Design Process: don’t sidestep the early stages

I meet a lot of SMEs that have an idea for a new product or service and the way they plan to test its success is to launch it and see how it does. Now, one of the reasons I love working with SMEs is that they can move fast. I cannot deny that I’ve met small businesses that took an idea and just ‘gave it a go’ with levels of success that you have to applaud. This situation is great when it works, but sadly there are many more SMEs that have invested huge sums of money in their idea and are still very far from being ready to launch and even further from any profit. These are people that went ahead without a framework for exploring their idea in more depth or a clear understanding of the journey they were embarking on.

The path to launching a successful new product or service can be seriously underestimated. The design process involved has far more stages than is expected and can take far more time and money than is planned for. This is where the all-important early stage thinking offers its biggest benefit – taking a broad perspective at the very beginning and applying some structured tools and processes saves time, money and reduces risk in the longer term.

These tools and processes are ones that design agencies apply when faced with a new idea from a client. Designers will take an idea through a number of defined stages to bring it to life. They will question it, expand it, test it, prototype it or even pilot it, all before final conclusions are made about what ‘it’ really needs to be to have its greatest chance of success. But despite the immense value of this stage, clients can be reluctant to pay designers for what can sound like some expensive and time-consuming ‘thinking’. Why can’t designers just get on with it?

The reason they don’t just ‘get on with it’ is that creatively questioning ideas is a vital part of the design process and an essential part of the value that designers bring. Without it you could be investing in an idea that sounds good, but won’t work well for end users. Without it, you risk questions or problems coming up later on, when changes will be far more expensive and even more time consuming. Without it, you are taking a gamble rather than having any real strategic plan.

So, whilst it may seem expensive at the time and may feel like it’s slowing everything down, resist the temptation to skip through the early stages. Designers do not have magic abilities to quickly conjure market-ready solutions from a single idea, but they do have experience with creative tools, user-centred research and prototyping techniques that will examine the risks, the wider possibilities and improve your chances of market success.

WRITTEN BY LYNNE ELVINS

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