Industrial Design: Great application, but the product went nowhere

Jan. 10, 2008
Hello, my name is Tim Nugent.

In this and future columns, I hope to educate and entertain you with war stories about industrial design gone bad and lessons learned. I also hope to provide useful ideas about design methods and approaches, as well as tips on implementing facets of industrial design.

Many companies develop innovative and technically correct product concepts. But, unfortunately, their products often fail from a lack of up-front homework. For example, years ago, a military contractor purchased a major player in the North American appliance-manufacturing industry. The company then developed a product called the Radar Range. It was a great application of advanced microwave technology. However, the product bombed because the company didn’t find and research a target market. Simply launching an excellent product doesn’t mean it will sell.

Doing things right from the start would have made the microwave’s success more likely. Instead, it ended up as just another number in a parts catalog. Lessons learned: find the target market, then identify what the product really does. Discover who makes the purchasing decisions, whether in a corporation, medical facility, or household.

An initial investment in industrial design can also raise the bottom line. That’s because designers ask countless probing questions to find out user needs and desires. A design firm can sometimes even suggest an innovation or another new market.

Though it may seem obvious, make sure marketing, engineering, design, and manufacturing meet together at project start. Each of these parties represent an ideal based on their profession, so it’s helpful for everyone to brainstorm without prejudice and express different ideas. The organic nature of this process often leads to innovation at its best, while helping eliminate expensive mistakes early on.

Next month, we’ll talk more about research and whether qualitative or quantitative research better specifies products.

Tim Nugent is the Design Director at Pulse Global LLC in Santa Ana, Calif. ( The firm focuses on industrial design for medical devices, industrial equipment, consumer electronics, and other products and has worked for everything including startups to Fortune 100 companies. Got a question about industrial design? You can reach Tim at [email protected].

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