From Concept to Production: The Development Cycle
People come to By Design Group in search of help to develop their ideas.
But not everyone understands the steps that are needed to accomplish
This page explains the development cycle, or process through which a
new idea proceeds from initial concept right through to production and
While we have set out the design cycle as a logical step-by-step process,
it's not really quite that simple. Issues such as marketing and distribution
need to be kept in mind from the start. In fact many of these steps
should be considered concurrently even though you work through them
1. Concept Phase
1.1 Concept Recognition/Definition.
The basis for all successful new products or ideas is typically some
form of opportunity. You may recognize this opportunity when you run
into a problem, or perhaps you spot a need which could be filled.
After the initial inspiration, your first step should be to define a
specification. This lists the requirements that any solution needs to
have if it is to provide a satisfactory answer to the problem. You may
need to investigate the original problem further before you can write
If you are starting out with a great idea, it is still worth reviewing
that idea and writing a specification for it.
1.2 Concept Investigation.
Once you have written the specification you can start investigating
possible solutions to the problem. List all ideas uncritically, as in
a buzz group, without pre-judging any of them. You probably won't be
able to recognize a good solution, unless you already have a bad solution
to compare it with.
At first you should try to come up with some of your own solutions before
you look to see what anyone else has done. If you review someone else's
work first, it becomes fixed in your mind and may prevent you from coming
up with a better idea.
1.3 Concept Selection.
After you have thought up and explored at least three concepts, it is
time to rate them so that you can choose one to concentrate on developing
further. Don't just consider the concept that best meets the specification,
but also look at cost and ease of manufacture, aesthetics, and packaging,
Keep those concepts which you don't choose on file as you may need to
review them again in the future.
1.4. Concept Review
Now is the time to review the work done to date. If you are developing
your idea with a partner, check to see if they are happy with your choices
as they may have some further ideas or information that could influence
the design process.
By this stage your investigation may have shown that costly issues still
have to be resolved, or perhaps the solution will be too expensive to
Now is the time to decide whether to continue or discontinue the project.
2. Design Phase
Once the decision to continue with the project has been made, you should
start to plan the rest of the process. In addition to the detailed development,
start to think about issues such as funding, marketing, distribution,
manufacturing and where your product will be made.
2.2 Preliminary Design
It is often necessary to include a preliminary design phase, especially
on larger jobs, where not enough of the "bigger picture" problems
have been solved at the concept stages. Continue working at this level
until a good clear picture of the final solution emerges.
2.3 Design Review
If you carried out the preliminary design stage then you should conduct
another review before you continue.
2.4 Design/Analysis/Review Loop
The following three steps are carried out in an iterative loop as the
final design evolves into shape.
2.5 Detail Design
By this stage most, if not all, of the "big picture" issues
should have been resolved; you are now ready to tackle the multitude
of details required for a complete solution.
This is typically the longest stage in the design phase. Access to state-of-the-art
CAD (computer aided design) software, such as Pro/ENGINEER can
be a huge benefit here. Good CAD leads to higher quality design and
much shorter development time.
Structural analysis, motion analysis, ergonomic analysis, cost analysis
- these are just some of the analyses that may be needed during development
and is usually done in conjunction with the detail design stage.
Fortunately, a lot of this work can be done on a computer, which means
that the solution, as it exists at the prototyping stage, will be very
close to the final solution.
2.7 Design Review
Now is the time to review the design yet again, in the light of the
results of analysis and before taking the next and often expensive stage
of making a prototype.
3. Prototyping/Testing Phase
It is always important to include a prototype in the design process.
Prototypes help you gain a feeling for the product that is difficult
to get from drawings or images. Also, they are good for checking function,
clearances, aesthetics, etc.
There are some terrific tools available nowadays that assist with the
prototyping process, such as stereolithography and vacuum casting. These
work well with 3D CAD modeling to produce good prototypes of plastic
Now you should exhaustively test the prototype to make sure that it
does exactly what it is supposed to do, reliably and efficiently. Complex
products may require multiple prototypes as each one is tested and improvements
are incorporated into its successive models.
3.3 Design Review
With the experience of a working prototype, thoroughly tested, it is
time to review the design yet again. Depending on the results of the
tests it may be necessary to go back to an earlier design stage, but
if all is well, after minor changes, we are nearly ready to go.
3.4 Release Design for Production
Now you will need to define the design enough to be able to manufacture
the product in the required volume. Usually this mean making working
drawings, but sometimes comprehensive instructions for machined tooling
are compiled in digital form.
4. Production Phase
4.1 Tooling Design and Manufacture
Now that you are ready for production, the tooling required for production
can be designed and produced. Planned production volumes will have a
big impact on the type of tooling required. Also as a general rule,
more expensive tooling will result in cheaper manufacturing costs, however,
it requires greater production runs to justify the higher expense.
In practice this phase is also considered during the detail design phase
to ensure that the articles you design will suit the appropriate tooling
This phase covers the actual production of the item and it can consume
a great deal of time and money. A lot of planning is usually required
in order to get this running smoothly. Items to consider will include
location, staffing, training and infrastructure, etc.
While marketing is usually considered as a separate issue to design
it is important that you consider marketing all the way through the
process. Even excellent designs may not sell for many reasons - competitive
products, poor promotion, an unfortunate choice of name even.
Distribution can in some cases be the most important part of the whole
process. It not only covers the physical dispatching of the items, but
who will actually buy them or better yet sell them for you. Selling
to the big chains like K-mart is not a given. If you choose to sell
direct to the public yourself, consider how will you do this? Will it
be via ashop, mail order, internet?
There is much to consider here.
The above is an idealised description of the design process. In real
situations the process may be simpler, or it may be even more complex,
depending on the degree of novelty in the design. But the best advice
we can offer is to discuss your project with professionals, such as
the By Design Group at an early stage. We could save you from spending
big sums of money and help you get a better product into the market