When I started work at OPD a year ago as a Project Manager, it became clear very quickly that the work of a design consultancy is incredibly valuable to its clients, no matter the project or the client in question. I’d come from the world of start-ups and intellectual property, where products are very early stage and are far from being usable, and diving into the action at OPD has shown me first-hand the value that a design consultancy can bring to products’ development.
However, not all companies work with design consultancies, for many different, well considered reasons - but part of me wonders whether these companies truly know the value that a product design consultancy could bring to their projects. It's only through being here, seeing the work that the team undertake, that I've really understood and seen for myself just how useful their support can be.
Not everyone is as lucky as I am to see that work first-hand, so I thought it might be helpful to outline my top 5 reasons why working with a product design consultancy might be something to consider for your next (or existing!) product development programme.
#1: They can actually save you time & money
#2: Their experience designing other products is more worthwhile than you may initially expect
#3: They're trained and experienced in making useful, desirable, commercially viable products
#4: They have large networks that you could tap into
#5: They can (positively) challenge your thinking and aren't afraid to think big
There are probably some that I've missed, but let me dive a little deeper into why these made my top 5.
1. They can actually save you time & money
Consultancies have travelled the product development journey countless times before. Whilst each journey is different, the experience can help a project team understand risk levels within the project’s development plan at an early stage, which can reduce the likelihood of decisions needing to be reversed and work repeated further down the line, thus preventing time and money being wasted. This experience also allows budgets and timescales to be more accurate and realistic, so that unexpected costs are identified before a project starts, rather than at the end when a budget is depleted.
In addition, consultancies often have in-house prototyping facilities, which allows ideas to be tested and evaluated early on, without the delays or high costs of using external suppliers.
Finally, using a consultancy can be especially useful for time-poor teams - with a dedicated resource devoted to product development, initial designs can get into users’ hands earlier which can often mean adjustments can be made faster and production started sooner - and thus revenue generated sooner too!
2. Their experience designing other products is more worthwhile than you may initially expect
If this is one of your first product developments, it's hard to overcome new challenges when you have no prior experience of facing them. Some of the best design solutions take inspiration from completely unrelated products, which is one of the real benefits of using a consultancy; it's when a laboratory instrument inspires a coffee machine that the real magic happens! A consultancy can bring that wide-ranging, diverse experience to your product development journey to speed up the process and bring creative solutions & a fresh perspective to the design, drawing on years of experience across different product categories and companies.
3. They're trained and experienced in making useful, desirable, commercially viable products
Product designers’ broad experience is hugely valuable - whilst they may not be specialists in Raman spectroscopy or the pathology of certain diseases, I'd suggest that a core technology on its own may not be enough to be widely adopted by users - the technology alone is rarely a usable, functionable product. Design consultancies can help interrogate the "why" behind the product, and will consider all stakeholders’ requirements within their work, to make sure that a truly useable, useful, commercially viable product is designed.
They also have experience in designing products for specific manufacturing processes - and this is key. Once changes need to be made at the manufacturing stage of a project, costs can ramp up. Examples could include tooling needing to be re-made, or an un-audited supplier manufacturing low-quality parts. Working with a consultancy can reduce these risks and reduce the likelihood of last-minute, costly changes being required.
4. They have large networks that you could tap into
No two product design consultancies are the same - some focus on specific aspects of the product development cycle or on specific sectors, others can provide a full-service offering across all sectors. Regardless of their differences, they will all have large networks of contacts that can help with various aspects of the project, be it digital app design, clinical trial management, optics expertise, testing facilities or manufacturing organisations (to name but a few). These will be trusted partners who've already been vetted by the design consultancy, allowing you access to new contacts without the risk and time investment of starting the supplier selection process from scratch.
5. They can (positively) challenge your thinking and aren't afraid to think big
I nearly put this first on the list; designers really enjoy concept generation. They love brainstorming sessions and coming up with as many solutions as possible to a problem. They love getting behind a product's "why", and understanding the problem in detail so that they can be sure that they're solving the right challenge. They will consider design options from the "easy-wins" right through to the big, bold, audacious ideas - because even if those aren't eventually selected, thinking big can be inspirational, and can often bring other ideas to the table.
I’m sure there are other reasons why you might choose to work with a design consultancy, and many reasons why you might not, but I hope that this has been a useful introduction into why it may be worth considering for your next project. If you think it would be helpful to have a chat to see how we might be able to help with your next product's design and development, please do get in touch, or check out our Services page to find out more about how we work.