The importance of industrial design in product development

Manufacturers can leave customers with a positive experience each time they use a product through the process of industrial design, says Jan Larsson

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By Guest on 28 March 2014
The importance of industrial design in product development

This article was first published in the Spring 2014 issue of Prime, a Microsoft technology magazine for the manufacturing industry

Industrial designers develop aspects of a product that create emotional connections with the user. They integrate all aspects of form, fit and function, optimising them to create the best possible user experience. They also create visually appealing designs that can stand the test of time and ensure that the product is ergonomically suited to fit the user, including how they will functionally relate, interface or live with the product.

How successfully they are able to do this can often determine the success of a product in the market. Firms that leave industrial design to the end of the engineering lifecycle, or out completely will struggle to find success in consumer-driven markets.

Industrial designers face a number of challenges, as manufacturers face more competition and faster development cycles than ever before. Alongside this, consumers are becoming ever more discerning and global competition continues to rise. Design and engineering teams are increasingly geographically spread, and elements of the design and engineering processes are often outsourced.

Globalisation means that industrial designers now have to take both human factors and demographics into account during the design phase. Not only do they have to consider different body shapes and sizes, genders and age ranges – but when catering to a global audience, there are different cultures, expectations, infrastructures, beliefs and preferences as well.

As such, pressure is being put on industrial designers from every angle. They have to operate in a fragmented development environment, but still develop products faster, without compromising on style or materials. Even how something is packaged can have an impact on sales.

An industrial designer’s role in the product development process is to establish the design language of a product, as well as the corporate branding and identity. They are a vital element of the process because they have insight into market trends and consumer preferences. While most people will have an understanding of their own preferences and those of friends and family, an industrial designer brings together a creative design element with a much deeper understanding of markets and trends. In an increasingly globalised product market, this is more important than ever before.

In order to deliver innovative designs that are functional, manufacturable and affordable, it is critical that industrial designers work with and satisfy the needs of all of the major stakeholders across the product lifecycle, including executive management, marketing, engineering and manufacturing. An industrial designer also has to be able to offer a lot of options and flexibility, working closely with the engineers to determine how to manage costs through the use of different manufacturing techniques, materials or functions.

To achieve this, industrial design and styling needs to be performed early in the product development process. It must be able to accommodate frequent change, as new opportunities and new requirements arise. Distinctive design and styling gives companies across almost all industries a significant competitive advantage. But in today’s markets, form, fit and function are equally important since they are crucial factors that determine whether customers have a positive experience with a product each and every time they use it. The most effective way to accomplish this is for the industrial design process to be tightly integrated into the whole product development lifecycle.

Integrated design tools allow designers to explore forms more freely while providing engineering and manufacturing teams with earlier visibility into design concepts. This enables them to provide valuable feedback before critical design decisions are made. Similarly, visualisation of this data at all levels makes it possible to accelerate design decision making, thus reducing overall product development times. One critical aspect that is often disconnected is the ability to dynamically evaluate the aesthetics and its impact on the design. Visualisation tools help designers evaluate and make decisions on which materials are best to use and how the product will look and be perceived in the market in an immersive, digital environment before any physical prototypes are made.

Design reuse is another element that can significantly benefit the design process as a whole. Reuse is typically only considered as something relevant to standard parts and engineering, but an integrated design platform offers unique capabilities that designers can leverage too. When separate groups are able to work simultaneously in an integrated environment, all data can be reused throughout the complete product development process. This helps speed up the design process by enabling designers to capture unique elements of a design and providing a means for them to be easily reused.

The key factors to enabling cutting-edge industrial design are flexibility, collaboration and integration. An integrated and collaborative platform can work to synchronise a design’s form, fit and function considerations with the requirements of other disciplines involved in the concept-to-market process. Through greater support of the early design process, it becomes possible to realise improvements in design productivity and quality.

There are increasing needs to deliver the right product to the market the first time. In order to achieve this, companies need better collaboration across product disciplines. They need ways to work across geographies, through faster design iterations as well as capture and reuse product knowledge earlier in the design process. It’s because of these demands that companies are finding it very appealing to change the way they are traditionally doing business and move from niche tools and design silos towards integrated solutions.

These factors are the impetus behind Siemens PLM Software’s development of NX, which provides flexible, idea-sparking tools atop a practical architecture that maintains downstream data integrity through data associativity. This enables industrial designers to explore shape and style while establishing a seamless transition into the company’s engineering, simulation and manufacturing domains.

NX delivers flexible, robust computer-aided industrial design and styling software that accelerates product engineering by providing fast concept design and modelling. This is the perfect culmination of form, fit and function working together and is the future of industrial design.

Jan Larsson is senior marketing director EMEA, Product Engineering Software at Siemens PLM Software

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