Product Development Process in a Product Design Consulting Firm
One of the most promising industries that is all set to grow on the shoulders of the ever increasing talent pool in India is the product design industry. The opportunities are many fold and include product design in many industries especially from overseas clients. However, the industry also has its share of challenges. This article attempts to study these opportunities and challenges through the experiences of a product design firm located in Bangalore called Bang Design.
The Product Design industry in India is all set to expand as international clients look towards India for design projects due to its increasing talent pool. There are about 25 product design firms in India with Pune, Bangalore and Ahmedabad being the major hubs. These firms are distributed in expertise across different facets of design like automobile design, engineering and industrial design, prototyping, brand design, animation, packaging design, equipment, instrumentation and interface design. The dynamics of the industry are complex and challenging since it requires the translation of abstract ideas and latent client requirement into tangible products. The study of Bang Design, a product design consulting firm located in Bangalore provides a good perspective on this.
Bang Design - Overview
Bang Design has an expertise in interface and transportation design and is known for its large range of products across different sectors like digital and mobility business, healthcare, infrastructure, retail and wireless. Started in 2000, the firm has shown considerable growth in the last few years as overseas clients are increasingly turning to the Indian firms for product and industrial design projects. The firm has a core competence in hardcore technology products with a focus on design intensive products rather than engineering products. It engages with clients from ideation to manufacturing stage depending on the client’s requirements.
Product Development Process at Bang Design
The product design approach of the firm consists of three steps – ‘inform, ideate and implement’ which get translated into following three stages of the product development process
- Social Science or Ethnographic research phase
- Creative Conceptualization phase
- Engineering phase
Social Science Phase
The Social Science phase is a key strength of Bang Design in the product development process. Once the client requirements are known to the firm, a meeting is conducted with people of diverse backgrounds to brainstorm and formulate hypotheses about the product and customer needs with respect to that product. An ethnographic research is conducted by a team of social scientists for about 3 weeks. During this period, this team goes to the field where the product would be used, tries to personally visualize the need for the product, understand and profile the customers who would actually use the product and identify possible features desired by customers in the end product. The purpose of this phase is to decide the theme of the product and identify the latent needs of the customer.
Creative Conceptualization Phase
The Creative Conceptualization phase involves detailed designing in which the sketches and designs of the product are made. The team decides on the materials to be used, system context of the product and initial dimensions and uses these to develop some basic prototypes (made of thermocole, wood, plastic, paper, foam) in house. This is done to get a touch and feel of the product. It is an iterative phase where regular client feedback is taken. The deliverable of this phase is a refined view of the final product.
In the Engineering phase, the team tries to interface the external design components and internal electronic components. In case of inability to meet client specifications or mismatch of the engineering and design elements, the second phase may have to be revisited. This phase involves rapid prototyping and regular demonstrations to the client. The materials used are as close as possible to the ones to be used for the final product so as to simulate most of the properties. The final deliverable of this phase is a CAD/CAM model or a prototype which can be used for tooling and large scale production.
In addition to the stages mentioned above, Bang Design may also get involved in pilot testing depending on the client’s needs and maturity level. Mature clients mostly conduct pilot tests on their own. Some issues faced during pilot testing phase include fragile nature of the material used, prototype's inability to withstand mishandling by some customers and difficulty in gauging the reactions of end consumers. The firm may handhold some clients to the manufacturing phase by getting them in touch with different vendors. However, ideally it would not like to be involved in the manufacturing since the risk reward model is not quite viable as product success cannot be ascertained in design phase.
The key features of the product development process at Bang Design are highlighted in Exhibit 1.
Key Features of the Product Development Process
Social Science Phase
Key strength of Bang design in the product development process. It has a high rate of success because of its strong market orientation & better understanding of customer needs which is due to sharp and early product definition & concept.
Fluid Product Teams
The people are organized as product teams. Once a client project is initiated a team is formed that changes in composition and size depending upon the project requirements.
| Iterative Process
Numerous iterations are done in the following instances:
This increases the product development lead time which is currently 9-12 months
- Client feedback
- Mismatch between design and engineering features
- Manufacturing infeasibility
|Pricing of the Design Services
- Ranges from Rs. 4 lakhs to Rs. 20 lakhs per project. Margin is about 50%
- The pricing decision is currently based on the deliverable and maturity of the client since the type of client determines the amount of time and effort. Also Bang Design gets to learn a lot from the mature clients.
| Payment Mechanism
Three tiered payment system – an industry standard
- 15% is paid upfront and another 15% on closure of design
- 50% of the fees is paid once project deliverable is met which could be a CAD/CAM design or both level I and II prototypes
- Rest 20% is paid after the product goes into mass manufacturing.
Opportunities and Challenges for the Product Design Industry
The opportunities for the Indian product design industry going forward are expected to increase as Indian firms move beyond labor cost arbitrage to product innovations. Design outsourcing is probably one of the big things to happen over the horizon. As the competitive pressure increases on multinational companies to create new products, improve features and functionality and bring products faster to the market, the importance of India as a destination with a good talent pool and ability to provide complex end to end design solutions will also increase.
The challenges faced by design firms in India are external factors like lack of prototyping expertise, custom delays which make it difficult to transport small volume of products to the clients and an insufficient variety of components which makes component procurement difficult . From the product development process point of view, identification of the latent needs of clients especially when customer needs are not clearly articulated or defined and the uncertainty linked to startup clients in product launch and payment are further challenges that design firms have to face. Besides this, like Bang Design most of the design firms also have to face organizational issues like defining and demarcating roles and responsibilities distinctly between designers and engineers, hiring employees who can visualize the overall product and its system context and communicating abstract ideas within internal teams.
The study indicates that the product development industry is very dynamic because of the abstract and creative nature of ideas involved from the inception of the process. There are various stages involved in translating the ideas into final products and applications, and each stage has its own set of challenges. Therefore resource building initiatives like developing complementary skills in areas like social and material sciences and building a centralized database within each firm to document best practices would facilitate the product development process. Besides this, a focus on marketing activities and developing an understanding about clients’ business, revenues and payment history would enhance client acquisitions and relations.
Going forward, with the increasing opportunities in the global market place, building complementary industries like prototyping, strengthening the intellectual capital within the firm and introduction of policies which facilitate component sourcing and product shipping would give an impetus to the Indian product design industry and help it to compete globally, thus making it an important hub for product design in the years to come.
Ganesh N. Prabhu is an Associate Professor in the Corporate Strategy & Policy Area at IIM Bangalore. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Science from Elphinstone College, Mumbai, a PG Diploma in Rural Management from IRMA, Anand & has completed Fellow Program in Management from IIM Ahmedabad. He can be reached at email@example.com
Vasuta Agarwal (PGP 2007-09) holds a B.E. in Electronics & Instrumentation Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saurabh Bhansali (PGP 2007-09) holds the Chartered Accountancy Degree & is a Commerce Graduate from H.L.College of Commerce, Ahmedabad. He can be reached at email@example.com
Kunal Gupta (PGP 2007-09) holds a B.Tech. in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shyam Patwari (PGP 2007-09) holds a B.E. in Electronics & Communication Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Surathkal and can be reached at email@example.com
Hitesh Tak (PGP 2007-09) holds a B.Tech in Marine Engineering from Marine Engineering & Research Institute, Kolkata and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Strategy, Product Design Process, Consulting, Bang Design
- Bang Design Official Website, http://www.bang.co.in, Last accessed on April 23, 2009.
- Nussbaum, Bruce, 'Design Outsourcing may be big, think India', Business Week , Oct 2005, http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2005/10/india_is_gainin.html. Last accessed on April 23, 2009.
- Giridhar, Chitra, 'Talent pool, outsourcing propel India's design firms', Electronics Design, Strategy, News , Jul 2006, http://www.edn.com/article/CA6354217.html. Last accessed on April 23, 2009.