In a recent post entitled “Are You Disregarding the Importance of Industrial Design?” I discussed the importance of industrial design. I believe companies who manufacture industrial products, and small to medium sized businesses in particular, tend to ignore this important source of competitive advantage. How the product looks influences the meaning that customers assign to the product. It is the meaning of the product that impacts the emotional aspect of the purchase decision.
In the previous post, I referenced the well-known Apple® Ipad®. What about a good example of an industrial product? The picture below is an analytical instrument from major supplier of thermal analysis instrumentation. What does the design of this product communicate? This particular supplier positions itself as an innovator in this space and the “look and feel” of its products is meant to communicate that.
But if industrial design is important, is it better to use internal or external resources to create that design, or maybe a combination? A recent article in the September issue of the Journal of Product Innovation Management contributes to that discussion. There are several conclusions. First, a focus on design clearly improves a company’s innovation performance. Second, relying on internal resources is better when the product is considered a market novelty as this helps guarantee that concepts stay confidential. Finally, for products they consider “product imitations”, the conclusion is that external collaboration is better. Given their definition of “product imitations”, I believe this conclusion can be extended to many of the typical projects undertaken by manufacturers of industrial, analytical, medical, and other similar products.
My own experience collaborating with outside design resources has been very positive. They bring a fresh look to how customers interact with the device and what the product “look” needs to communicate. The “look” needs to help the customer understand how the product will be used but also to evoke a positive emotional response. An outside resource is not encumbered with pre-conceived notions and can propose options that would never had been considered otherwise. For small to medium sized businesses it is especially important to establish a relationship with these outside firms as the cost to develop and maintain these specialized resources is significant.
Do you have experience in collaborating with outside design firms? What have you found to be the advantage? Any disadvantages?
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