You have a product idea and know that you need to partner with an industrial designer to bring the idea to life. But when should you bring that designer in? At the very beginning when your big idea first strikes? Or at the end once you've worked through as much of the development as you can on your own?
In the product development process, an industrial designer's role is to develop the desirability of your product. When to bring in your designer depends on what depth of desirability you're after. Let me explain...
Let's take a step back to define what industrial designers do exactly.
The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) says,
"Industrial designers not only focus on the appearance of a product, but also on how it functions, is manufactured and ultimately the value and experience it provides for users."
Industrial designers have the potential to drive the desirability of your product through three aspects: How meaningful it is to your customer, how it functions, and lastly, how it looks. These three aspects both build upon each other and also affect one another.
Let's look at three possible times to on-board your designer:
1. Before you decide what it is
Your gut is telling you that you have a great product idea or you know your company could improve your flagship product. The key here is that you have a general idea of a product opportunity, but haven't locked onto exactly what the solution is. You are open to explore where the biggest opportunities lie.
This is the best time to team up with an industrial designer. They will study your customers to uncover the most valuable opportunity.
2. Before you decide how it works
You know exactly what your product is and who it is for. While you may have a general idea of how your product might function, you haven't figured that out with a prototype yet.
This is the point in time where an industrial designer designs the functionality of your product to provide a delightful experience to your user. At this point, while the designer doesn't get the opportunity to define what solution is most meaningful to your user, she can still ensure that your product is a delight to use.
3. Before you decide how it looks
You have a functioning (but ugly) prototype in hand. You know exactly what the product is and who it is for. All you need now is for someone to pretty it up.
At this point, you aren't really in need of a designer, but more of a stylist. The industrial designer has the opportunity to improve upon the product's aesthetic but is constrained to the meaning and functionality you've previously defined.
As you can see, when you choose to involve industrial designers depends on the level of desirability you're after. Once you decide the depth of desire you're after, you need to find the designer (or firm) who's expertise extends to that depth. This could be the difference between a firm and a freelancer or a consultant and a stylist.
The deepest level of desirability can be achieved by leveraging the power of your designer(s) at the very beginning so that they can ensure your product is delivering value to your customer. They are then able to align the functionality and aesthetic of your product to expand on this value.