The Hidden Truths Behind Relevant Experience in Product Development
When selecting a product development firm for your project, there are multiple factors to consider: the size of the firm, the relative cost, location, proximity, recommendations, reputation, specific disciplines, etc. But perhaps the question we’re asked most frequently is if our firm has relevant experience to a client’s category. It seems obvious. A potential client wants to choose a firm that has done work similar to what they need.
And we agree. The most important factor to create a great product is whether the firm has relevant experience to make the project successful. But what IS relevant experience?
Priority Designs has been providing product development services for nearly 30 years, and in that time, we’ve had exposure to almost every product type and category. This includes residential, home and garden, plumbing, medical, dental, veterinary, sporting goods, safety gear, wearable electronics, and so on. Over the years, we’ve come to an interesting conclusion: relevant experience can come in many forms, and it’s not always obvious.
"Relevant experience can come in many forms, and it’s not always obvious."
For some projects, that relevant experience is familiarity with the product or category. But for others, it can be expertise in the materials and processes used, a unique approach, or the knowledge around a specific topic. Sometimes the relevant experience is simply being comfortable being uncomfortable, and the ability to push the limits, and try something different, and go where no one has gone before. Oftentimes, the key relevant experience comes from a project or category completely different than the one we are working on. Having the ability to cross-pollinate expertise from one product category to a completely new an unrelated one often provides very unique solutions.
We’ve seen that many product successes aren’t tied to directly obvious “relevant” experience, but the right experience needed for a project can come from a variety of sources. We’ll go through some examples, and show you how to identify relevant experience for your project.
Relevant experience comes from previous work on the same product in the same industry.
It seems obvious, but with each project we work on and every subsequent product iteration we become experts in the category itself. Quite simply, practice makes perfect and working on particular types of products enough times allows you to get really, really good.
Every project has a unique development path from concept to production which results in unique solutions for each client. However, in the process, we develop a deep understanding and expertise in the category itself, the materials and processes used, familiarity with the consumer and retail chain, and the ongoing creative mentality to push the boundaries.
Some experience is directly obvious to the project at hand. We’ve designed golf clubs for TaylorMade and Nike.
Plumbing fixtures for American Standard and Delta.
Lacrosse heads for STX, Warrior and Gait.
Lawn and garden tools for Lowes and Corona.
Commercial food dispensers for Coke, Yonannas, f’real and Nestle.
Whether it’s multiple projects for the same client, or similar product for multiple clients, the skill and expertise in any particular category grows with each effort.
Relevant experience comes from different industries, but related product categories.
Some products have aspects of development that are similar, but the product is used in different applications for different industries. In these cases, it’s helpful to pull experience from these compatible product types, regardless of industry.
What does football, military, and baseball have in common? Helmets.
Surgery, physical therapy, and lacrosse? Gloves.
Golf, home health care, and defibrillators and ventricular assistance? They are all improved with wearable electronic garments.
One specific example is Sirchie, who came to us to design their new first responder gear. The goal was to create a design that improved protection, but also allowed more agility and movement, while fitting a larger range of users. Now, we had not worked on first responder gear before, but the design team leveraged previous work on other types of protective equipment. This includes baseball catchers pads, football and hockey shoulder pads, and firefighting kneepads. The experience from a sporting goods application proved to be extremely valuable to the project.
When it came time to fabricate prototypes, the shop used methods of integrating soft goods with hard plates refined under those previous projects. They referred back to recently explored methods for integration of hard and soft goods. We were familiar with how to create adjustable sizing to meet the 5th to 95th percentile user group. The resulting gear provided improved protection with decreased inventory for police and military units.
Relevant experience comes from unrelated projects, but where expertise developed in one category can be applied to a new one with surprising results.
Can relevant experience come from a completely different product in a completely different industry? We think so. Applying expertise around a particular topic can be just as valuable.
One such example is how work on a lacrosse pocket helped us design a better wearable home healthcare garment.
For two years, our design team worked with Warrior to create the world’s first 3D knit lacrosse head to replace the traditional hand pockets. During that development, the team explored combinations of materials, knit patterns and geometry using a 3D knitting machine to create a head pocket that optimized speed and accuracy via unique zones of flexible and rigid geometry. Priority Designs invested in a Stoll 3D knitting machine to help expedite the development and learning process. This ‘engineered’ pocket outperformed the traditional hand strung versions for accuracy and speed.
Then, during a subsequent project to create wearable home healthcare garment, the team used their knowledge of 3D knitting to create a seamless, non-sewn, digitally knit concept with targeted areas of breathability, flexibility and compression. When this digitally knit ‘engineered’ product was tested by consumers, they overwhelmingly preferred the new concept over traditional sewn versions.
What do plumbing fixtures have in common with golf club design?
The industrial design and CAD surface modeling for high end plumbing fixtures is some of the most detailed and complex work we have done. With over 20 years of plumbing design, we’ve had to explore and push the boundaries of design and engineering, while respecting the limitations of the casting and finishing processes. Golf club head design is not so different. We were trying to reinvent a well established category and create revolutionary designs, all while considering the casting and finishing processes. The same skill and effort that went into crafting some of the most unique plumbing fixtures, was essential for crafting some of the most unique club head designs for Nike and TaylorMade.
It’s not just our design or engineering that benefits from shared experiences. Our prototype shop has perfected water clear cast urethane parts after years of casting refrigerator shelves for consumer evaluation. These ‘production like’ models enable manufacturers to get accurate consumer feedback on design concepts. In a recent research project for a blood collection device, the prototype shop was able to make ‘production like’ canisters that ensured more accurate formative studies, without the time and cost of production tooling.
In these examples, relevant experience comes from a very broad range of projects. The commonality is a deep understanding of a process or material – shared knowledge. This is the type of experience that can help create innovation in a category, to break away from the mold of what everyone else is doing, to create something new.
"The commonality is a deep understanding of a process or material – shared knowledge. This is the type of experience that can help create innovation in a category."
Relevant experience is found with just the right individuals, with the right expertise and a willingness to try new things.
Sometimes, the best solution for a project requires a combination of skills, processes, or techniques that haven’t been tried before.
When a client requested help with sound design for their medical device, we had not done anything similar. But with two in-house bands, we had several designers who moonlighted as musicians. We had all the pieces: experience in physical product design, digital user interfaces, medical device development, and a knowledge of music and sound theory. We’d just never put all of these pieces together before.
Eddie Gandelman helped expand the interface service to include sound design, created an in-house sound lab, and worked with our regulatory group to understand ISO requirements for sound. This combination of unique skills has helped our clients improve the experience and usability of their products using sound in ways they had never explored before.
Personally, I began my career engineering wheelchair seat cushion and support surfaces intended to prevent pressure ulcers. The approach was selective use of materials and geometry to minimize the occlusion of blood vessels and protect the tissues. I wasn’t sure how I could use that knowledge again, until years later we were presented with the Q-Collar idea, and tasked with creating a device which selectively restricts the jugular venous flow without affecting carotid blood flow. It was the basically same problem as my wheelchair experience, but in reverse. This unique knowledge of occlusion of blood flow, comfort, and tolerability was applied to the early prototype designs and later refined to become the Q-Collar.
The individuals on a team have unique skills and knowledge to bring to every project. Ask questions. Try new things. Use the personal experiences of each person to enhance the end result. You might be surprised what you discover, and how it impacts the final product.
“Relevant experience” can mean a lot of different things. When putting a team together for a product development effort, consider a variety of influences. It’s important to have familiarity with the industry, but to push innovation and bring new ideas to a product, it helps to think outside of your industry. Here are some additional questions to consider when pulling in the right resources for your project:
- Does the team have experience with similar types of products?
- Does their experience include similar challenges, materials, or processes used during development?
- Are there shared technologies or equipment that are a part of the project?
- Is there specific knowledge around a relevant topic that can be shared?
- Could we try a completely new solution with the right combination of pieces to the puzzle?
- Is there someone with a unique skillset who can add value to the project?
When looking to outsource product development efforts, ask the firm if they have a variety of clients and a wide range of experiences to pull from. It’s also important to consider the options of tools available. At Priority Designs, we’re fortunate to have access to a 50,000 sq. ft. prototyping shop, 3D knitting machine, sound lab and a whole host of other specialized equipment. Having a wide knowledge bank, tools, and people across disciplines are valuable ingredients that can impact a project outcome in sometimes unexpected and innovative ways.
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About The Author
Jamison Float, Sr. Biomedical Engineer
Specializing in conceptual engineering and bioengineering, Jamison believes that the most important step is not always providing the “answer”, but asking the right question. He thoroughly enjoys working to find a solution that is realistic for everyone involved with the project. From the designers to the marketing team, he works to balance expectations and offer educated engineering solutions.