Make Your Product Designs Bulletproof

  • July 11, 2019
  • | by Victor Lazzaro

Every designer has gotten this call. There is a problem with the design and the client wants to know what went wrong. The implication is that a mistake was made, it’s your fault, and it better get resolved fast! We sometimes get off a call like this secretly hoping that someone else made the mistake. But this time there is no getting out of it. You missed something and now you have to figure out what really happened, why it happened and what you can possibly do to fix it and save your design.

You wonder why people are not more forgiving. After all, you are inventing something new. How could you be expected to know everything? Well, in this world, that is the harsh reality. No one likes mistakes, problems, cost overruns, designs that break, or don’t perform as promised.

It seems wholly unfair and so it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s your design and your fault. There is no way to be right all the time. There are ways to reduce the number of times when “what you don’t know” can hurt you. It has to do with having a process which addresses common problem areas regardless of the fact that you are inventing something new. There is a pattern to how and why problems occur. When you know what those areas are, you can really bulletproof your design. Determine how much of your design is a new invention, and that will dictate how vigilant you have to be with this process.

Bullet Proof Design Tips & Tricks

Here are just a few things that can help to reduce mistakes, oversights and other problems which will keep you up at night.

1. Know your materials cold.

It is so important to know and understand the limits of the materials you are using. When will they fail or how could they fail. Lots of design problems happen from materials being asked to do things they can’t do in places they should not be. As a designer, you can get ahead of this with some technical research at the beginning of your design program. Don’t take anyone’s word that the material will perform a certain way. They are not the ones that will get that dreaded call, you will!

Pick quality materials. Not all materials with the same name perform the same way. If you build a product with subpar materials it will be a subpar product. No one likes those! And while you’re at it, pick quality manufacturers. A manufacturer that does not have your success in mind will cause you more headaches than you want. If their price is much less than others they most likely will be cutting corners somewhere or will require you to make changes to your design that you won’t want to make. When you find this out, it most likely will be too late.

Having lower quality materials or second rate materials used on your product without your knowledge does happen. The best way around this is to work with companies you can trust. Saving money is great, but if the savings compromises the quality of the product it is a problem. If your product can’t be built for the right price with quality materials, you may have the wrong design.

Having too many features that cost so much that you have to skimp on material and production quality is the sign of a poor design.

2. If you are pushing the limits of manufacturing expect problems.

As designers we want awesome material finishes, we want the user interface we created, the parts to be perfect and we want the shapes and forms exactly as we designed them; no exceptions. This can be hard to do in manufacturing and will take more time and even cost more. The last thing we want is to have the main elements of the design removed or changed in the later stages of the development process because they are too difficult to execute.

Make sure your client knows what you are trying to achieve and that they understand this level of design perfection takes more time and money. They can be your advocate and back you up if you get push back from the manufacturer. You also don’t want them upset at the final cost of the product. In the end, if the product can’t make the right margins, it won’t survive…period. There is no such thing as a successful product that costs too much to build. It will be redesigned to remove cost or discontinued. Either way, your design won’t survive.

3. Know when to push back.

As a designer, you will start out your design development with a set of requirements given to you by someone, a manager, a client, etc. How do you know which ones are good requirements and which ones are bad? I guarantee they won’t all be correct. You are inventing something new, and the process is going to reveal the right answers. If you try and force a set of preconceived criteria onto a development process when the process is telling you something different is required, you will end up with a product that already exists or a bad design, or both!

At the end of the day, it’s your job to take all the program goals and turn them into a product that can be mass produced, perform the way the customer wants, and costs what it should. Anything less is a failure. Your job is to realize when program goals get in the way of these facts. If the client is asking for a feature that will make the product too expensive, and you say nothing, there will be a reckoning when the product reaches production manufacturing. You can say it’s not your job or your problem, but at the end of the day who wants to design products that never make it to customers? Make sure that everyone on the team knows when the product design is being compromised. You may not convince all people all the time, but your influence will greatly improve the chances of a successful product design.

4. Don’t believe everything you're told.

This goes for pretty much everything in life! A good designer knows a little bit about a lot of things when it comes to the product development process. Designers need to be highly observant. Designers are also the only ones who have visibility throughout the entire program, from the very first product vision to the final product that winds up in the customer's hands. In order to manage this great task, you need to know a lot. Some of this knowledge can take the better part of your career to figure out, but if you are relatively new to design, start reading anything and everything you can find. There is so much information out there today, literally at your fingertips; not knowing doesn’t cut it anymore.

Align yourself with smart people in other product development disciplines and learn from them. Ask them when you have questions and then use their answers as the basis for your research. Never just believe what they tell you. When I want to fix my car I go on YouTube and start researching. I read the forums. I look for others that have had similar problems. I never just trust one video or forum post as each one I find can tell me something new. I keep going until I have pieced together a complete picture and feel confident about my direction. I can learn how to diagnose and fix a problem with my car that I didn’t even know I had, sometimes just from a sound I have never heard before and knew wasn’t right. Use the same process with design; ask, research, and repeat.

The Importance of a Hard Days Work

Most designers went into this career because they love creating products. I don’t believe anyone ever said I want to design and build a bad product. But that is what can happen when designers don’t do the work required. Great products don’t just happen. They take dedicated people that really want to make a difference. They require late nights and lots of stressing to get it right. Great products demand that every detail be considered. In the end, producing an awesome product is a team effort. A successful product can make people’s lives better and be very rewarding. Don’t you want to do all you can to assure your next product lives up to all your expectations?

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