Going from Idea to Design Concept
Have you ever had an idea, a great idea? It's going to change the world, you know that because no one has thought of it before… Right?
In most cases, you would be wrong. I know that sounds harsh, but after 12 years in the product design industry, I can tell you that it's scarce to come across a unique product idea. Below explains how I find ways to validate my ideas before I even put pen to paper or outsource any design work.
Where should you start when you have a grand idea?
Start with question one. "Is there anything like this on the market already?" It's hard to find an idea which hasn't "in some form" been invented. You may think your idea is brand new and innovative, but in reality, you are probably not the first person to have the design and act on it. The internet is a great place to start, there is a good chance that you will find something to help validate your idea. This comes with a warning though, be careful what you search for. People often don't see anything relating to their concept, which has them thinking that no one has developed the idea previously. However, it may have been designed and produced by a small manufacturing company without a prominent internet presence, so they sell their items online under keywords you would not typically search for. These don't appear in Google search results as they aren't optimised to Google's search algorithms, making them harder to find.
Every time I have a new idea, the first place I begin my research are sites such as eBay, Amazon, and DH Gate.
They can be an excellent starting point, I sometimes look at these sites just to see what new and exciting products are on the market. Let's take one of my examples and see what we find.
While camping a few years back, I noticed that we would hang LED lanterns in the tent. This was so that we had light getting everything ready before getting into the sleeping bags. However, once we were tucked in, someone had to reach up and almost get out of bed to turn the lantern off because it hung on the ceiling of the tent. I'm pretty sure at that point I said to my wife "the lantern should have a 2 minute timer, giving you enough time to get into bed before the light turns off."
I thought, "I could make that." "It's not hard, and I'm sure there are people who would want the same thing."
I already knew there were a plethora of battery-powered lamps for camping. However, I hadn't seen one with the features I was thinking about at my local camping supply store, so initially, I thought it doesn't exist, and there is a gap in the market. This is a common trap for people to fall into. They get a light bulb moment and think since they haven't seen them in the stores, then there must not be one out there to buy.
It is from this point that my research takes a little turn. I change my search keywords. Basically, I try my very best to find a way to prove the product already exists. I go looking on Google, eBay, Alibaba and any other site I might think there is a chance I can find it.
I changed my keywords for my search, focusing on words that explain what the product does, how it functions. Lots of small overseas manufacturers and online retailers have many products that you may never hear of that are either your idea or remarkably similar. It was at this point where I found multiple products that did exactly what my concept was, they just were not for sale for me locally.
So where to from here? There's no reason why I still can not design and manufacture the product I just now need to change my perspective. I'm no longer creating a new product which is filling a hole in a market, I am designing a "me too" product which is like other things on the market but intended to be different in some way, quality, style, materials etc.
Giving the idea some life:
This is part of the design work that everyone loves. It's the moment you can be creative, and you can finally see your idea in a more visual state. If you don't have the skills yourself from a design point of view, you may need to look at hiring a professional designer. However, these days, you can get started without a professional, there are several free (or inexpensive) design tools you can use to get your idea to a visual (I'll list some at the bottom of the post). Create sketches, schematics on how it works, dive into 3D CAD and prototypes but in the end, you will need to go to a professional to get it all worked out if you head down the manufacturing route. The professionals will work on things like material selection and optimising the design for whichever manufacturing process you will be using. There is a whole other blog post to explain all of that, perhaps in the future, if you would like to know more leave me a message in the comments.