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Niels Schouten

sr. Industrial Engineer / Director

The known paths and beyond.

The design profession is diverse, and even when we look specifically at product design, it is still a versatile and extremely complicated process. When I talk to people who don't have much experience with product development and design, I always compare it to a hike in the mountains. In this article I would like to tell you more about the design process with climbing a mountain as a metaphor.

As an industrial product designer, you are constantly challenged to design something new that is distinctive and has added value compared to everything else. These are products with a function and a certain appeal for a potential buyer or user. Every project therefore requires a new and unique result. How do you start here? How do you plan this? And what does a design process actually cost? Which route should be followed to achieve the result that our customer has in mind? The route to the top is different every time and in conversations with the customer, a good picture must first be created in order to determine the route to the right top.

The conversation with the customer is the preparation for the trip. In the conversation we try to get a description of what the peak to be reached looks like and where it is located. Do similar products already exist or is it a completely new idea? At Fabrique Invent we use the first conversation to create a kind of road map with different phases, a plan to reach the top efficiently and step by step. We also try to create an image ourselves and convert it into visual material. Is our image of the top the same as that of the customer?

Once we have agreed on the route and the duration of the route (estimated price and lead time), we pack our things and start the journey. With the top in sight, the first steps are taken, with a brisk step we walk up until a fork comes into view. Left or right? Where do the trails end and how long is each route? Does turning left go to the top or will we end up somewhere we don't want to end up? Research, communication and experience ensure that the right route is often chosen. It is also possible that both routes come up. One may be safer, the other shorter, but with the risk that some more obstacles will come into play.

It is important that we involve the customer at major moments of choice. We often ensure that we have already explored both options a bit, so that we can provide more insight into the further progress. With the knowledge of the customer in the industry and our knowledge of product development, the right choice can always be made. Problems are there to be solved, but sometimes an obstacle is encountered during the trajectory that ensures that walking is pointless. Requirements change due to new insights or too much has to be compensated. In that case it is sometimes necessary to walk back a few turns and plan a completely new route.

As the crow flies, it is always easy to estimate the distance, although it remains difficult to determine a time frame if you do not yet know the exact route and obstacles along the way. This often makes it difficult to put a fixed price on a large design issue. Ultimately, the goal is to reach the top, which is what we like to do. To us, being on top means that the product is ready for serial production and that it meets the customer's wishes. In addition, in most cases it must also be tested and validated. For us, the summit is a party that we like to toast to. In some cases, the journey takes several years during which intensive work has been done on extremely complex issues and problems. Nothing is more beautiful than to finally enjoy the view.

This article was written by Niels Schouten. Niels is a movement technologist, industrial designer and director at Fabrique Invent.

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