?

I put my money on the “image” side of things.

Even if it is simply research, ideate, iterate, refine…don’t they need to be able to replicate that process so the experience is the same each time?

Don’t people keep going back b/c the experience with the company provided something that was familiar, if not the same each time? Even if it is building out the exact same slide deck with different pictures?

At a design exhibit in the mid 1990’s, I recall ACCO showing off their very-detailed ID process in the form of a large GANTT chart poster. I’m kicking myself for not taking a photo of it. Anyone got a copy??

The GANTT was useful because it showed the sequence and rough duration of the various activities.

Sometimes. In my experience, our internal design process must be flexible enough to “mesh” with our clients’ development process. If they don’t have one or want to try a fresh approach we can lead. Every situation is different. The design process is not so much a recipe, more a toolbox. I think it takes experience, intuition and knowledge of the specific client / design problem to know what tools and processes are appropriate. (Would each phase of research, ideate, iterate, refine have it’s own toolbox, or would they be “Venn” toolboxes? If there was such a thing :wink: ?)

Most companies have a process, but it’s not necessarily linear and can loop back on itself as Richard suggests. It has to be flexible, scalable, starting with a minimum like the basic four steps you’ve outlined. Then, it can be more specific or rearranged as the need arises. It’s tough to be creative and operate in a very specific structure, but starting from a general outline and filling in as needed seems to work best. We all know how much things can change once we start R&D. I think this approach sets creatives at ease, but makes business people uncomfortable.

This discussion reminds me of this from a few years back:

I’ve only worked corporate. I remember the projects briefs for design were all the same, “make aesthetically pleasing”. I’m serious.


Kept very fluid, all interact with each other. Scope between them are dynamic, depending on the needs of the project.

Rince and repeat as needed.