When you’re on the hunt for a product design firm it’s essential to understand the scope of the project. What exactly are you trying to accomplish?
Are you looking for someone to design a completely new product idea? You’ll probably want a firm that is strong in research and ideation. Are you tweaking a current product or thinking about a major overhaul of an existing product? You want to look at firms in terms of the types of projects they take on and execute well.
One product development expert we spoke to said that talking to a product design firm early on can save you money over the long haul since a good design firm can tell you whether your concept is viable and profitable. A lot of your research can be done on the Internet, or by talking to your personal network.
Eventually, you’ll have to narrow your focus and talk to some design firms. Interview as many as possible — between 5 to 10 firms — before locking anything down. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it, but this is your potential product we’re talking about. Look at the case studies they offer. Speak to their customers. Find out how many products they’ve designed have actually gone to market.
We asked the head of our Design Services team to compile a list of questions to ask when looking for a product design services firm. He came up with an exhaustive list that will give you all the information you need to make an informed choice about the best design firm for you. (Click on the heading below for a downloadable, printable version.)
1. Will the firm agree to non-disclosure and/or non-compete agreements?
2. Are there any conflicts of interest (competitors, suppliers, etc.)?
3. How are the fees charged? Fixed cost or time and materials? What are the payment terms? Is a deposit required?
4. What is the timeline to complete the project? What reparations are available in the event this timeline is not held?
5. When will the firm review their progress with me? How will this progress be communicated?
6. What guarantees or warranties does the firm offer for their designs?
7. How can I terminate the project? Does the firm retain the right to terminate the project? If one party terminates, what portion of the fees must be paid and what documentation for progress to that point will be provided?
8. Do they have experience designing products for your target market?
9. Do they have experience in using the materials that you expect your product to require?
10. Do they have experience designing a product based on functional or performance goals?
11. Do they have experience designing to a desired cost?
12. What software will be used to design my product?
13. What are the deliverables I can expect to receive at the conclusion of my project?
14. How will my design be validated?
15. Does the firm conduct due diligence on the design? Design Failure Mode Effects Analysis (DFMEA) or mechanical or electrical subsystems? Finite Element Analysis (FEA)?
16. Does the firm have prototyping capability? How many prototypes do they recommend be produced? How will they be used?
17. Will the design be reviewed against 3rd party regulatory, safety or marketing standards? Who is responsible for obtaining and reviewing those standards?
18. Does the firm have experience in obtaining 3rd party regulatory, safety or marketing certifications? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the design will pass the testing?
19. Who owns the Intellectual Property associated with the design?
20. What support does the firm offer to assist with the transition to manufacturing?
21. How many and what types of products that they have designed have successfully transitioned to volume production? How have those products performed in the field? Does the firm offer any continuous improvement service to revise the design based off of field or market performance data?
22. Will the firm provide guidance on production testing and quality checks that should be conducted?
23. Aside from designers, what other resources are offered? Project Management? Sourcing?
As you can tell from this comprehensive list of questions, you've got a big undertaking ahead of you. One possibility to consider is looking for a design services firm offering engineering support, manufacturing capability and logistical assistance. Engaging a company with experience in the full range of services required for product development could be both a time, money and frustration-saver.
Whatever you choose to do, with the answers to these questions, you can confidently select a design team that has your project and your satisfaction front and center.