Product Development Process

Design goals and specifications

Setting design goals and specifications keeps you focused. It gives you a measure of what you’re aiming to do and whether you’ve achieved the goals. And very importantly, it protects you from the notorious product development trap of product feature creep…in which the multitudinous microelectronic advancements, while useful, render products less reliable and intuitive and therefore less useful.

Clearly specify the scope of the product—who it is for, what it should do, what it won’t do, how big it is, how much effort and reach is required to operate it, what loads it will see, how it will operate, how the end user will access it, can it be customized, what does it need to connect to, environmental considerations, is it portable, what are the safety considerations… and on and on.

Conceptual designs

Conceptual models are quick and easy ways to get an idea across so others can react to it—before you invest much time or money. Drawings, cardboard mockups, foam core models, paper clips, scissors, napkins and cord—these are the low cost, down and dirty materials we use to quickly “test” or communicate ideas. “Paper models” can demonstrate what a User Interface will be like.

A “Wizard of Oz” technique, illustrating “what will happen next” can get across how something may work, even before you have a working prototype. Making modifications to existing products can be cost-effective and allows a comparison to “what is”. Developing easily changed models using 3D software can be very effective, and it’s just a step away from “printing” a 3D model.

Accessibility and ease of use

Designing for ALL, including those with disabilities, is central to our design process. Controls are designed for ease of use by everyone, even those with limited physical, and at times cognitive, abilities. Products are developed to accommodate different aspects of use—for the end user with impaired physical abilities, to therapists or family members, who might be setting it up for use.

Design development tools

We use many different design tools, but the two most essential are our 3D CAD program, SolidWorks, and our 3D printer, a Stratasys Dimension printer. We fabricate basic prototypes from plastic, wood and some metal in our workshop.

For precision-machined components, we use outside vendors, including quick-turn prototype houses for precision CNC-machined parts and a machine shop without any fancy electronics. Industrial Designers are contracted, and they use software tools such as Alias.

Electronics development tools used include an assortment of software development tools and development and test equipment. The BIG thing here is to have someone who can think very differently, understands the range of end users and access methods available, and is aware of how the technology needs to play together…all the while keeping an eye to the future in electronic device communication and interactivity.

Prototype development

We use a mix of low and high tech to develop and test our ideas and designs. We may spend time in the workshop, building mock-ups out of wood, plastic and metal; or design 3D parts and print them with our 3D printer to generate parts.

Once the plastic printed parts pass the tests and we’re closing in on a design we want to test with end users, we use outside resources. We either use a local machine shop or upload files to a CNC prototype shop and have parts machined from durable materials to create a fully operational prototype to test the functionality and design with end users and key people.

Next: Putting it to the test