How to choose an industrial design studio?

Choosing an industrial design studio is above all a matter of feeling. However, there are several ways to start your research. The collaboration with an industrial design studio is something that must be prepared in advance. If you want the design team to respond to your interests, your objectives, and your expectations, it is essential to be well organized. 

In this article, we propose a series of small tips in 5 steps to help you choose the right industrial design studio. These tips can also help make your overall experience go as well as possible all while making sure that everyone gets along. The tips will also help you to avoid delays and misunderstandings, thus allowing you to be more productive and to finalize your project in the best possible timeframe. 

how-to-choose-an-industrial-design-studio

1 ) What is your industrial design project ?

First step to start your design project

The first step is to meet within your company in order to make a first round of discussion. This first round will allow you to gather the big ideas which will help define a direction to the project. Defining these guidelines is helpful both for you as well as the industrial design studio you are choosing. 

Among these big ideas, you will have to determine the real objectives of your project: 

  • How would you describe your startup/company?
  • What is the purpose of the project?
  • Who are your users and buyers? How are they different from one another? 

You should also think about what aspects you want to highlight in your project: 

  • Do you want to highlight the sustainable aspect or the quality of the product? 
  • Is there a particular message you want to convey with the product?
  • How to approach a new market? 
  • How to design a new product line? 
  • How do you redefine a user experience (UX) for a current product?

Needless to say, the industrial design studio will offer you support and guidance while accompanying you through the completion of this task. In addition, finding answers to those questions will help you better detail each element of the project (design brief) later down the road.


Want to know how far along your design project is ?

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Budget & Schedule

Next comes the question of budget and time, two factors that will greatly influence the final result of your product:

  • What is the cost of a product design project?
  • What is the timeline? And which are the important due dates?

Throughout this experience, be honest and transparent with the industrial design studio. It is important to explain clearly what you expect from them: you are encouraged to make them aware of how much time you have (Is it for a launch at a certain time of the year? For a crowdfunding campaign?) and how much you are willing to invest in the project (If you don't have a specific budget idea, you can always give a price range).

The studio will then come back to you with a design proposal answering all your needs, expectations, and concerns.

2 ) Where to find inspiration for an industrial design project ?

Once you've defined your goals and your project guidelines, it's always helpful to look for inspirations that will help articulate what you want or don't want as a starting point. Gather examples (in the form of images, videos, articles, etc.) of products, solutions, or experiences that you admire from other companies, even if they are not in your field. In parallel, it is very helpful to gather images of products that you don't like at all as they will help the industrial design studio better understand your intentions and your overall vision of the project. These visual communications will allow both parties to begin a conversation with palpable references, and to open the discussion.

In addition, you can consult social networks as they present an infinite source of inspiration with their abundant and varied content. We recommend Pinterest and Instagram, which are particularly well suited to this type of research.

Lastly, you can also look at your competitors' products to see their qualities and defects, to identify what works well or what doesn't, and to ultimately find better alternatives for your project.

The ideal way to collect all this data is to create a common base with your team, like a Google Document, on which you will deposit your inspirations as you go along in the preparation process.

3 ) How to evaluate the work of an industrial design studio ?

It is important to look at the portfolios of industrial designers when you visit their websites. Portfolios are an effective and communicative way of showcasing an industrial design studio's work. They gather the different concepts, services, and products that the studio has created for other companies. More precisely, portfolios showcase the projects that the industrial design team has purposely chosen to put forward on their website. It is therefore an excellent indicator of their way of working and their sense of ethics, aesthetics, as well as their methodology.

In short, consulting these portfolios will help you envision yourself and your project within the world of the industrial design studio, thus allowing you to decide if this world is right for you.

However, you should never underestimate the fact that a wide majority of industrial design studios will be able to swiftly adapt to your own universe. Sometimes, the projects put forward on the studio’s page reflect more the ones that the studio liked rather than those that represent their skills and aptitudes. That's why it's always a good idea to talk to the team of industrial designers when possible, before forming a rigid opinion.

4 ) How to evaluate the ethics of an industrial design studio ?

Once you have defined your brief and your project guidelines, gathered your inspirations, and identified a few studios with portfolios that you like, you will surely find several teams of product designers corresponding to your research. At that point, you will have to choose between them.

Several criteria can be taken into account when you make your choice. Among these criteria, we advise you to pay attention to the values of the industrial design studio, because each studio works in its unique way. To help you, here are a few points that we think are essential:

Reducing the environmental impact of a product

80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined during the design phase. Therefore, it is impossible today to create a product without taking this ecological footprint into account. In recent years, environmental considerations brought forward by sustainable development have become increasingly important as ecological issues triggered by overconsumption can no longer be ignored in our society. 

In that sense, an industrial design studio involved in this movement will enable you to register your product in a system of circular economy. That type of studio will work harder to propose original and sustainable concepts, using durable, resilient, and responsible materials, assembly strategies, packaging, etc. 

An industrial design studio that takes the environment into account in its design process is always a good selection criterion.

Communication & Collaboration

Another key criterion in your selection of an industrial design studio is communication. Indeed, beyond the work done by the design team, it is important to feel comfortable to exchange with them. By signing a contract with an industrial design studio, you commit yourself to weeks of collaborative reflection and creation on your project with them. During the duration of the project, you will naturally encounter moments of disagreement and misunderstandings, as in any genuine team work environment.

Translating the will of a company into a realistic and functional product is a complex exercise which often requires revisions and readjustments. That's why communication is the key to a successful collaboration. You must be able to express your wishes and criticisms with ease, without fear of blocking the dialogue. In parallel, you must also be able to understand the industrial designers' explanations and take into account their advice and their reservations about some of your ideas. After all, collaboration is a two-sided conversation, and compromises can be taken by referring to the design brief and project guidelines.

Innovation

Finally, the last important point to be considered for an industrial design studio is their ability to innovate. The world is full of products, the most memorable ones are those who catch us by surprise, delight our senses, and keep us coming back for more. These types of positive product experiences generate attachment and add an inherent value to your product.

Therefore, make sure to select a design studio which offers more conceptual products that are out of the ordinary. These studios aim to create innovative products with a unique aesthetic and overall user experience. This will help redefine and elevate the pre-established codes of the company in addition to meeting the needs of consumers, all while bringing new, innovative, and ultimately better alternatives to existing solutions.

Francois Savaton
Writer for Punctuate Design / Student at Sciences Po Rennes (France), Caen campus, specializing in environmental and sustainable development issues
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