The Design Process
The design process is the transformation of an idea, needs, or wants by consumers or the marketplace at large, into a product that satisfies these needs. This is usually accomplished by adventurous people that are willing to take it on. Sometimes an engineer will be involved on some levels but not always.
Design is basically a problem solving exercise. The design of a new product consists of the following stages:
Product Design Specifications
Manufacturing and Further Testing
Refinement and Sales
The development of a new product may also require the development of a prototype to prove that new technologies work before committing resources to full-scale manufacture. We can assist you with some of the prototype design if you need this help. If you do desire to develop a prototype you should have the product tested by as many people as you can possibly work with. Be sure to have a non-disclosure agreement with people that you are unsure of. You may need to contact an attorney for the best protection.
The traditional view of the design to manufacture process is that it is a sequential process, the outcome of one stage is passed on to the next stage. This tends to lead to iteration in the design. I.e. having to go back to an earlier stage to correct mistakes. This can make products more expensive and delivered to the marketplace late. A better approach is for the designer to consider the stages following design to try and eliminate any potential problems. This means that the designer requires help from the other experts for example a manufacturing expert to help ensure that any designs the designer comes up with can be made.
So what factors might a designer have to consider in order to eliminate iteration?
Manufacture - Can the product be made with our facilities?
Sales - Are we producing a product that the customer wants?
Purchasing - Are the parts specified in stock, or do why have to order them?
Cost - Is the design going to cost too much to make?
Transport - Is the product the right size for the method of transporting?
Disposal - How will the product be disposed at the end of its life?
The design brief is typically a statement of intent. I.e. "We will design and make a Formula One racing car". Although it states the problem, it isn't enough information with which to start designing.
Product Design Specification (PDS)
This is possibly the most important stage of the design process and yet one of the least understood stage. It is important that before you produce a 'solution' there is a true understanding of the actual problem. The PDS is a document listing the problem in detail. It is important to work with the customer and analyze the marketplace to produce a list of requirements necessary to produce a successful product. The designer should constantly refer back to this document to ensure designs are appropriate.
To produce the PDS it is likely that you will have to research the problem and analyze competing products and all important points and discoveries should be included in your PDS.
Using the PDS as the basis, the designer attempts to produce an outline of a solution. A conceptual design is a usually an outline of key components and their arrangement with the details of the design left for a later stage. For example, a concept design for a car might consist of a sketch showing a car with four wheels and the engine mounted at the front of the car. The exact details of the components such as the diameter of the wheels or the size of the engine are determined at the detail design stage. However, the degree of detail generated at the conceptual design stage will vary depending on the product being designed.
It is important when designing a product that you not only consider the product design specification but you also consider the activities downstream of the design stage. Downstream activities typically are manufacture, sales, transportation etc. By considering these stages early, you can eliminate problems that may occur at these stages.
This stage of the design involves drawing up a number of different viable concept designs which satisfy the requirements of the product outlined in the PDS and then evaluating them to decide on the most suitable to develop further. Hence, concept design can be seen as a two-stage process of concept generation and concept evaluation.
Typically, designers capture their ideas by sketching them on paper. Annotation helps identify key points so that their ideas can be communicated with other members of the company.
There are a number of techniques available to the designer to aid the development of new concepts. One of the most popular is brainstorming.
This technique involves generating ideas, typically in small groups, by saying any idea that comes into your head no matter how silly it may seem. This usually sparks ideas from other team members. By the end of a brainstorming session there will be a list of ideas, most useless, but some may have the potential to be developed into a concept. Brainstorming works better if the members of the team have different areas of expertise.
Once a suitable number of concepts have been generated, it is necessary to choose the design most suitable for to fulfill the requirements set out in the PDS. The product design specification should be used as the basis of any decision being made. Ideally a multifunction design team should perform this task so that each concept can be evaluated from a number of angles or perspectives. The chosen concept will be developed in detail.
One useful technique for evaluating concepts to decide on which one is the best is to use a technique called 'matrix evaluation'
With matrix evaluation a table is produced listing important the features required from a product - usually this list is drawn up from the important features described in the product design specification. The products are listed across the table. The first concept is the benchmark concept. The quality of the other concepts are compared against the benchmark concept for the required features, to help identify if the concept is better, worse than, or is the same as the benchmark concept. The design with the most 'better than' is likely to be the best concept to develop further.
Most people who use the matrix technique will assign points, rather than simple, better, worse, same, so that it is easier to identify which concepts are the best. It is also likely that some features of the design will be more important than others so a weighting is used.
In this stage of the design process, the chosen concept design is designed in detailed with all the dimensions and specifications necessary to make the design specified on a detailed drawing of the design.
It may be necessary to produce prototypes to test ideas at this stage. The designer should also work closely with manufacture to ensure that the product can be made.