Navigating the 5 Phases of the Product Design Process: Getting From Idea to Finished Product

Innovation Starting a Business

By Kirk Grathwol

For inexperienced and seasoned entrepreneurs alike, the product design process can be tough to get through. After coming up with what they believe to be a worthwhile idea, many entrepreneurs get discouraged when they realize that thinking of the idea was the easy part of the journey, and a lot more work is required to achieve success.

Having a product design plan is important if you want to create a successful product. Whether your product idea will be sold on shelves in a physical store or will be accessed digitally, following this process is a surefire way to arrive at your goals quickly and with minimal stress.

Understanding the product design process

The product design process is a way to take an idea from being a mere thought on paper to a functional, manufacturable, and sellable product. It is not a linear process; it consists of five phases, each having a specific purpose that can be returned to later to adjust the course of the process moving forward.

Product design stages are:

1. Research and ideation

The first step when taking a product to market is conducting research and collecting data on user and market trends. It will provide valuable insight into competitors and predict how your product or design will perform once it’s released into the industry. Understanding who your customers are, how your product will fulfill their needs, and evaluating the broader market will allow you to determine your competitive advantage.

2. Concept development and control art creation

Concept sketching is the next step to getting you idea down on paper and later into a digital CAD design. During this phase, you will want to create an industrial design that is able to translate into the manufacturing process as well as speaks to the problem you are addressing.

3. Prototyping and validation

When creating a product, multiple rounds of prototyping will take place as the control art is made into a tangible product. A rough prototype often transforms through rounds of iteration to solidify size, design, and function.

4. Testing and refining

Testing your prototype is necessary to ensure proper function as well as market fit. Involving other people in your testing process ensures your judgement isn’t clouded by the desire to complete this phase.

5. Execution/manufacturing

Ultimately, you need your idea to come to life. The more work that’s done in the previous steps will allow for a seamless transition into manufacturing. As your product is being sent for production, begin implementing your marketing and distribution strategy so you can obtain feedback, preorders, and start the sales cycle so you can turn inventory as soon as it’s ready.

Importance of the product design process

The process can quickly become overwhelming, thanks in part to its collaborative nature. Although you may know exactly what you want to see in the end, there may be a lot of other people involved, so it’s important everyone understands your vision. Getting every person on the same page will help prevent unnecessary changes or revisions later.

It’s also crucial that everyone’s work is completed in a timely manner to prevent delays. Failure to do so can become a big issue later in the process when deadlines truly matter. For example, if you don’t deliver on the expected launch date, you may tarnish your own brand’s reputation before your product is even in the customers’ hands.

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Getting through the process

Here are tips to successfully navigate the product design process:

Ask the right questions. Although getting to the end product quickly is important, getting to the end with the perfect product is your true goal. If you reach the finish line and you don’t have the product you envisioned, it will take a lot of work to figure out where your team went wrong, and a complete reconstruction may be in order.

No one wants to start from square one after months of time and energy already spent, so during each  phase of the process, don’t be afraid to ask questions if anything is unclear. Inquire about specific details that will clarify how the phase works, identify what you can expect at the end of the phase, and identify what may be needed from you in order to proceed to the next step.

Get ahead. It doesn’t hurt to stay on top of things. As you do your own research and work ahead, you will be better prepared to discuss your goals with your design team to help move things along. However, working ahead does not mean attempting to complete the next phase yourself and expecting the rest of the team to catch up or go along with what you’ve done. If you’ve hired a professional team of designers, you should be willing to take their advice and take advantage of their skill sets.

Keep the user in mind. There are only a couple times in the product design process when your product users are explicitly mentioned: during the “research and ideation” and “testing and refining” phases. However, you are building a product for the user, and every action taken should reflect their needs and desires. The work that’s done at the very beginning during the research stage will lay the foundation of what to think about as you navigate the process and make small and large decisions about your product design.

Don’t be afraid to go back. As discussed earlier, the product design process is not as simple as a linear model. Completion of one phase does not prevent you from returning to another phase for reference or revision. This especially applies during the testing and refining stage. You may need to test your product multiple times to get all the necessary information from consumers and to make sure the product functions correctly.

You may also need to return to previous phases to create new prototypes for consumers to test. Returning to a previous stage doesn’t mean taking steps back. In fact, returning to a stage and refining your work can put you ahead and prevent mishaps from occurring in the future.

Don’t stress. Navigating the product design process can be challenging, whether you are building your first or your fifty-first product. And because every product is different, each product design plan will also be slightly different. Use these tips as you work through each phase to help the process run smoothly and to avoid any hiccups that could set you back in terms of time and money.

Remember that this is a complex process involving many different people with many different skills. If you can keep a level head and work through difficulties, you’ll get closer to transforming your product idea into a reality.

RELATED: 3 Tips for Evaluating the Commercial Potential of Your New Startup Idea

About the Author

Post by: Kirk Grathwol

Kirk Grathwol is VP of Design at Jupiter Design, and has over 25 years of design experience with companies both large and small, including Hasbro and Sevan Design & Marketing. Kirk is a leader in cutting-edge packaging, product, and branding design trends and has led the development of thousands of successful current and past products in retail.

Company: Jupiter Design

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