A Designer’s Guide to Inventing Your Next Big Idea

Inventions are not the products of “Eureka!” moments. In almost every instance, they develop through a slow and systematic process.

It starts with prescreening. A great idea isn’t necessarily a great product, and there is no reason to move forward with a design that the market doesn’t want. Understanding the market conditions, production costs, and design demands initially dictates whether an invention should become a reality.

The next steps involve defining what a product will do and whom it will serve. The answers to those questions are then incorporated into a design that clearly articulates the form and function of the product.

Working through engineering challenges and entering the prototyping stage comes next. Defining the details and testing different iterations culminates in a design document that addresses key elements related to quality and design/assembly.

Finally, the invention goes to manufacturing and is introduced to the market. It is only at this point — months or possibly years after the initial idea was conceived — that an invention becomes an actual source of revenue. Unfortunately, even after all the initial planning, it’s always uncertain whether a product will be a hit.

            The Early Stages of the Design Process Are Crucial

The most important influence on whether a product will be a success or failure is the relationship between the designer or designers and the manufacturer in the early stages of an invention. The quality of their collaboration directly dictates what kind of product ends up on the shelves.

Both parties must be eager to communicate and willing to exchange ideas in order for key design/manufacturing challenges to be resolved before ramping up production. It is tempting to want to skimp on testing, evaluating, and iterating to the right solution when time and money are ever-present concerns. But it’s impossible to develop something truly new without repeatedly testing, evaluating, and iterating.

burden initially falls on the designer. After the initial spark of inspiration, he or she must seek out a manufacturer with the right capabilities and a reputation for trustworthiness. Ideally, the vetting process has happened in advance so less time is spent searching and more time is spent collaborating.

Enlisting a manufacturer as early as possible ensures that key insights and expertise related to materials and production processes are incorporated into the initial product designs. Early action also allows the manufacturer to prepare the production facility and estimate an accurate cost quote.

Once the relationship is cemented, the manufacturer becomes a key collaborator, not just a necessary service provider. Inviting manufacturers to participate in the design process ensures that problems are identified and rectified well in advance. As a result, the designs that ultimately enter production live up to their full potential.

Manufacturer-Designer Collaboration in Action

When manufacturers collaborate with designers, it does not lead to products that are easier to produce. It leads to products that are fundamentally better and a lot more appealing to consumers as a result. PopFoam’s work on the One World Play Project is a great example.

The designer, Tim Jahnigen, presented PopFoam with a prototype of a ball that never went flat and was basically impossible to destroy. It was a great idea, but the prototype had a lot of problems. First and foremost was the cap of the ball, which stuck out and distorted the spherical shape. The PopFoam team invented a proprietary gluing process that keeps the cap flush with the ball and does not compromise performance in any way.

Standardizing the ball was another issue. Because it had to be perfectly round without the aid of inflation, production had to be precise to avoid a lot of defective product. Again, PopFoam went to the drawing board and created customer fixtures that enable the ball to cool to the perfect dimensions and specifications.

By drawing on its manufacturing experience and expertise, PopFoam was able to take a prototype and add quality and consistency. Thanks to PopFoam’s input, a clever design drawing matured into a viable product. That is a goal that all designers want to reach. The best way to get there is with the help of the right manufacturer.