Business

What Goes Into Designing & Prototyping Physical Products?

Designing & Prototyping

Building a product takes a lot of time, creativity, and attention to detail. Modern engineers and product managers have developed tried and true methods that are followed, often to the letter, to produce a reliable result. Every product is different in some way, and a big part of the expertise of those professionals is in understanding the details that might need to change from one iteration to another to truly differentiate or improve an existing product, and how to produce them in a way that’s reliable and able to be mass produced. And a good product manager will follow those details, from the first design concept right down to the details of FMCG packaging design. But every product begins in almost the same way. 

Research

Every design begins with market research. Understanding existing products is key to ensuring that unnecessary time, money, and effort aren’t expended trying to reinvent the wheel. Many products are merely revisions of existing models, and nearly all products share some components, materials, or aspects of their design with existing variations.

Research isn’t just about copying, though; often the opposite! Research is crucial to understanding what offerings already exist in the market, and how best to differentiate from what’s already available to consumers.

Product managers may want to consult existing offerings, industry statistics, published academic research, focus groups, or user reviews to determine what aspects of the product they need to focus on in their design process.

Industrial Design

If you’re designing something that will actually become a mass-produced product, the first step to bringing it into being is developing a design concept through the lens of industrial design. This is where form and function come together to create an aesthetically pleasing, practically designed product that is optimised for daily use and mass production. Product managers work with mechanical, materials, and electrical engineers and use their artistic flair and technical know-how to take ideas for something someone might like and turn them into something that can really be made and sold en masse. 

Primary concerns of industrial design include factors such as ergonomics, usability, ease of manufacturing, dematerialisation, and market appeal. It’s essential to strike a balance between aesthetics, functionality, and production optimization, ensuring that the product not only looks good but also performs well and meets the needs of its intended users, while also being viable for mass production.

Designing for Durability

A key aspect of designing a top-quality product is ensuring its durability. No one wants a product that falls apart the first time they use it! To achieve this, we need to consider the materials, construction techniques, and design features that will help our product stand up to the rigours of everyday use.

Designing for durability may involve selecting robust materials, minimising the number of moving parts, incorporating reinforced structures, or even adding protective coatings to reduce wear and tear. It’s also important to consider how the product will be maintained or repaired, as this can have a significant impact on its lifespan.

Sustainable Design

As we’re all well aware, sustainability is more important than ever. Product managers and engineers have a moral responsibility to consider the environmental impact of our products throughout their lifecycle, from design to raw material procurement, to disposal. Sustainable design involves taking steps to reduce waste, minimise energy consumption in the manufacturing and operation of the product, and use eco-friendly materials wherever possible.

By incorporating sustainable design principles, we can create products that are not only good for our customers but also kind to Mother Earth.

Evaluating Design Alternatives

There’s more than one way to build any good product. Sometimes, it can be a bit of a challenge to settle on the best design for any given product. To make this decision a bit easier, we need to evaluate the various design alternatives by weighing up factors such as cost, functionality, aesthetics, and market appeal.

By carefully considering each option and comparing them against our objectives, we can make an informed decision and select the design that best meets our needs. It’s important to remember that, even though similar factors will be considered when evaluating designs of different kinds of products, every product, and even every individual product within a category might have different priorities: some products are designed to be as affordable as possible, while others prioritise longevity and repairability. Every project is different and must be evaluated according to the priorities of the product’s target market.

3D Modelling: From Concept to Virtual Reality

Once we’ve settled on a design, it’s time to bring it to life using 3D modelling software. This digital representation helps us visualise the product, ensuring that all the bits and bobs fit together just right. It also allows us to identify any potential design issues and make necessary adjustments before moving on to prototyping.

Software like SolidWorks or Autodesk Fusion 360 makes it a breeze to create these models, and they’re an invaluable tool for communicating our ideas to other team members, suppliers, and clients while moving designs one step closer towards manufacturing.

Design Automation

Design automation is the use of software and other tools to automate repetitive or time-consuming tasks in the design process. By automating certain aspects of the design, we can save valuable time and effort, allowing us to focus on the more creative and strategic elements of our project. Many products, no matter how unique they are, reuse individual components that, while they may require some degree of customisation, generally conform to existing standards, or are at least generic enough to warrant referencing or even copying existing designs. Design automation excels at reproducing these generic parts in the modelling process while ensuring that they fit the individual needs of the product.

Design automation can take many forms, such as parametric design, generative design, or even custom scripts designed for specific industries or products to speed up specific tasks in 3D modelling. Embracing design automation can help us create better products more efficiently, making it a top priority for any savvy designer.

Building Prototypes

With a refined 3D model in hand, we’re ready to create a physical prototype of our product. This tangible representation allows us to evaluate the design, test functionality, and gather valuable feedback from users.

There are numerous prototyping methods available, such as 3D printing, CNC machining, and vacuum casting. Each technique has its pros and cons, so it’s important to choose the most suitable one for our specific product. Don’t be afraid to iterate and make changes to the design based on the insights gained from the prototype—that’s what it’s there for, after all!

Testing Prototypes

Now that we’ve got a physical prototype, it’s time to put it to the test. This is a critical stage in the design process, as it allows us to evaluate our product’s performance, durability, and user experience.

Testing may involve simulating real-world conditions, conducting user trials, consulting focus groups, or even subjecting the prototype to rigorous stress tests. By gathering data and feedback from these tests, we can identify areas for improvement and refine our design accordingly.

Once prototypes are done and dusted, it’s on to manufacturing! Designing a product can be a real journey, and it’s important that care is taken at each step of the process to ensure that whatever comes out the other end of the final production run is reliable and functional. At the end of the day, there’s nothing more rewarding than watching an idea become a reality, and seeing how it helps people and impacts their daily lives – but for that to happen, it has to be done properly!

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