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August 2nd, 2016

3 Tips for Collaborating with an Outside Design Firm

It’s no secret design can give your products a significant edge in a competitive marketplace. Good design adds value and appeal to your products. It also gives your end users a more meaningful and memorable product experience. Many manufacturers rely on external design teams to supplement their internal teams and provide a fresh perspective. Here are three tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your relationship with an external design partner.

1. Establish well-defined criteria and a realistic timeline

Take time to clearly articulate your project goals. What type of product do you want to design? How much should it cost? What user needs does it serve? What are the key benefits and attributes the product should embody? The more distinctly you define the project goals, the more equipped your design partners will be to develop innovative, effective solutions.

Develop a realistic timeline for your product development project. What resources can you dedicate to the project? What are the lead times for rapid prototypes, appearance models, tooling, and first articles? Consider every phase of the process, from research and concepts to tooling revisions, packaging, and fulfillment. If your product includes breakthrough innovation, plan for several rounds of prototypes, testing, and revisions to get the product right. Finally, you must consider your business goals, product cycle, trade show schedule, and any other external factors that might influence your schedule and deadlines.

As an external design partner, BOLTGROUP has been immersed in product innovation for more than 30 years. We know how long it takes to develop an innovative new product, and our role is to help clients review their goals and expectations, and then establish a realistic and achievable timeline.

2. Involve all key decision makers from the start

Make sure your top decision makers are involved in a new design initiative from the beginning. External partners need a good understanding of your business goals, project goals, and the personalities influencing the process. That involvement goes for every milestone of the project along the way. This way key decision makers are invested and their concerns are addressed.

In the myriad of projects BOLTGROUP has been involved with over the years, the products with the best results involve close collaboration with our clients’ various teams. As part of our process, we explore a wide range of innovative concepts, consolidate and refine the best with the internal marketing and engineering teams, and present to the executive team. This process helps maximize innovation potential while keeping budgets and timelines on track.

3. Integrate your external design team with your in-house team

An external design firm doesn’t replace your internal team; it enhances it. Most mid-sized manufacturers have some form of internal marketing, design, and engineering resources with a solid understanding of their product line and manufacturing capabilities. It’s critical that these experts are in direct communication with the external design team throughout the project.

In the early phases of the project, share as much information as possible about your products and business with your external firm. Give a tour of your office, factory, assembly line, etc. Provide members with all of your current products as well as your competitors’. Include, when possible, CAD assemblies with internal components. Arrange user sessions for the external team to spend time with your customers, observing them using the products in an authentic environment.

As the product development process enters its later stages of engineering and design-for-manufacture, keep the external team involved. They can assist in preserving design intent (making sure the product comes out of the process looking and functioning the way it was intended). They can also help avoid costly mistakes in tooling and provide insights into material selection, process, and testing.

In the end, your external design team should work hand-in-glove with your own team to create a result that is more innovative, and a better fit for your business than what either could have achieved alone.

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