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5 questions to ask a product design consultancy

What do you need to know before choosing a product design consultancy?

Bringing a new product to market can be a challenge, whether you develop a physical or software product. If you are uncertain about whether it's better to outsource design work to a product design consultancy or build a team in-house, we have a few questions to help you gauge if the team partnering with you is the right fit for your business, with a few suggestions on what to look for in response:

  • What are the benefits of outsourcing to your business, vs keeping our work in-house? 
  • How do I find out what it will cost, without sharing too much of my idea?
  • How do we know you have enough experience for our project, if we can’t see similar work on your website that evidences it? 
  • How do I know who’ll be managing my account and executing my work? 
  • How will you get up to speed on our project? 

Designers commit the Earth’s resources to their creations the moment they put pen to paper and it is said that  80% of a product’s environmental impact is decided  at the concept stage.

With this in mind, having a team with robust experience in resource-conscious and human-centred design, alongside design and engineering insights, is gold dust. 

Whether developing a new (physical) product, improving a design or you need a bespoke kinetic installation, if you don't have the depth of knowledge in-house, partnering with an external design team, that shares your values, is the way forward.

O1_What are the benefits of outsourcing vs keeping our work in-house?

Outsourcing the entire project, or elements of it, gives space for your ideas to fully unfurl and develop, to see them through to completion without the distractions of other non-design related responsibilities  

This brings speed and focus as consultancies are geared towards doing things faster than in-house teams and push many projects through on a daily basis. 

They have experience working with key stakeholders, investors and consumers and can stand alongside you, or provide support towards gaining stakeholder approval within your business. 

The designers should be Human-Centred Design practitioners and trainers who can upskill your people and develop design strategies that will stand the test of time.   

Ethnographic research can be executed in the field on your behalf, workshops delivered for your team and beautiful visuals and animations created your project for any internal or external presentations.  

Consultants have their finger on the pulse of the latest technologies, material developments and sustainability issues ensuring your project benefits from technology transfer knowledge, IP generation experience and commercialisation successes. 

O2_How do I find out what it will cost, without sharing too much of the challenge we are facing?

Well, we can’t tell you the exact cost, but with enough information we can give you a ball park figure.  

You should not share too much detail about your idea with a design consultancy, (or anybody!), without an NDA or confidentiality agreement in place, because this is your IP (intellectual property).  

Consultancies need just enough information initially, to establish what stage you are at, what industry you are in, funding sources and what design services you are seeking.      

Often an inventor or entrepreneur doesn’t need to share any information with a designer, if they simply want to know what is involved and gauge if they are personally ready, to take the project to the next stage. To support people who need help with the early stages, we recommend taking a look at our Entrepreneur Design Hub before contacting us, as this answers a lot of initial questions.  

Whereas if you are looking for strategic product positioning input, CAD, design engineering or design for manufacture for example, on The Imagination Factory website, we have a few brief questions that need answering, and this is plenty for us to start a conversation.

O3_How do we know you have enough experience for our project, if we can’t see similar work on your website that evidences it?

As we mentioned earlier, your IP is precious. With this in mind, many clients working with product design companies, request that specific details about a project, are not shared on a website; to protect their IP and especially if they are not ready to go to market. Sometimes there are internal/brand reasons why clients cannot disclose who their design partner is, so this is why we and other agencies, respectfully do not disclose many ongoing projects online.  

When speaking with you in person, examples can be shared as general use-cases or some level of detail discussed to demonstrate market knowledge. This is where you will discover a team’s experience – whether you are looking for designers working with world-leading brands or sector specific knowledge, partnering with product design companies, provides you with immediate access to insights from multiple turnkey projects. 

If it helps you make a decision, you could speak to previous clients that have worked with the product design consultancies you are considering. When you have spent some time getting to know the team at the design consultancy you’re considering working with, they should be happy to share previous client contact details. A conversation with others, like an online review of a product or service you want to buy, often helps answer questions or provide reassurance.  

O4_How do I know who’ll be managing my account and executing my work?

Good consultancies pride themselves on a 360 approach, with hands-on Director level involvement from start to finish on all projects. You will get to know your team at the outset and throughout the project. Projects are also discussed internally and peer tested regularly with others in the company to ensure every possible ounce of insight is gleaned.  

Project leaders should bring wisdom from many years in the game and have an objective perspective, which is like gold dust in the design industry.  

O5_How will you get up to speed on our project?

This will be particular for each product design consultancy, depending on the size and breadth of experience in the business. At The Imagination Factory, we benefit from many years working as lead consultants and in-house experts within design and engineering, so our teams have the tools and skills to draw on and are quick to adapt to different businesses and expectations. 

Our consultants work hard to ensure they take on board all the research, insights and requirements presented by a new client, whilst drawing on our experience and insights, to present a rounded, strategic perspective.  

We use LUMA human-centred design tools, when gathering information and our own resouce-conscious design model, when considering materials, recycling potential, right to repair and end of product life. There are other models that will deliver you similar design thinking and we would encourage you to place this high up your list of requirements.  We believe these should be non-negotiable elements for any design team in-house or in partnerhsip, that designs products today.

In our experience, these approaches ensure a consultancy captures what’s needed, when it’s needed, whilst maintaining an agile approach throughout, so that if the brief needs to change, we can pivot with it. 

If you have a project you'd like our help with, please get in touch today. We'd love to know more.


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