Every day, electronics designers find opportunities to create a groundbreaking product that can secure their financial future and potentially change the world. But whether you’re a seasoned professional at a prestigious design firm, a part-time hobbyist, an apprentice, or a student, electronic design is among the most dense, complex, and ultimately challenging disciplines to perfect. To conceptualize a winning product, develop it to a high level of functionality, and identify an audience that represents profitability, you need a sound process.
If you’re searching for inspiration or piecing together a plan to cultivate a promising venture, it is heartening to know there are proven, grounded strategies for clearing the hurdles in your way. Partners Marco Perry and Mark Prommel of Pensa, an award-winning New York City-based design and invention firm, offer a 10-step plan to pursue prosperous electronic product designs.
Rise Above Constraints
A blank piece of paper is one of the most intimidating things a designer will ever face. When searching for the next big idea, open yourself up to limitless possibilities by removing constraints such as designing specifically for a particular audience or industry, meeting a self-imposed deadline or budget, or staying within your team’s core range of capabilities and expertise. Push yourself to attempt to do something that succinctly addresses the wants or needs of the public at large. From this broader periphery, you can pinpoint a promising space to work within where your electronic design can fill a genuine void.
Get Out In The Real World
To create a successful design, you have to get out and walk among its potential users, not only recognizing trends, but also noting the behaviors that cause them. Step away from the office and take a look at things such as the way the people around you utilize public spaces, conduct business, or behave in peer interaction. When you keep your eyes peeled and your mind open, you not only will gain new awareness of how individuals in the real world use electronic products, but also find limitations that popular products are susceptible to that can be remedied with a unique design.
Put Your Product In The Users' Hands
You can have a working prototype sitting in your office that you think is great, but when people start using it, something unexpected inevitably will happen. The only way to learn how your design truly works is to put it out in the real world and see what occurs.
From the initial sketch and concept, you often are best served to go out and get feedback as to what people like and don’t like about it. Then you make appropriate adjustments, build a prototype, and repeat the process. By conducting an early pilot run, you can move your electronic design closer to completion in a matter of weeks, rather than spending months of in-house testing.
Observe How People Really Use Your Design
When developing a product, you need to mock it up early and often. It helps not only in gauging technical aspects and identifying glitches, but also in measuring the greater effect on human behavior. You can see how people actually use your design, learn what would encourage them to do so more often, and effectively identify troubles that users commonly encounter. Often, studying human behavior is every bit as important as measuring things like power consumption or durability.
Don’t Make Assumptions
In many ways, an initial design idea is full of assumptions, so try not to fall in love with your first vision. Instead, allow it the latitude needed to evolve based on how it’s used. Considering what you know about the targeted consumer, you may already reach outside your own preferences and perspective to develop a design based on this knowledge. But when you expose your design to the public at large, you are bound to identify unexpected behavior that exposes a significant element needing to be addressed.
Beware “The Curse Of Knowledge”
People with lots of experience and broad knowledge often are less innovative. You can become overly influenced by what you already know or learn from the competition and are therefore more likely to focus on what you can’t do, rather than striving for something new. A good designer must remain open about ideas and value uniqueness, rather than building off what has already been done.
Understand The Alternatives
When you are solving for the right idea and have a clear vision, it’s time to find out what alternatives exist and how your design solves for their constraints. Often, options already are on the market that deliver the same end result of your product, so it is contingent upon your inventive spirit to discover ways to get there more efficiently. Focus on identifying areas of complexity relating to the effort, investment, or foresight evident in the user experience to cultivate a unique alternative that underlines simplicity.
Don’t Let Fear Stifle Your Progress
Large companies and individual designers alike often operate from a position of fear. They’re afraid of being ripped off or receiving negative reactions, so they utilize focus groups and test an idea to death. However, the benefits of receiving feedback to speed up the learning process through putting your concepts out there far outweigh the risk of exposing an idea to theft.
You have to be confident that you can execute faster and more concisely achieve your vision than the competition. The open approach holds the added benefit of proving your design, creating a buzz, and confirming tangible consumer interest to effectively turn what would be a push into an irresistible pull when it comes to selling your product to the world.
Recognize That A Great Idea Is Only The First Step
A great divide exists between a solid design concept and commercial success. You have to know where your strengths lie and understand all that goes into the making of a profitable venture. Beyond changing the design to meet user expectations, everything from capital procurement and marketing to sales and distribution needs to be ironed out. Be realistic as to what you can accomplish on your own, and find the appropriate business partner and support to help bring your project to fruition.
Know That A Designer’s Work Is Never Done
Chances are, a product is available the way it is isn’t because it was tested to perfection, but rather because that’s how far its producers could go before reaching whatever deadline they had relating to the retail season or pilot run. There is always going to be version 2.0, 2.1, and so on.
There’s profitability in understanding that anything can be improved. However, it’s also important to continually refresh your connection with the people who are using the product. You need to let them know you are still thinking about them and won’t leave them with something that only kind of works. If you don’t do that, someone else will.
It’s inspiring to think that in the competitive field of product design, an individual designer or firm with a creative and sound approach can still break new ground. By removing constraints and venturing out into the real world while being confident and introspective in realizing your vision, you can improve the process of conceiving and cultivating profitable electronic designs.
What additional tips can you suggest?
Brian Spero is a writer who covers various aspects of technology, small business, and design.