This article is the second in a series of blog posts that provide our insight into the field of Product Design.
"It should be pretty easy—we have it working in the lab on a Raspberry Pi"
Raspberry Pi is certainly a great platform to prototype on, to test out ideas, and even to develop early proof of concepts. However, product design is a lot more than designing an attractive enclosure for a Raspberry Pi. In order to produce the product that really does justice to a great idea, the need for innovation is paramount. As stated above and in our Design Process, we ask the client to pause and consider what the key pain points their idea is attempting to solve. We have to embark together on design research and the process of discovery. Then we have to really analyze whether the opportunities discovered can be addressed with the knowledge and proposed solutions identified. Only then can the design work be truly impactful and productive. There might be hardware and software to develop, form concepts to create and explore and most importantly—we have to concern ourselves intimately with the user and the user experience.
So many details are involved in the integration of disciplines and in the integration of solutions. The Raspberry Pi prototype is really just the beginning if you want a truly impactful product to show the world.
Renderings: A designer’s best friend, or not?
Design competitions, prestigious awards, Pinterest boards, and so many other sites are full of glossy renderings and curvaceous concepts. Some of them truly are inspired, first rate work. But many are design exercises, rendering experiments, or hypothetical concepts. While renderings are extremely valuable to communicate concepts and to show what the finished product will look like, they can also mislead and worse, give investors, stakeholders, or even clients a false sense of progress.
We always ensure that renderings, when presented, are put into context for the viewer to better understand its purpose and its limitations. We applaud the changes that crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter have made to their rules, with more rigorous vetting processes including efforts to disallow the sole use of renderings on crowdfunding campaigns. Used correctly, renderings are an invaluable tool in a designer’s toolbox to visually communicate intent and to provide another means for providing visual perspective. Used incorrectly, renderings mislead the less informed audience, prioritizing short term gain while pushing aside the possible longer term disappointment. Viewer beware!
Prototypes are not "Pre-Production"
It is critically important to distinguish between a "prototype" and "pre-production" devices. Prototypes can vary in fidelity and quality greatly, that is a normal part of the design process. Early on in a project, prototypes are used to explore form, proportions, user interface, colours, assembly techniques, or any number of other factors that matter. Later on in a project, prototypes might look extremely realistic, or even be functional. Sometimes, working prototypes are used as "functional samples" to send to key stakeholders, friendly reviewers, or testers. Pre-production units, by contrast, are only built at the tail end of the design process, when every significant variable has been resolved, and, to the greatest extent possible, production-representative components and parts are used to assemble them - with the intent to refine production processes, or for final validation testing. Commonly, where design agencies are concerned, pre-production units would be built with off-tool enclosures or with parts that were made using mass production processes. They might still be hand-assembled, but they would not be made of rapid prototype materials.
We always put extra effort into clarifying with clients the difference between prototypes and pre-production units and hope that other professional designers similarly strive to educate and explain, rather than mislead or provide a false sense of progress.
Getting to the stage of having a beautiful, and working, prototype is definitely something to celebrate. It would be the culmination of months or years of design work, with learnings (and failings) all baked in. It could really drive a rapid growth phase of your company, or jump start a fund raising and investment drive as you look to scale up and grow. But the work isn’t done when these prototypes are available—far more work remains if you hold true to the goal of wanting to launch an innovative product that solves a tangible problem and delights users and customers.