Look at the design process from a new perspective

11 February 2009

In the competitive world of design it often pays to look at things from a different perspective. Turning the development process on its head so you start with a following before you have a product is the advice from Josh Mings

Let it rip. You’re sitting on a cliff contemplating the next product that is going to end up in someone’s living room, next to the cheerful baby and yapping dog. It’s indistinct. Indistinct? Yes. You have absolutely no clue where to start. The edges are a blurred, burning sensation in your eyes that slam against your own desire of manufacturing a single, simple product.

How do you do it? How do you create interest in an idea? Clarity seems a sunrise away, so there you sit, waiting as your feet dangle under the angst of your thoughts, to read this article and find out what on earth is missing. This is where we start.

Designers and engineers are HUNGRY. We want to create, but we stagnate within salaried cells of cardboard-flavoured platitudes. “You will succeed if you work hard enough!” Thank you, more please.

The fact is; we’re involved in every aspect of a business-churning design process to some degree or another. We’ve been discovering and learning the requirements of manufacturing a design - what material is available, what operations are needed, what costs are associated with each.

We learn all the right programs, terminology and how to send mildly sarcastic, yet professional, correspondence. But somehow, no amount of cost analysis or “kind regards,” splits the firmament of our creativity. So, many of us remain strangely disconnected from the process that imparts within us the ability to actually develop an idea of OUR OWN. Why? What has changed to completely shift this?

Everything starts with an idea but it’s also at this point everything comes to a crashing end. The traditional process goes something like this. You have an idea for an incredible new product. An idea… great, but then you’re stuck. What to do next? Well robot boys and girls, traditional business process dictates you follow the steps of design, engineering, iterate, prototype, rework, magic fairy dust, success.

Easy, right? A few of us even make it all the way to creating beautiful 3D models with renderings and detail drawings we’re immensely proud of. Some of us may even have the fortitude to pay for construction of a prototype, protection of a patent, and a couple professional photos for good measure.

And then… STUCK. Doesn’t quite seem the pattern of such knowledgeable design professionals, does it? It all seems easy, but the unanswered questions, the time and money keep us in a vicious cycle of attempting to get exposure of a product. The traditional way isn’t working. There has to be something missing.

You start by branding your idea, and creating an identity around yourself and a product that others connect to and want to be a part of, letting the interest drive the complete development cycle

What’s changed is not so much the precious process, but what’s missing from it and how the process itself is ordered. We think if we have a product people like, it will automatically generate a following, suddenly ending the toil and torture of beige wall day jobs. The easiest way to realize what’s changed is to first flip the mindset around. First, generate a following, then create a product that they like. But let’s break it down into what this really means and how it’s possible like never before.

You have an idea, you also have the Internet and a vast bucket of online resources to talk about your fabulous idea. It’s more than skipping down to the coffeehouse to tell your Facebook pals about it. It’s a systematic process of building a brand around yourself and what you’re creating.
It’s hard to realize the possibilities until you actually open yourself up to the idea of turning yourself and your idea into a brand.

The best thing you could do right now is create a website using Wordpress (wordpress.com), put up renderings and articles about the idea and promote the hell out of it. It’s oversimplifying to say it’s quick. It takes hours of working late and internal debate for what you want to create. But, at the same time, you’re displaying a process to others and discovering ways to get feedback, all without having to go through the final manufacturing phase.

And then there’s you. It just so happens, you are the most important part to the entire product development and branding process. With it, you are creating an identity for yourself - the design tools you use, the iterations you go through, the fabrication methods you choose and what you think about it all. But instead of only you, a crowd is gathering and becoming a part of the process as well. That crowd grows your brand, provides input about the design and you’re just as involved with them as they are with you.

There are a few things that can’t be taught - creativity, passion, how to have ideas… and then there are things that should be taught but are not. The importance of branding in the competitive design environments of today is one of them. You don’t determine how you’re going to produce the product first. You start branding your idea, creating an identity around yourself and a product that others connect to and want to be a part of, letting the interest drive the complete development cycle. It doesn’t take a whole lot of money to create that identity. However, it does take getting off the couch and using every ounce of determination to make it happen. That’s within anyone’s reach and before long you could be the next big brand.

Josh Mings is a Mechanical Engineer in the Aircraft Interiors Industry and the brains behind solidsmack.com. He gets annoyed at people playing Solitaire at six in the morning instead of doing something productive instead.
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