We’ve talked a lot about how product development is a process, but what does it really mean? What is this seemingly mysterious process that every product goes through at least part of? When most people have an idea, they think it’s completely out of reach for them to bring their idea to life. It’s not, it just takes finding the right partner who can navigate you through the process of developing an idea into a product that will help people and make you money. What could be a better result of your hard work? Here I’d like to lay out the overall process of Product Development. This example is generic to make sure you learn about each area of the process so you have an understanding of everything your product designer must be able to help you with for it to be worth your time and money to hire them.
Step 1 – Invent
- The very, very first step in Product Development is having an idea. Millions of ideas are generated every day by people all over the world. This is probably the “easiest” part. Everything after this point takes making decisions and taking timely action. While you have the first idea, you also need a Product Developer who has ideas and can generate new ones that will help support your idea on its path to becoming a successful product.
- Once you have an idea, whether you do this first or with your Product Developer, you should validate the idea and determine its market. Is there a need for the product and does it solve a problem are two very important questions. Then, who would use this product? Does it help seniors, children, cubical workers, sports teams, or someone else? This helps you and your developer to understand what needs to be designed into the product, and what shouldn’t be in the product to appeal to your best market.
- If you can, make a mock-up of the product. Get the hot-glue out and make some models. Or sketch, even if you think it’s the worst sketch in the world. In some cases, your idea is so far out there it’s hard to communicate, or easy enough that you can grab a couple images from the internet and say, combine these three things and make it orange! This is your first prototype, and it’s just a concept one. Take your idea to your Product Developer and have them create concept artwork and possibly a physical conceptual prototype, if you have the budget.
Step 2 – Develop
- You need an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) if you are going to ever think about getting a patent. Protecting your idea is important, even if you don’t patent. This is also the time, after you’ve gotten some concept artwork from your Product Developer, to think about involving a patent attorney, or at least getting a provisional patent, if it makes sense. Either way, a free consultation with a lawyer who’s singed an NDA will let you know what you should do. Your Product Developer should have at least one referral for you on this. It’s also worth your time for your developer to do a patent search now so you know if there are going to be hurdles that could stop your project.
- Now it’s time to design your product. Taking your starting concepts, those should be expanded upon and developed into a product that meets your needs, follows your scope, and can be prototyped. This takes it from a rough idea (with possibly some pretty renderings that have no grounding in reality) to (usually) a 3D CAD model or other models closer to a tangible state. Some things, like soft-goods, usually don’t go into 3D, but have more accurate renderings created that show what the product will look like.
- Once the design has been solidified to meet the requirements of the product, it’s time to get the first real prototype. Initial prototypes may not work completely the first time (in fact they rarely do) but this is where the idea becomes tangible and closer to its final form.
Step 3 – Validate
- Using the first prototype, and others after it, we begin to validate the design. Does it work, how well does it work, where does it break, what do we like and not like about it? All of these questions are asked, the prototype is reviewed, and revisions are made. This can be the longest part of product development.
- Testing can be done in many ways, and can include hiring outside testing companies. This also gives the opportunity to get certain stamps or approval markings, such as the UL rating for electronics. Those companies should be involved early on so changes are made earlier in the process to complete the certifications and tests needed for each product’s industry.
- The last thing your Product Developer can put together is a panel test or survey. Paying people to review your product, under NDA of course, can give you some great outside feedback from people who are not invested in the idea, and haven’t watched the entire process. This type of input can be made at any stage of the process, though better results are usually had when there is a tangible and working prototype.
Step 4 – Produce
- You have a final design, it’s been prototyped, validated, patented, the whole 9 yards. Now, the final design stage is here. Design for manufacturability takes your final design and makes all the tweaks and adjustments that are needed for full production. Often prototypes start out as things that would be hard to mass manufacture, and costing is a huge portion of this. Your product developer will be looking for ways to make parts lighter, stronger, or use off the shelf components if that’s what is desired.
- You have two options now, the first is getting funded. This is usually the next step as full manufacturing can be very expensive. Prototyping has the advantage of using advanced technologies such as 3D printing to accelerate and decrease costs. Full manufacturing usually costs thousands to millions of dollars, depending on how many units you need for a first run, and how complicated your product is. A fidget spinner didn’t take much to manufacture the first thousand units, but the iPhone cost millions of dollars and needed to have tens of thousands of units made in its first run.
- The second option is licensing. Instead of trying to get an investor, or putting your own money into producing a product, you can look to sell your IP (Intellectual Property) to an interested 3rd party who maybe has an established business in your chosen market, and would rather buy the idea from you than spend the development time to create a new product. You as an individual working with a Product Developer is much more agile and cost effective than a huge company with massive overhead costs just to keep the lights on.
Step 5 – Profit
- If you license, then you are done! Money has been made and you can set off on thinking of your next great idea! If you don’t license, the next big step to making money is marketing. While Product Developers usually don’t help from here on, the good ones have partners or referrals that they can send you to for developing your marketing strategy. Website, branding, logos, names, advertising, it all falls under this. Everything you brought to your Product Developer to bring the product to life you should bring to your marketers too. They’ll need to know the who, what, and why to provide you the best resources and chance of success.
- There are lots of options for selling your product, from strictly Amazon, to selling at shows and conventions, or a local Saturday market. Between your marketer and Product Developer, you should have some options of who to talk to about which direction you should take.
- Now it’s time to ship your product and have the money come in. Good job!
While it is very hard to guarantee that your product will be a wild success, I can promise that every successful product followed a path similar, if not exact, to what I’ve outlined here. Meeting with a good Product Developer is key to navigating, and possibly being able to skip over some of these steps, which means following the most efficient and cost-effective path possible.