Taking a concept to market

 12 September 2011

With creative products, taking a concept to market is all about getting your idea into a form where it can then be developed, produced and sold in the marketplace.

Mark Gabbertas, product designer
Mark Gabbertas, product designer

Generally this means working with manufacturers and retailers to ensure the product is made to standards, then marketed and sold through the right outlets.

1. Guidelines for design

Know your target market

When designing products, it is imperative that you know who will 'consume' your product. The more you know about them, the more you can understand what they want.

  • What do they do?
  • What is their age group?
  • How do they live?
  • What is their level of disposable income?
  • What other products and services do they buy and subscribe to?
  • What trends are these consumers following?

These questions need to be considered, so there is an opportunity for your design to stand out from the others.

The answers will help you decide what to produce, how to promote, at what price to sell and where to market for a truly successful design in all respects.

Stay involved

Keep improving and modifying your design to simplify it as much as possible. 

Whatever you are designing, bear in mind that to carry your vision and original concept through to the final product, you need to be involved right up to the end of the design process.

You cannot expect someone else to take a sketch and turn it into the product that you had envisioned without taking their own initiative on design.

You will maintain not only creative control by being protector and developer of your design, but also secure a larger stake in the final product's returns.

Materials and processes

Use materials and processes best suited to your application. This is not just for aesthetic purposes, but in order to capitalise on the properties of the chosen material and optimise the manufacturing process for the best balance in production quality, overall cost and maintaining design integrity.

When working with manufacturers, they will want to understand the importance and value of your chosen materials and processes as this will affect how the product is constructed, finished and shipped. It will also affect the end cost and also the perceived value by the consumer.

Manufacturers are constantly in a battle to reduce the former and increase the latter for greater market success. Without a satisfactory argument for choice of materials and processes, a cheaper and more effective option will be pursued to keep the end product competitive on the shop shelves.

Resolve your design as much as possible

Keep improving and modifying your design to simplify it as much as possible. The more complete a design is, the easier it is for manufacturers and retailers to understand and buy into your vision for the final product.

A working prototype, block model or resolved 3D design can quickly convey the concept and test the water before investing in a production run.

Ideally, work with a manufacturer to optimise your design using their immense production knowledge. They may also be able to guide you on the best way to create variations such as size, colour and function ranges.

2. Understand the supply chain

This is a very important process to understand when working in the field of design. If you are designing lifestyle goods for example, you can choose to design, develop and market these yourself, or to work with manufacturers and retailers to get these to the end consumer, or you can have a mix of both.

Generally, the designer will work with a manufacturer to design and develop a product which the manufacturer will then send to market via retailers. The designer is paid a retainer and/or royalty and the manufacturer manages the risk/reward for taking the product to market.

Increasingly with smaller products which require less investment, designers market products under their own brand whilst subcontracting production to manufacturers and liaising directly with retailers.

3. Working with manufacturers


You can find manufacturers both in the UK and abroad that can help produce your design. Make sure you research their past work and see examples of their current production capabilities. Always get at least three quotes for comparison and take into account sampling, packaging and delivery costs.

Designer / manufacturer relationship

Who calls the shots depends on who is taking the product to market. If the designer has their own brand, they will need to be in control of the whole concept to market process, and the manufacturer will only be one of several suppliers.

Where the designer is working to a manufacturer's brief, the manufacturer will manage the entire process and will require input from the designer throughout the design and development process.

Prototype to production

Who calls the shots depends on who is taking the product to market.

Many things can change on the journey from prototype to production. The design may need to be revised several times before it is fit for market – the designer may need to alter their ideas, expectations and vision for the product.

For example, the end cost may need to be lower, or the product may need to be self-assembled for shipping ease or revised to pass the required safety standards.

The packaging and distribution of your product also needs to be considered at development stage. It needs as much consideration as the product because it will be the first thing the consumer might see (point of sale) and also needs to be compact and durable enough for wholesale distribution (boxing and palletisation).

4. Working with design retailers

Design retailers work with designers and a stable of their trusted manufacturers to create their own unique products. Here the retailer manages the entire process and both the designer and the manufacturer are contracted to deliver the finished product ready for distribution and sale.

It is important to know the kind of design retailer your designs would match with. Once you have found the right company, you need to present your ideas in a clear, concise way with maximum effect.

Retailers want products that will sell and sell well. They often want a product range as opposed to one design, as a family of products can have a greater appeal to the consumer.

Royalty payment model

Companies often have a sliding scale for royalty payments for submitted designs. This can range from those that are completely resolved to those that are simple ideas requiring further research and development.

You must understand that the manufacturer takes a greater risk when the design is just an idea, as it may not be viable in the long run. There is no wrong approach, only different levels of control, responsibility and eventual income.

Advantages of a design retailer

Working with a design retailer can be good for your CV and get you some good national and international press. It also gives you the opportunity to launch a product with support from an experienced partner and learn more about the whole process.

Drawbacks of working with a design retailer

Understand that the manufacturer takes a greater risk when the design is just an idea

The financial returns for a product made in collaboration with a design retailer are limited by retail sales. Any royalties will be based on the cost price as opposed to the wholesale price.

In some cases you may need to source the right manufacturer, manage them and oversee production too.

Understand the retailer's perspective

The retailer is looking for maximum value from this relationship and a good return from the final product. This can mean that the designer is working hard to reduce the end cost to the retailer, which in turn could also reduce their income as a result.

The retailer sets and experiences consumer trends. Therefore they can decide at any point in the development process that the product needs to be radically changed or frozen until further notice.

It is important to negotiate contracts to ensure that design integrity is preserved wherever possible. So if the design is not taken any further by the retailer, the design can be taken back by the designer to pursue alone or with another partner.

5. Costing a product

When costing a product, there are many considerations including your time and effort in bringing the product to market.

Generally the unit price will be based on materials, tooling costs, packaging, distribution, storage, and your mark up amongst others.

6. Contracts

It is important to have contracts in place with manufacturers and retailers to ensure all agreements and payment terms are documented for future reference. Some basic contracts you may need to consider are:

  • Exclusivity contract – a manufacturer or retailer may want to exclusively market or sell your design. This type of contract will help clarify important items like exact product version, colour, finish, term of contract, minimum volumes, agreed regions and payment terms and any other conditions of contract.
  • NDA contract – this is a Non Disclosure Agreement. It is particularly important to protect your idea when discussing it with manufacturers and anyone else in the supply chain.
  • Manufacturing contract – this contract contains all the terms and conditions agreed when working with the manufacturer. It will cover unit costs, tooling price, minimum order quantities, agreed lead time for samples and so on.

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