Product Design Process

The International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization have provided a very practical guide (Marketing Crafts and Visual Arts: The Role of Intellectual Property: A practical guide) that brings out the relationship between successful marketing of crafts and visual arts, and the use of intellectual property (IP) tools. The following information on Product Design was taken from  Chapter 4 – Linking intellectual property to business development and marketing throughout the business cycle-  Pg. 43-44.

Product design is an integral part of product development. It is an activity which can be done by either creative artisans or craft entrepreneurs, or qualified product designers contracted to develop ranges to the specifications of the client enterprise. Because craft enterprises must keep developing new products, either at the request of customers or to be competitive, the regular design of new products is of major importance.

Effective use of design adds value to a product by:

  • Creating higher perceived value through aesthetically pleasing industrial designs;
  • Creating variety in the commercial world;
  • Highlighting differences between competing products;
  • Creating particular products and ranges for specific target market segments, ranging from basic household utilitarian products, such as pottery utensils and household textiles, through to expensive items, such as unique ceramicpieces and one-off batik paintings;
  • Generating long-standing relationships with customers, which translate into greater market share, better prices and bigger profits.

Many businesses have successfully improved their sales through strong focus on product design. Most successful artisans and craft entrepreneurs recognize that design excellence brings stronger brand recognition and better profitability. The product design process is the conversion of a product concept, described in the product brief, into a functioning prototype, which can be assessed and refined into a viable commercial product. The process is influenced to varying degrees by all the following factors:

  • Function, use and maintenance of the product by the end user. All products must perform their function to suit the needs of the end user. If there is a mechanical function, such as a folding mechanism for a wooden chair, then the user must be able to learn the function easily and quickly, without undue need for lengthy written instructions. For example, the user of the chair should find it comfortable, durable, and should be provided with simple instructions for any product maintenance needed.
  • Product dimensions in target markets, particularly export markets. Using footwear as example, it is important to use dimensions for a sandal which suit the target market customer. A sandal size made to be comfortable to a South-East Asian consumer would not necessarily fit or be comfortable to a North American. When fitting a product to human beings, the use of standardized human dimensions (ergonomic statistics) is important. These statistics are available for furniture and clothing markets, and differ from region to region of the world.
  • International and national standards used in the target market are very important. As with the sandal dimensions, there are internationally agreed standards, regional standards such as those in the EU, and individual national standards. Products intended for export should conform to standards used in the target market. For example, in certain importing countries wooden toys can be confiscated and destroyed if they fail a toxicity or toy safety test, i.e. if they are painted with toxic paints or contain small and/or sharp components. It is the producer’s and importer’s responsibility to ensure their products conform to relevant standards.
  • Production processes, technology and raw materials available to the maker have a great effect on the design of a product. Customers may expect to receive a product made in material A as specified in the order and shown in the sample. If the producer or craft entrepreneur uses an inferior or different material B without prior consent of the customer, then the enterprise may lose both the order and a customer. So designers have to be alert to regular supply conditions for raw materials or components in their home country. Any designer who makes products without reference to existing or newly emerging production technology will have a product that either cannot be made, or can be made only with great difficulty.
  • Market trends in colour, which change frequently, also cause many problems for artisan producers. When designing for any market, it is necessary to offer products in the market’s current colour trend. For export markets, the production enterprise should attempt to keep up to date with the latest trends in colours. Export market customers may want certain specific colours. They will demand excellent colour matches. Craft enterprises should ask these customers to send them a good sample of the colour to match.
  • Product style and appearance trends in the target market may provide crafts enterprises with opportunities to rapidly fill a niche that emerges suddenly in the market. For example, it is now common to see oil lamps on bamboo poles for use in gardens. But they became fashionable very rapidly one summer. By reacting quickly to demand, the bamboo workers of the Philippines became a major source, producing a reliable oil lamp and a well-finished bamboo pole to support it.
  • Price of competing products in the market. If the person responsible for marketing has done correct research, the designer will have been provided early on with a maximum cost price for the manufacture of a given product.Going beyond the maximum is not good practice. Designers must discipline themselves to keep close to the price mark.
  • Packaging requirements that affect product design or assembly. Packaging needs can radically alter the structural design of products. Furniture products provide a good example. Much furniture is shipped around the world fully constructed in crates and containers. Wardrobes can be filled with smaller products, but fully assembled chairs, tables, desks and sofas take up expensive cargo space. There have been huge efforts by retailers, designers and production people worldwide to develop inexpensive easy-to-use techniques and devices that allow furniture to ‘fold’, ‘knock down’ or ‘pack flat’. This has been intensified by demand from large-scale furniture importers in the EU and North America, who purchase large quantities of low-cost, hand-made, flat-pack furniture in cardboard carton boxes from South and South-East Asia. These folding, knock-down and pack-flat furniture products require industrially manufactured precision metal fixtures and fittings for assembly by either consumers or retailers. These fixtures are not necessarily available in developing countries. Often the only solution for the craft enterprise is to import the components from the market country to ensure high quality parts. Many developing countries have import permits for such components that are to be used in export products. The designer must use them because of market pressure.

Each of the factors above has an influence on the cost of the product. Their relative importance is not fixed, being greatly affected by the priority demands of the product brief. It is the product designer’s job to ensure that new products fulfil the requirements made in the product brief, while balancing these with technical production constraints, utility and aesthetic needs. The result will be a first prototype for assessment within the enterprise, which will be further refined until the product conforms to market requirements.

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