The Lean Design Process

If I said we can produce great work and it’ll be fast and cheap then you’ll tell me I’m lying. And you are right, it is impossible. However we have spent the last year working hard to find the right compromise for our clients. 

Putting more consideration into the physical design and user experience of a product early on in a project will always result in a better offering down the line. Many times people have come to us with an idea that they have already spent time and effort trying to develop alone, and then come to us wanting us to just ‘make it look better’. 

However without undertaking in-depth research, they will have likely overlooked a vital step in the user experience journey that effectively halves the potential market. Without consulting an experienced designer or engineer, they’ve risked following a design route that will double their R&D costs. 

Making it ‘look better’ won’t solve these problems.  

The best projects we have worked on have been with clients who have approached us early. When their idea is nothing more than a concept with a clear route to market and proven plausibility. 

This leads us to the first step in the Morrama design process: 

 

Asking the right questions

We have lost a few clients by asking the hard questions. Questioning a digital start-up why they really wanted to develop a piece of hardware in an already saturated market when they could pull data from almost any smart wearable out there; they decided to ditch the whole idea. We lost out on a project, but we saved them thousands in R&D. Questioning the timescales of an entrepreneur wanting to get a phone case concept through the design phase and onto Kickstarter in 4 weeks, made them realise that the steps they were missing out were vital for establishing a USP and a route to market.

Very often we ask these questions and never hear back from a prospective client again, but start-ups need to truly believe in what they are selling for it to be successful. And if they cannot convince us, how are they going to convince their customers?  Asking the right questions early on can save everyone involved a lot of time, money and disappointment.

 

If a prospective client cannot convince us of their product, how are they going to convince their customers?

Discover

 

1. Discover 

Using the tried and tested double diamond design approach, we aim to take our clients ideas from concept to prototype in 15-20 days. This is split into three phases; the first is exploration. 

At this point we ask as many questions as we can (yes more questions) to quickly narrow down the opportunities. Using mood boards, research images and early stage sketch ideas, we establish the brand language and how it will be conveyed through user experience, material choice and styling. 

We aim to involve the targets user in our design process as much as possible. In the early stages quantitive feedback is most useful. This might mean putting together questionnaires ourselves to push out via Facebook or using our clients contacts to gather information. We have gotten pretty good at understanding the needs and wants of the various user groups, but bringing in another 50 minds can highlight something we may have missed. 

 

We are pretty good at understanding the needs and wants of the various user groups, but bringing in another 50 minds can highlight something we may have missed. 

Define

2. Define

With a clear design specification and design language confirmed, the next step is the fun part. 

Finding inspiration in anything from movies (we once designed a piece of wearable tech inspired by the Batmobile) to architecture (there will soon be an office product on a market with similarities to the Capital Gate skyscraper) we bring something unique to every product we design. 

 

Finding inspiration in anything from movies to architecture we bring something unique to every product we design.

 

Our project list to date includes kitchenware, wearable tech, IOT devices, luggage and even transport design. We are an adaptable team made up of very different design thinkers; the risk-taker who pushes boundaries, the critical realist who considers the practicalities of manufacture and costs, and the middle man who pinpoints the balance for each individual project.  With this combination we are able to take an idea and turn it into reality. 

Approaching each project as if it was a portfolio piece, our enthusiasm for what we do is obvious to anyone who has worked with us. 

3. Develop

Moving into 3D enables us to develop the concept to meet the clients requirements for assembly, prototyping and/or design for manufacture. When you can see it from all angles and begin applying materials and finishes, the product really begins to come to life. 

Roughly prototyping iterations either through 3D printing or by hand in the workshops means that we can test ideas as early as possible. There really is nothing better than being able to see, feel and physically test concepts as soon as possible in order to really get the best understanding of the design.  

 

3D printing or modelling concepts by hand in the workshops means that we can test ideas as early as possible. 

 

Then comes the details.  Fixing points, split lines, surface textures, colours… all the little things that really make the difference between a perfectly functional product and a really well considered design.  This process is my personal favourite. I’ll happily spend hours tweaking fillets, re-positioning screw fixings, and modelling custom surface textures until the design feels right.  

In order to keep costs down in this stage we proceed quickly, minimising the number of iterations and working quickly internally as a team to make decisions. It's hard to accept, but this isn't going to be the final design. There will be opportunities for improvement and development later, but at this stage it is important to reach a final design that can be taken to prototype.

4. Deliver

This stage varies depending on the requirements of the client. The three important questions are:

  • what is the prototype for? 
  • is it important that it functions perfectly and/or looks realistic?
  • what is your prototyping budget?

Especially with smart electronic devices that require miniaturisation and custom PCB design, it is hugely ambitious (although not impossible) to have a prototype that both looks the part and works flawlessly at this stage. Especially with budget constraints, we often we help clients build a realistic looking prototype that can be touched, worn and photographed with a separate working prototype that accurately demonstrates the function. Together, this is enough to communicate the idea to users and investors and gain financial support for further development. 

5. Iterate

The ideal scenario at this point is that our clients secure funding. This may be from investors, through grants or via a crowdfunding campaign (all of which we have experience pitching for and can offer support with this process). We have three Kickstarter campaigns running this summer so watch this space!

It's at this stage we usually form a partnership with our clients. Effectively becoming their in-house design team working with the target users, improving the design, developing it for manufacture and sourcing and liaising with factories and engineers to find the right capabilities and expertise to make the product a reality. 

 

We partner with our clients, becoming their in-house design team to develop the products ready for manufacture.

 

This stage is always the longest and most expensive. However we can handle the project management to make the process as smooth as possible and to ensure the design remains true to the brand and isn't compromised by rushed decisions or poor communication between the parties involved. 

We join our clients on their journey from early concepting through to manufacturing and will support them in all of their design needs; branding, packaging, marketing and even UI, up until their product reaches the market [and for all future products to come!]. Our aim is to become an invaluable asset to the start-ups that we work with, building long term relationships through the work that we do and the successes that we achieve... together. 

 

Jo BarnardComment