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Finding the “You are here” X in Product Development

by Patrick on September 23, 2011

So you’re working on a new product, but there’s a problem with it. Either you don’t have time, don’t know how to progress, or you don’t have enough people to make it happen. Whatever the problem is, it turns out that it’s time to outsource the project to someone else. Uh oh. There’s a new problem. You need to know what stage of the product development process you need to outsource before you can figure out who to send it to.

Many people end up spending time looking for help on steps they aren’t ready for yet. There are (for the purpose of this blog) three stages of product development. Some companies can do more than one of these steps and some have partnerships that allow the work to flow seamlessly between the two companies. This should clear up a few questions regarding who to call.

The first stage is Industrial Design. This is the phase where the shape and overall look of your product is determined. During the industrial design process, an industrial design firm will design the exterior of the product, and account for any aesthetics and ergonomics present in the end product. This stage also lets the next stage, engineering, know how much space it has to work with.

Second comes the engineering phase. This is when an engineering firm will design and build the insides of the product and the functionality becomes real. The outside of the product may also be affected, but usually that will have been determined by the industrial designers. Engineers have figure out the best way to fit enough important components into the product’s shell to give it the functionality it needs. This phase ends with a successful prototype being delivered, as well as documentation so that 1.) You know how your product works and 2.) The next stage can begin.

The final stage is assembly. An assembler takes the specifications and documentation that the engineering firm has supplied, and starts putting the product together. An assembler is used to make the product in large quantities at a much cheaper per-product cost than an engineering firm could provide, though the assembly couldn’t take place without the blueprints from the engineers.

After or during these steps, there’s still work to be done on packaging, distribution and advertising. When you do make the choice to outsource part or all of your product development process, making a call to a company that works on a different phase isn’t a big deal. Often they will have great recommendations for a company that can help.

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