How to pick a design agency? (Product, Hardware, Industrial or Electrical)

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07 November 2018

When designing a new physical product there will come a point where you need to reach out for professional help. So, how do you pick the best design agency for your physical product?

The best way is to gain a good understanding of your product, goals and requirements. Understanding the product helps you determine the areas of expertise that you require to develop the design.

Your goals determine the path you want to take moving forward. This includes when and at what point you will need to reach out for professional help. The requirements can be formed using the product and goals. It is a breakdown of each step required. You can quickly see which requirements will need to be outsourced and which can be completed internally. Then using this information pick your ideal options for the design agency aspects that matter most to you. Depending on your preferences some aspects will be more important than others. For example you may be happy to have a remote company and therefore location is not something that will affect your decision.

I go into more detail on each of the main design agency aspects below.

Industry

It is good to pick a design agency that has worked in your products general industry or similar industries. For instance if your product is a children’s toy you would want to work with a design agency that has made products aimed at children. It is also good to consider companies with similar consumer products. I like to search through a company’s portfolio to see if the outcome of their work is close to my vision.

Picking a company within your products industry is beneficial for a number of reasons. Firstly the company has relevant connections. Secondly they will be comfortable in understanding what is needed. Lastly this is a sign that they will be passionate about your product and the problem it solves.

Location

The location of a design agency affects a wide range of factors and could be a whole blog of its own, I will try and touch on as many as possible below.

Meetings – Design agencies that are relatively close mean you can meet in person, this is an efficient and quick way to communicate and track progress. Alternatively with video conferencing you can meet with anyone in the world as long as you are happy to be flexible with timing.

Prototyping – We are creating physical products that need to be touched in person at various points in the design process. Picking a local design agency makes this quick and easy. Working with a remote design agency will increase the costs either from creating duplicate prototypes or in postage costs.

Trust & Legislation – Meeting your designer in person helps build your relationship and trust this will take longer via the internet. Legislation is different in different countries and it is worth checking up on this before outsourcing your design to a country that has less stringent intellectual property (IP) laws.

Cost – Costs will vary from location to location. Design agencies in a large city with larger overheads will be more expensive than a design agency in the country. We go into more details on this below.

Culture – Outsourcing work to different countries means you will need to become aware of that countries culture. For example their level of English, working habits and holidays.

Being flexible with location may open you to benefits that weren’t previously possible but these benefits may come with disadvantages. It is a balancing act to work out what is right for you and your product.

Cost

Quoting for design and engineering work is hard as there is a large amount of variables and the scope will change as the product moves forward. For example if a prototype test determines that the original design will not work then a new batch of design and engineering will be needed that may not be on the original scope. This means it is very important to gain a very detailed understanding for your product and customers at the start to get the most accurate quote possible.

The cost of a design is generally linked to the quality and time spent on that design. Higher cost means you will receive a higher quality service (not always but generally). When picking a design agency have a clear budget and speak with them about the costs of each of your requirements to see how much you can outsource and if it will help you reach your goals.

Expertise

There is a mix of design agencies that either do every part of the design, engineering and manufacturing or ones that focus on a certain area of expertise. For instance electrical design, prototyping or manufacturing design. Using your requirements work out if you need a full product design service or if you need a design agency who focuses on a certain aspect.

Design agencies that do everything can be used to do just one aspect and this is good if you will need more work from them in the future. Design agencies that have a more focused expertise are great if you want more time spent on a certain area of your design.

Size

The size of a design agency will determine the service provided and the amount of time you get to spend with them. A large design agency may have a less personalised approach but more resources working on your product, you will have a product manager who you meet with to determine the direction your project. At a smaller design agency you will have more time with the whole team but they may have fewer resources to work on your product full time.

Current Projects

Speak to the design agencies about their current projects to determine if your project will be a priority or a side project. Work that needs to be inputted into a product will fluctuate throughout the design process as prototyping, manufacturing and design reviews take place this means that most design agencies take on multiple projects but aim to stay within their capacity.

Other aspects to think about are:

Skill levels
Experience

Are there anymore that you think should be added to the list? Comment below and let us know.

A lot of the decision making for this will be specific to your product. One aspect that is very important to one product may not be important at all for another. As we have mentioned it is very beneficial to gain a good understanding of your product, goals and requirements. We recommend completing a detailed design brief and using this information to determine your path moving forward. This is a great way to quickly understand your product and communicate it to the professionals that can help bring it to life.

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