Our guide to early-stage product design

Last month we were shortlisted for the prestigious Design in Innovation Award - an award which seeks to recognise those projects which employed early-stage design most effectively to improve and/or accelerate innovation outcomes.

We’ve blogged before about how to design and develop a product collaboratively and we’ve also shared our tips for how to run a successful Kickstarter project. In that spirit, and given the judges at Innovate 2016 seemed to like our approach, we thought we’d share our experience of early-stage design.

Design is what we do

Design principles inspire everything we do. We followed a thirteen step design process for doppel, however we also followed steps three to eleven for the development of the doppel app and doppel packaging. 

1. Opportunity identification

This step defined the project.

2. Observation and interviews

We worked with potential customers to refine the opportunity.

3. Keyword identification

A group activity that helped drive the rest of the design and development process.

4. Group sourced inspiration boards

These included texture/material, colour, product, form and competitor images.

5. Initial concepts

Visual 2D designs derived from the inspiration images were created to bring our visions to life.

6. Concept review

A team process where essential and desirable criteria were defined.

7. Concept development

In collaboration with the engineering team, renders, CAD and physical mock-ups were produced.

8. Focus groups

Refined concept presentation with a ‘reality check’ from consumer’s feedback.

9. Prototype development

Insights from users and our own experimentation enabled us to develop a more realistic aesthetic and functional prototype. This included 3D printed parts as well as adapted existing products.

10. User testing

This was an extensive and time consuming process explained fully below. We repeated steps eleven and twelve many times before step thirteen is reached.

11. Final design

We created prototype versions in the final materials and finishes.

12. Experience design

As well as user testing the product, we also tested the app, ‘unboxing’, product setup and user experience.

13. Design for manufacture

A long, skilled process about cost, compromise and viability. 

Designed for people

Although doppel began life as a Masters project, our work has always had a commercial focus. It was important for us to engage potential customers from the very beginning to better understand their wants and needs. Here are some the processes we used to inspire the design.

Observation research: We watched how our potential customers interacted and behaved in a specific environment. With permission we videoed people in their work environment, watching how they fidgeted when they were unfocused, their nervous traits when in a meeting, or how people calmed themselves when preparing to give a speech. These observations were the bases for our initial design development. This is an exceptionally informative process as there is next to no false or contrived information. We think that this is a relatively under utilised practice.

Focus groups: Once we had a basic prototype we ran focus groups with people from different demographics. These informal discussions allowed us to hear people's concerns about staying focused at work and staying calm while under pressure. 

Scientific product trials: These were the most expensive and most valuable research we did. We engaged an independent scientist to conduct controlled tests in a psychology lab that gave us numerical data on the psychological and physiological effects of doppel on a range of people. These statistics have been essential when marketing and selling a product like doppel.

What did we learn?

When we conceived doppel, the wearables market was already reaching its peak. We struggled a lot with people's preconception of wearables, especially around monitoring functionality. We felt that to be truly innovative and disruptive in the wearables market we needed to rebel against this notion. 

We spent a lot of time talking to existing users and tried to understand what the really beneficial elements were. doppel is wearable item that does not monitor, as a result we have had to adapt and craft our marketing messaging to ensure we don’t miss-communicate the features of doppel . Being so different in such a topical market has meant we have had to often rethink and re-frame our challenges. 

Having a very new but narrow existing wearable market has allowed us to identify new innovation opportunities and routes to commercialisation within it. But ultimately we feel that we have created a much more desirable, valuable product that better aligns technology with market demand.