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The Design Process Shouldn’t Be a Secret. Your Products Deserve True Collaboration

Too many product design firms keep their process hidden from clients. But what happens when this lack of transparency leaves you hating your final product?

Adam Prather

July 20 th 2021 | 6 minute read

You have a bold, exciting idea for a new product poised to transform your industry. You engage a product design firm and leave the briefing meeting excited about what the engagement will yield. A month or two passes. Finally, you get the long-awaited call. It’s time for the final presentation where, at last, you’ll get to see your vision come to life.

Your team assembles for the meeting with excitement and anticipation. The firm goes all out to present a product that…looks and feels nothing like the one you had in mind.

In fact, it doesn’t resemble what you discussed with the design team at all. You leave empty-handed. Months of valuable time wasted. Thousands of dollars down the drain. And now back to square one.

What the hell happened? Where and how did your project go so horribly wrong?

What You Risk When Design Firms Don’t Value Collaboration

Hiring a design firm shouldn’t feel like a high-stakes game of chance in which you’re turning over your ideas and hoping for the best. Yet the scenario above is all too common.

Perhaps due to an overly heightened sense of ownership or the mistaken notion that they know best or their own tendency towards procrastination, too many design firms shroud their process in secrecy. In order to create suspense toward a grand reveal, they often go radio silent during the design process, which may lead them down a path you never imagined. The result? A product that strikes the designers’ fancy — but doesn’t strategically meet your needs.

The product design firm you hire needs to be serious about building a relationship with you, understanding your needs and listening to your insights. They shouldn’t be interested in stringing you along toward an ego-driven, big-bang presentation. Instead, your design team needs to be solely motivated to get the vision right.

M3 Design’s secret to achieving a superior end result? Authentic collaboration.

The Kickoff Meeting: Starting on the Right Path

A new PD project starts with a virtual kickoff meeting where we begin charting our course together. The kickoff is just the start of an exciting, collaborative journey. Here, our sole purpose is to soak up every bit of knowledge we can about the upcoming project. Inspiration boards, journey maps, research data, images, project parameters, and anything else we have gathered prior to the kickoff are uploaded into a virtual collaborative space like Miro, Mural, etc. The virtual whiteboard we work from during this meeting becomes the home base for the rest of the concept phase as we continue to evolve and iterate toward the perfect product.

After setting our course during the kickoff, we use that digital base to bounce ideas off of you and each other in order to begin exploring our direction through the concept phase. Along the way, no data is lost and no good ideas fall off the radar. Everything lives in this boundless space that allows for seamless feedback loops and endless creativity.

Virtual Concept Development: Collaboration in Action

As you move into the concept phase of the design process, your firm’s commitment to collaboration and feedback will become more apparent. Because this part of the process demands failing quickly, pivoting nimbly, and iterating relentlessly to deliver workable options, client involvement is of paramount importance.

As a result of the pandemic, design firms had to reassess their approach to concept development and reaffirm their commitment to collaboration while evolving the product development process to meet the needs of a remote workforce. And while it might sound counterintuitive, this shift to a virtual environment revealed more opportunities for synergy and collaboration than ever before.

What should this new collaborative process look like? Here’s how we approach your product’s concept phase.

Micro-Reviews and Weekly Check-Ins

After a successful kickoff, we dive fully into the concept phase. Here, it’s especially important we don’t let the collaborative energy fade. To increase transparency and keep the project on the right course, we have regular check-ins where we hop into that virtual collaborative space and pull back the curtain on what we’ve been working on since our last meeting. Here, you won’t just be watching us do the work. Using virtual sticky notes and pins, you can respond to concept ideation as we sketch out initial designs, refine our direction, create sub-presentations to share findings and move toward prototyping.

This style of micro-review is not only helpful in increasing transparency but also helps keep us from wasting time putting together a presentation for every single meeting we have. That way we can spend our time actually designing products instead of designing decks.

You’ll have frequent input into the process every step of the way and be able to see in real-time how the project is growing and evolving. This way, even as the project develops past the initial phase, we can make easy reference to our initial research findings to influence our progress and make sure nothing is overlooked.

While you’ll have the freedom to log in to Miro any time you’d like, we’re happy to provide formal progress reports when your internal stakeholders need a more polished assessment of where things stand.

“Walk the Wall” of Design Concepts

A fun part of our concept phase is the opportunity for clients to “walk the wall” and see everything we’ve ideated on full display. In the past, clients visited in person to literally walk through concept sketches and notes pinned up to physical boards that would fill the room. We would present research findings, rough brainstorm sketches and everything else that led to a few concepts we would eventually down select to. This immersive visual experience was great for the client team members who could be there, but the opportunity to participate was limited due to the travel involved.

We tried to conference in remote clients but we could never recreate that total creative immersion from being in person. Now, this experience is recreated virtually in Miro, and — because clients can invite as many team members as they wish — it’s an even more robust, interactive exercise. The virtual gallery still displays all of our collective ideas in one place and we are able to walk clients through the vast array of work we’ve produced. Now, instead of only hearing from the client team able to travel to see “the wall,” we are able to involve more people with a wider range of perspectives. This leads to additional feedback to help us arrive at success.

Selecting a Concept for Development

Once we’ve curated and developed the very best ideas that have emerged from our collaborative process, we present you with a handful of concepts to review. We give you the why and how behind each one, present rough prototypes and mock-ups to help you envision what’s possible, focus in on key concept designs, and then give the big picture view so you can compare your options.

We’ll go through each concept together, discussing what you like and don’t like about them so we can pull out our best ideas. From there, we work with you to further refine down to one single concept that successfully meets your needs.

Then, the fun really starts as we bring that carefully selected concept to life in its physical form. No secrets, no gimmicks–just a highly informed and collaborative process.

Ditch the Surprise Ending: Hire a Design Firm that Works with You

Your design team needs to be on the same page as you and commit to transparency — not just during your initial briefing, but throughout the entire journey.

There’s simply no good reason for a product design process to remain shrouded in secrecy. After all, when it comes to product design, you know what you’re looking for. You may need a skilled partner to help you achieve your desired result, but you deserve to maintain ownership and access from day one.

You’ve invested a great deal of time, energy, and money into your product idea. Winding up with a final design that doesn’t live up to your vision is going to send you right back to square one and only delay the time it will take your product to hit the market. If you don’t want a surprise ending that leaves you worse off than when you started, choose a design firm that genuinely values your insight and expertise. No need to roll the dice and hope for the best.

Ready to explore the possibilities? We’d love to hear from you.