How to design a product

 26 June 2017

Director of Bigsmall Stephen McGilloway explains how to design a product. He also explains more about what product design is and how to get into this career.

"I’m Stephen McGilloway, director of Bigsmall, a product design and development agency based in Belfast.

"I got involved in product design straight from college and I’ve been working in the industry for about 16 years."

What is product design?

"Product design really is about trying to create a problem solve and bring products and artefacts through the market for commercial sales and mass manufacture.

"Our work is mainly studio based, working with customers and clients here on site.

"Day to day it can involve sketching, brainstorming, generating ideas and 3D CAD work.

"Typically we work 9am – 5pm but sometimes longer if the brief demands it.

"As part of our process, we take our 2D sketches and our drawings and we move those forward into the 3D environment.

"3D CAD is computerated design where we can have a full digital representation of the object or the artefact in a 3D digital environment and use that data to communicate with prototypers or with manufacturers."

Top tip for getting into this career

"If you’re coming into the industry from college or university, we really look for strong communicators in sketching and drawing.

"Those sketches and drawings help tell stories. Those stories help clients realise and understand their ideas."

How to design a product

"Today’ I’m going to talk about product design and I’m going to show you part of the product design process; which is generating ideas through sketching and drawing.

"In the classroom - if you look around - everything from the chairs that you sit on, to the computer mouse, to the light switch, all of those objects have been through a product design process.

"The product I’m going to talk about today is a bicycle light for road safety and visibility.

"In the first instance when you tackle a product design brief, you start with words and you record those words onto the page.

"You must think about:

  • The power source. The power source will most likely be a battery; it could also be a dynamo. Batteries could be interchangeable or they could be rechargeable.
  • You also have to think about the light source. Maybe an LED or a bulb and we have to think about how strong that light is and we measure light in lumens.
  • We also have to think about fixing that light onto the bicycle frame, such as a rubber strap.
  • We also have to think about the weather, things like water ingress or weatherproofing.
  • And the last thing that we have to think about overall is the PCB or the technology packet that goes inside. The PCB acts as the interface between the battery and the light.

"So if you’re working together in groups in class, the idea is to come together and talk about the main functions and the main issues around using the product. Then record those on a piece of paper, writing them down quite large and letting everyone contribute to the process."

1) Carry out product research

"The next stage is to move in to the research phase. Research is broken down in to two stages.

"In primary research, we go out and investigate cycling as a sport or as a pastime.

Sketches and drawings help tell stories. Those stories help clients realise and understand their ideas

"Bicycles themselves - we talk to cyclists and we buy products. We then reverse engineer those products, which mean we take them apart, look at their assembly, look at their construction and their materials and make an assessment of those.

"In secondary research, we look at magazines and periodicals. We look at books and we look online.

"One example, is using the internet to research projects to examine what type of lights are already in the marketplace, whose producing those lights, what they look like, their colours, their forms and their identity.

"We also use lots of design periodicals and design books and again what we’re looking at here are shapes, forms, ideas and things that other designers have done to solve a specific problem that they’ve been tasked with."

2) Create sketches

"The next stage after the secondary research is to start to look through and generate some sketching ideas.

"We do this by sketching lots of different forms and with everyone participating in the process; we can generate lots of ideas very quickly.

"So having discussed with my colleagues, we have selected idea one based on its simplicity, the ease of manufacture and the friendliness of the form.

"What we then start to do is develop the idea through more detailed sketching and drawing.

"So I’ve taken the project through to final selection and sketch stage and now’s your chance to do the same. There are other possibilities if you want to take the project further.

"From here, we move the 2D sketch into the 3D environment by generating a 3D CAD model inside a 3D CAD."

Re-capping the steps

"Just to recap what we’ve carried out as part of the design process, in the first instance we sat down and talked about the problems and parameters. This was effectively establishing the design project.

"In the second stage, we looked at primary and secondary research.

"From here we moved from the research phase into sketching and recording.

"And in the fourth phase, we moved it forward into selecting.

"So now our product has gone through the whole process, this is the final manufactured item!

"We have a little plastic packet on the back which holds our battery and PCB, our lens in the front, an on-off switch and the two little gears on the side that hold our little rubber strap.

"To weatherproof it and to recharge it, we have this little grommet at the back which plugs in and the strap goes on. Then when you turn it on, it will definitely keep you visible on the road!"

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