In theory, someone draws a rough sketch on a napkin or piece of paper, builds it in the garage in an afternoon and presents a working prototype to customers or large businesses that then buy it. In reality, the product design process is more complicated than this, and it goes beyond repeated trial and error.
Identifying the Need
You’ve identified a problem and have to come up with possible solutions. This can lead to radically different solutions. For example, spying drones are a problem.
Solutions already being implemented include taking them down with hawks, snaring them in nets shot from guns and anti-drone drones.
It could be as simple as “can we make a smaller, cheaper version of our flagship product” because you want to sell a larger number of products and thereby increase cash flow.
Or it complicated as “what if we combined X and Y?” For example, you might wonder about turning your product into a service so that you can get regular cashflow or have an idea of how two different services could be combined. Taxi plus internet app resulted in ridesharing services.
The Idea Phase
This phase typically involves identifying dozens of solutions. You may have half a dozen rough designs to select from that solve your stated problem.
You could have two dozen product improvements that could be included in the next generation of your product, though it could also lead to a separate spin-off product.
Encourage ideas at this point, so that you have the ability to weed them out later. Save the ideas you don’t use now, because they might be used to create niche products or the third generation of your product.
Compare ideas to the business goals. This is where your mission statement can give you guidance. If you’re a tech services firm, you might roll out an app or offer a new technical service, but you shouldn’t be rushing out to make and sell a product.
If you work for a medical product manufacturer, you shouldn’t be rushing out to make and sell nutritional supplements. Compare every potential idea against your core business goals.
Then you can compare the remaining ideas against each other. You may choose to test one idea or combine them into a single product. This gives you the concept design for prototyping. Then you go forward with development and actually making a prototype.
The Development Phase
The development phase is when you try to build a working prototype of your product. You’re testing various off the shelf components and in-house parts to build whatever it is you want to make.
You may learn that the materials you wanted to use won’t stand up to the harsh operating conditions, or you may realize that the initial design is not cost-effective.
Here come the design iterations, substituting parts, materials and altering the overall design itself to get something that works. For example, a drone that
turns out to be too heavy may need to have sensors removed or the protective frame reduced.
You may find that off the shelf software doesn’t do everything you need, and you need to code new drivers or customize the software to connect with your new hardware.
The goal here is to get a product that works and meets the key functional requirements. For example, does it solve the problem you originally set out to solve? Does it stop the leak, meet customer expectations or do what nothing else does?
Productionization is the process of turning a prototype into a producible item. It can involve laying out the circuits you cobbled together in PCB design software and inserting off the shelf components so that it can be assembled on a conventional assembly line.
The innovating prototype may be taken apart by experts who will determine how they can make a plastic version of that metal shell and make these moving parts at a fraction of the cost of your manual assembly process.
There are services that can help you move from a working prototype to a product that can be mass produced.
Note that this process will involve some trial and error. And you’ll want to run the initial production run prototypes through the paces to make sure it meets your strict standards.