What is your workflow/design responsibilities as an IDer?


We are currently in the middle of doing a little restructuring in our design department (playground manufacturer). In the past all of our designers play more of a design-engineer role, mostly simply because ‘that’s how it’s always been done’. The company is relatively old, so I imagine the large majority of designers in the past were engineers. We do initial concepting, 3d models, prototyping, final models, instructions, BOM, and often drafting along with getting it through safety standards pass along with a lot of other red tape. I have suggested that we could be a lot more efficient if the designers focused more on concepting and took the design to maybe the point of a close to finished 3d model and hand it off to a drafter/engineer, similar to what is the standard for most companies as far as I can tell? That would also allow us to have more time for concepting and refinement.

We are wanting to know more details about what is the standard workflow for industrial designers? What seems to be the most efficient? How far do you take the design through the entire process? What has and hasn’t worked for you guys?

Thanks :smiley:

I don’t think there really is a standard. It depends on the business, what it needs and what it can support, the complexity of the engineering/manufacturing details, the scope of products being developed.

I’ve spent most of my career working on relatively simple products where the end design is valued more than the engineering it takes to get there, so it has never made sense for me to have a full time engineer on staff.

I previously ran an NPD team where all my employees were trained industrial designers but they all handled their own project management and engineering details in collaboration with engineering teams at our suppliers.

I am currently building an NPD team that will include designers as well as product managers that will handle a lot of the less creative parts of the new product development. We will also be developing some very complex products and although those might create a years worth of “engineering work” for a designer i expect that I’ll be contracting engineers as necessary because the reality is there still wont be full time work for someone who actually knows what they’re doing.

some things to think about.

Does the total workload justify an engineering specific role? If you fill that role do you still need the same number of designers?

The thing i’d be most concerned about is that when you build a system where designers hand off work to engineers, the engineers get the last word. If the designer and the engineer aren’t the same person its far better to have them working in tandem so they understand each others wants and needs.

I’ve almost always worked in environments where I was doing design and engineering / mechanical design. Only designers would work on the creative phase and then design and engineering would work in parallel on the development to production phases. That was how the work was organized even at the consultants where I worked. I think it’s common where the products have a balance of aesthetics and functional needs.

I think the model that you are thinking about is in industries where the aesthetics are critical and resources are plentiful, like in automotive, although even there nothing is as cut and dry as the model suggests.

I would suggest considering another model which is having a team or at least some time reserved for advanced concept development. Most phase-gate systems effectively shut down research because we can’t associate the research and prototypes with an eventual sku or revenue generating work product. There was a period where I effectively managed myself and I would put aside every other Friday to work on ideas to pitch to the steering committee. If I had a team, I would try to pull for something similar.

One way to pitch that might be to have a negative gate. I know at one transport place, they have two or three negative gates which are meant to give the team the opportunity to experiment and figure out where they want the project to go without the intrusion of engineers analyzing the bolts and accountants running profit analysis. Another way might to be to pitch it as working on ideas in an idea pool (or half-baked ideas as I prefer to call them). That way management still has control, but you change the expectation from having a shop drawing to having a really clear idea for new product.

One last thing is to be careful. Talking to an R&D director in town at one of our biggest design employers, they struggled to make the kind of change you are trying to do. If production is used to coming to designers to get things working, it will take a big management effort to get them to go to engineering only. Plus, management will be under a lot of pressure the first time something is running late and engineering says they are too busy to handle it. Consider the cultural challenges that you will meet.

Good luck and I hope you let us know how it goes!

Thanks for the response guys.

I’ll add a few more details of our situation.

We are a pretty large manufacturer and are owned by the largest playground company in the world (I think) so we have some resources. As a rough estimate i’d say we put out dozens of new product every year, and on top of that, make many adjustments and updated versions of previous products every year. I would say that we touch hundreds of products per year. We also do our own manufacturing and the design team is in the same facility as the manufacturing. That being said, we have a relatively small design group. It was a manager, a senior designer, and myself along with 2-3 drafters. The senior designer is moving to a position with our sister company. While we are in a phase of rebuilding we think now is the best time to restructure.

In all honesty, we most likely don’t need fully trained engineers to take the products to completion. A drafter with sufficient 3D knowledge should be able to do most of the work. We have a drafter now with good experience and Autodesk Inventor knowledge that we want to move more into a designer/drafter role. I think this would be exactly what we need for someone to hand off a project to for finalization.

I think a lot of our questions now are to what level the designers need to take the product till they hand it off? How long will we spend per concept now if the designers are focusing almost solely on that? How much time will be dedicated to each phase now? Will the ratio of designers to designer/drafters need to be 1 to 1, or something else?

I know a lot of the questions only we can answer for ourselves in the end, but we are trying to get a feel for similar sized industry standards. I have a vague idea of a much more involved front end design process from my time at university, but don’t know how much that translates to real world companies.

Yeah, all development companies have a different balance in the value of design vs. engineering.
What I learned is that already at the start of the development trajectory, the design has to be done right.
And that means, influenced by the requirements of multiple stakeholders and departments.

All too often it has gone like
Engineering: this edge cannot be this high because of draft angles
Design: then the electronics won’t fit, so we have to implement a different edge, oh wait, we will get a sink mark, oh wait this factory can add fillers but we have to switch to different suppliers and the design won’t have the same feel to it…

No, the design has to be done right, right from the start.

So, the best thing you can do with a new product development trajectory that has a decent amount of insecurity/risk, is to have design/development sessions with a small team of several people of different disciplines, it is a win-win situation.