Look Beyond the Product Design Process
As product designers, we focus the vast majority of our daily effort and concentration on the technical nature of our work. When we stop and take a look at the “bigger picture” sometimes we can find innovation right under our noses.
In 2009, Montie Design was cooking right along in our mechanical engineering and industrial design work when we began a process of looking at the effectiveness of the tools and methodologies we are utilizing in our work. We knew what our technical capabilities were, but wondered what we might be able to do in order to better design products that are economical to manufacture, elegant, and robust.
We decided to step outside our comfort zone and take a look at the process from an inventor’s perspective, experiencing first-hand the many challenges of taking a product from concept to marketplace. By utilizing our design facility as a learning laboratory to conceptualize, build, and market our own product, we could discover where we needed to make improvements to better serve clients.
We began development of the X-Rest, a unique portable shooting accessory. The genesis of the product came when I took my daughters to the range to teach them to shoot a rifle. One item that helps beginning shooters concentrate safely on the fundamentals is a shooting rest. The heavy, cumbersome rests I had were difficult for my daughters and I to carry, and I longed for a lightweight, stable platform that weighed only a couple of pounds.
The Montie Design team began the shooting rest project the way we do for our corporate clients when helping them innovate – by researching the marketplace. Once we determined an opening for our product, we synthesized a buffet of design concepts, utilizing our mechanical design best practices.
Moving forward, we made a concerted effort to design the product from the inventor’s point of view, conceptualizing a design and selecting materials that could keep costs down in order to reach a price point attractive to consumers. In trying to produce an extremely robust product that is easy (and inexpensive) for vendors to manufacture, we soon confirmed the practices of many of our customers. When looking to save money when manufacturing a quality product, the importance of the product design process becomes magnified exponentially.
We came up with a winning design and worked with a local vendor to build a prototype, and soon we had something for testing. It worked well, but needed some design improvements, which impacted our commercialization timeline.
After overcoming design, prototyping, and manufacturing challenges, the X-Rest was officially born. In marketing the X-Rest with a limited budget we took a grassroots approach of distributing press releases about the product along with test and evaluation units to authors, bloggers, and market influencers. We added a page for the X-Rest on our website, and once articles and reviews started appearing, we saw a rise in traffic and, more importantly, sales.
We expected moderate sales at best, and were happy to formalize our lessons learned from the process and re-train our staff as appropriate to better address customer needs. To our surprise, hunters, recreational shooters, and outdoor enthusiasts began not only to seek out the X-Rest for purchase, but to contact us directly and ask if we had plans to produce similar products.
The buzz was so great that we went back and designed a couple of new products to meet demand —which generated even more interest. Soon we were adding and re-allocating resources to keep up, and the Montie Gear line of outdoor products was born. Although revenue from Montie Gear represents a minority of our total corporate earnings, it is growing at a pace of more than 100% per year and continues to provide us with in-house opportunities to improve our product design process.
In addition to gaining invaluable first-hand knowledge of how companies launch new products into the marketplace, and what challenges that brings to the design process, we also reinforced the importance of taking the consumer into account from the beginning. Many inventors think they have an idea for the greatest thing since sliced bread; but have they considered that maybe the marketplace is on a low-carb diet?
As product designers, we have an obligation to meet our clients’ technical specifications for the products they are developing. We also have an obligation to look beyond just the product design process and give feedback to inventors before they move forward with anything less than a good fit for today’s savvy consumer.
Montie Roland is the president of Montie Design, an innovative product design and development firm with core competencies in mechanical engineering and industrial design. He enjoys finding innovative solutions to customer requirements, boasting over 17 years of experience engineering products in diverse manufacturing market spaces including industrial, commercial, and military. The firm operates out of the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, with its wealth of industry-leading technology, resources, and customers.
For more information, visit www.montie.com.