03/10/2010 | Author / Editor: Eugen Gaßmann / Jörg Kempf
But what creates confidence in a product? How is it that we can decide, almost spontaneously, which of two similar products offers higher quality, is more expensive, more solid, better? The decision results not only from measurements but from our overall perception of the product, its handling, shape, surfaces, color, details, weight and so on. Our senses alert us to details such as whether something feels like “cheap tin” or is made of solid metal. We immediately pick up on design which looks artificial instead of supporting function.
Once we accept this insight, the next step is a detailed analysis of expectations and demands on the product from a customer’s perspective, and an exact description of the expected functions in use. We must also define how the product should fit and differentiate itself with regard to the target application, the company’s own product portfolio, and competing products.
Next, it is time to start development and engineering. Most industrial companies have no internal design department, in which case it will be necessary to team up with a professional industrial designer. This can be a difficult phase if the company’s own development department has little understanding of the value an external designer can add. But a good industrial designer should be able to prove their worth quite easily, however, through samples of their work and their detailed knowledge of materials and manu- facturing processes. Early involvement of the development engineers can help to create a working atmosphere of mutual respect.
The next phase is usually a creative one, in which numerous versions and ideas are tried and compared with the design brief for the product. Sketches and simple models are used to visualize proportions and basic functions. It could prove useful to involve several design agencies and to have a wide spread of ideas. In the following selection process it is essential to adhere to objective requirements and thus arrive at a good evaluation scale, instead of making decisions based on pure taste ( “I like it”).
Once the basic design decision is reached, the fine tuning begins. Of decisive importance now is cooperation between designer, product management, development and external suppliers, for instance of tooling. Unfortunately it is often at this point that an elegant and creative design is distorted or the potential of a ingenious design not fully exploited. Slipshod or bland realization will kill even the best design, so attention to detail is crucial.
From this point on, time and costs really start to build up with each delay or repetition. And delays come in various disguise: a certain manufacturing process may turn out not to work, a surface may look different from what was wanted, a critical material may no longer be available or approved.
The temptation is to give in, or to accept compromises — even bad ones. There is no secret recipe. But discipline and willpower are needed to achieve the common goal.
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