Understanding The Challenges
We all understand that bringing a product to market requires risk in investment, time and exposure. But the risk increases even more if you don’t find the right design and manufacturing partners to help you. Strange as it may seem, most of our 250 or so inventor customers in the last 15 years have not called us direct, but rather were referred to us from our manufacturing partners. I guess the question is, why wouldn’t they call a designer first? The reason is simple, but not obvious. When inventors are looking to make an idea, they call the person they think will be making it. It is the natural path of least resistance, so it seems.
Challenge 1: The Idea misconception:
But let’s back up. What is an idea? Many think their idea is a design. They bring this idea for a ‘pink lamp’ to a vendor and ask, “can you make me a pink lamp?” The manufacturer is going to begin with questions about specifications: how tall, how heavy, what material, what shade of pink, what kind of bulb, what kind of power, and on and on. If you can’t answer these questions specifically as well as many others, you probably don’t have a design, you have an idea. A patent can be filed on an idea – a product can’t manufactured from one.
Challenge 2: The Design misconception:
But what is a design? Is it CAD files? In many cases people confuse the understanding of what makes up a design and CAD files. They believe if they have CAD files of their idea then they have a design. This may be true in one sense of the definition, but to be successful, you need a well thought out and planned design - one that customers are excited to buy and one that can be affordably made.
Challenge 3: The CAD file misconception:
So what are CAD files? CAD stands for Computer Aided Drafting, or more recently Computer Automated Design. And drafting, us old-timers know, are how they make blueprints for a house. But most of the younger generations know CAD files as computer files used to make stuff. In today's ever-changing world CAD has become like the term “band-aid”, used to describe a general process, but not clear enough to define the end use. Even today the lines are becoming blurred because technology is changing so fast. For the sake of this discussion we are going to break the definition of CAD into 3 areas: Solid CAD, Surface CAD and CGI or Computer-Generated Imagery.
When an inventor is sent to us from a manufacturer, they are looking for CAD files to build their product. As experts in the industry we know these files are Solid CAD files. Solid CAD files contain different information than Surface CAD or CGI, more information to be specific - the kind of information needed to build a product. On the surface they may look similar, beneath the surface they are very different.
Challenge 4: The Manufacturing misconception:
Computer Automation Design software is what we call the programs we use to create CAD files for manufacturing. This software can be very costly, for example some of our in-house software packages cost upwards of $30,000 per user. Meaning the time spent on them comes at a premium cost. In addition, building a manufacturing Solid CAD file is like carving your lamp from wood, in which you can’t really see what it looks like until it is nearly done, and if you ask for a Greek column lamp design, and my vision of your lamp is Doric and your vision is Corinthian, someone will have to pay to remake the Solid CAD files. In addition, even if the lamp “looks” like what your visions was, if the lamp components are not designed properly for the manufacturing process then the lamp can't even be made. What!
Yes, that’s correct, a design must be planned and initiated based on a specific manufacturing process! In other words, my Solid CAD files will be different for a part that is machined versus molded. And, the process may differ based on your expected volume. For example, if you plan to make 100 lamps, we will design the lamp for a process that is most cost effective to make 100 pcs. However, if you plan to make 10,000 lamps, we will design it through an entirely different process. All that said, if you only plan on making 100, you better plan on charging a lot, because there is no inexpensive way to make 100 of anything.
Challenge 5: My idea is my Objective:
If you are confident with your idea and your design is simple enough, we could go right to CAD and get something to the Manufacturer that may suit your objective. But in most cases the idea is not the objective, making money is the objective. I met with our marketing company, adWhite, a few years ago for the first time, and asked Taylor White to build me a website. He asked me what my objective was. Knowing little about marketing I told him a more professional website, to which he asked me, “your objective is not to get more customers?”
Sometimes, with a lack of knowledge about a process, we get confused between what we think we need and what we really need. With design this is often the case. We don’t design and develop products that make our lives better, we come up with ideas that make our lives better. We develop products to make other peoples lives better, and hopefully in return for our risk and effort, make our lives more abundant, which is the objective.
Challenge 6: Designing for the World, not ourselves:
Now we have established that we need to start considering what other people might want, we need to introduce an element into our process that is unfamiliar to many inventors called Industrial Design. Industrial Design is the study of design as it relates to people of our world. It is a specific field of study that looks at how people are attracted to style and use on an emotional level. To engineers it’s seems a bit wishy-washy…but in the real world, people buy much of what they do based on how a product makes them feel. In-fact in many cases (not always), Industrial Design is a Bachelor of Arts degree. The best way for me to explain it is an Architect designs the building and an Engineer makes sure it doesn’t fall. Industrial Designers are the Architects of the product we use. Both can complete a design, but the most successful design is a combination of the two fields of design.
Challenge 7: Money:
Unfortunately, if you don’t put the time and effort to do a good job defining the product and the design, statistically 1 in 10 won’t get to manufacturing, and 2 in 100 won’t successfully sell the product to even get a return on investment (ROI) back. Designers that are experienced in bringing products to market are rewarded with new clients that see their work in the market place, and return clients that want to succeed again - and designing award winning products requires a lot of resources. Successful design firms today are faced with enormous bills for software, 3d printers, test equipment, space, and insurance to name a few. Professional employees expect professional benefits, salaries and ongoing training. Like the inventor, the investor in design firms also wants a return on their investment. Which brings everything down to money. The more money you spend – with the right people – the better the design you’re going to get. So, it all really boils down to what do you want to spend?
Challenge 8: What is our Payback:
Building the design is just the beginning of your journey to manufacturing a product. But done right, nothing is more rewarding than seeing something that you have put your heart and soul in turn into a reality. Some people think of ideas that help themselves, some their neighbors. Some inventors are looking for a way to help their job become easier and others are looking for a way out of their job and into something else. No matter your motivation, the inventor is the one who ultimately brings the product to life. We designers can share the path and help along the way, but it is the inventor’s enthusiasm and determination that takes them through the dream stealers and the nay-sayers, carving a way no matter the obstacle. Many times, on a new heading, but in the same direction towards fulfillment that they have made something from nothing.
The product design process is intense and with good reason. The better this process is, the more likely the product will perform well.