How startups can integrate with design partners

While it might feel like the rubber truly meets the road at the manufacturing stage, the design process is truly where creators’ great ideas take shape. It’s also where you’ll make major decisions that impact your production and deployment.

Startups that have lean budgets and even leaner staff then benefit even more from a strong design process—often with a design partner to guide it.

Here are 5 tips on how to structure a successful design process, including one startup’s experience with integrating a design partner.

  1. Understand what you are trying to build: It always comes back to what your users want. Be clear on what space your product is filling in the marketplace, including a design that takes into account not only what works the best from your perspective but what’s most intuitive and pleasing from a user experience perspective. Strategy and scope matter—even when you are working at entrepreneur speed to try and get products to market.

  2. Verify product and process design: Startups and product creators often believe that their proof of concept is already a mature prototype that can be mass manufactured. In fact, what you have at this point is the product development equivalent of a sketch on a napkin. Refining the structure further shapes your product’s strategy and scope.

  3. Nail down the sourcing—including the reliability of your suppliers and factories: Here’s where things become more concrete. Unreliable components and parts can be another stumbling block. Lining up lead times on major components in your system is as important to product reliability and delivery as designing for manufacturability. Ensure you have the proper selection, capability, requirements and, of course, costs. Not all components vendors or factory partners are reputable or suited for your production run, so ask for references and check them thoroughly. If you’re not 100% comfortable, find someone else. And remember: Scale changes everything—the factory you use, where you buy components, what sort of tooling you need, how much warehouse space you require, and so on.

  4. Test, and test again: In product development, there are constantly tradeoffs around the many options that exist and how to access them to optimize your development experience, meaning, increasing your performance while lowering your costs. In a design review, testing is where you verify all the assumptions you made while balancing your requirements with your timeline. It’s important to note that testing includes more than just building out and carrying out testing requirements, plans and results. This is where you set up a QA process for the long-term, ensuring it’s easy to validate designs as you scale and define how you can tackle quality issues later on.

  5. Take the time to do it right: During your design review, create a forward-looking program management plan that can help keep teams on track to hit the deadlines you’ve set for manufacturing and, eventually, delivery to customers. Often, when things go wrong, teams can be tempted to rush processes or cut corners to try and still hit deadline, which can backfire if a shortcut eventually requires rework—quickly eroding those initial savings. Rework and delays can also lead to lost sales, particularly if you have preorders or purchase orders already in the pipeline.

Notes from the field: Not Impossible Labs

The team at Not Impossible Labs, a technology incubator and R&D lab that creates technology for the sake of humanity, prototyped a device to help both the deaf and hearing communities experience music together like never before. From that came Music: Not Impossible: a non-perceptible latency wireless wearable that translates music into vibration and colorful LED lights in perfect synchronization. Wearers can adjust the intensity of the vibrations to their personal preferences.

After years of developing proof of concept versions of the technology on their own, the Not Impossible team realized that integrating a design partner could help expedite and refine the product. They also needed to test the product with large groups of people in concert venues.

Not Impossible engaged Avnet to move from a handful of alpha proof of concepts to 220 beta products for an activation at a popular music festival. To get there, they needed to change some of the hardware design, with more and varying actuators. They also needed to adjust the softgoods design to help amp up the aesthetics of the device and change the communication protocol from Wi-Fi to LoRa (long range, low power).

“Avnet was instrumental in getting every one of the finished Music: Not Impossible devices into the concert venue,” said Mick Ebeling, CEO and founder of Not Impossible Labs. “Avnet’s ongoing and unflinching support and expertise in product development and bringing products to market at scale enables us to continue focusing on creating innovative technology for the sake of humanity.”

Dive deeper into the development of the Music: Not Impossible product—from inception to live activation in Las Vegas.

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