The Best-Case Intake Process for New Product Design

Every journey starts with a first step. What happens during that step paves the way for what happens later. It’s true for a job applicant at an interview, just as it’s true for an entrepreneur rolling out a new business or a researcher launching a clinical trial.

In our business, the intake process is that first step, and it requires preparation both on our part and on the part of a new client.

What does the ideal intake process look like? Our best client engagements follow the same pattern that can be broken down into a five-part process.

  1. We start by assessing the fit. The ideal project involves both technology and product development that requires all of our disciplines to work together at the same time. This allows customers to come to one shop for a complex project, and it allows our multidisciplinary team to work together efficiently.For example, the Taylor Technologies Colorimeter required both a custom optical engine to be developed to facilitate colorimetric measurements, while in parallel, the full product was designed by our team of industrial designers and engineers.

  1. The content meeting is crucial. At the content meeting, we dive directly into the heart of the problem. This is one of the most important aspects of the intake process. We bring in everybody involved — the business development team, our project manager, and core team members — and get to work.We ask a lot of targeted questions about the project that help us understand the technology challenge and the desired finished product. Many of our clients have spent years focusing on a specific technology or design challenge – not necessarily thinking about creating a scalable product that people will use. We want to show them the possibilities.This meeting is also a mutual interview: We’re interviewing a new client, as much as a new client is interviewing us.

  1. Prepare a plan. Next, we propose a project plan broken down into phases based on development risk, and provide a time and materials estimate to tackle our client’s design challenge. If schedule permits, we will deliver our proposal in person, breaking down project responsibilities and clearly defining deliverables. The customer reviews the proposal, and if they accept it, we move on to the next step.

  1. Start the project. We begin inventing solutions in brainstorming sessions and quickly present preliminary concepts to the client. It’s important that any product design firm you work with take ownership of the problem. Just as you’d expect a handyman or electrician to diagnose and fix a problem in your home, you need to know that your design firm will own the problem you bring them and not rest until it’s solved.And that should be true even if the design firm relinquishes any rights to the solutions it invents on your behalf. Many design firms retain the rights. We don’t. Our clients retain the rights to our inventions so they can use the products we develop however they see fit. Regardless, a designer’s incentive should be on serving its clients’ interests, not its own.

  1. It’s important that expectations are clear. The world of product development can be murky, and uncertainty and risk are inherent parts of the process. Changes to the budget or the timeline after the project has started can impede the process.

    Clarifying expectations should begin with the very first conversation you have with your design partner, and continues throughout the intake process and beyond. We hold weekly status meetings to give customers a live look at our progress, manage expectations, and get their perspective on decisions. It’s time well spent: We know our customers often report back to their own management, and we provide clear and accurate updates.

The right intake process is crucial to producing the best product, and that process requires open communication and clear expectations. In the best scenarios, all the steps fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.

For a conversation about your own vexing technical problem, feel free to reach out.

Andy Rogers

Every challenge is different – Tell us about yours.