Engineers, DON'T PANIC: A Designer’s Guide to Successful Collaboration in the Product Galaxy

Posted by Patrick, on February 27, 2018

Engineers, I feel like I should start this off with an apology.

It’s not that us designers haven’t wanted to work with you in the past, it’s just… we’ve been worried you’d ruin everything.

Now, we know that that hasn’t been entirely fair, or warranted, and we’d like to see how we can make amends.

What do you say? How about we see if us cats and dogs can’t find a better way to work together? We promise not to panic, if you won’t.

Below, are a few designer thoughts for engineering teams on what we appreciate most when collaborating on design projects. 

Take an Interest in Industrial Design Process

To understand designers, you must understand design process. And not just what designers do, but why they do what they do, and what they hope to achieve as a result.

Once you do, you’ll see that each phase of the design process has varied levels of opportunity for critical engineering support:

Phase 1: Empathize

This stage of the process typically includes:

Interviews, field research, surveys, observations, empathy immersions, role-playing and more.

Why we empathize:

To gain a better understanding of the user and design products that fit unique needs and expectations.

How engineers can improve this part of the process:

Be a part of our user research and offer your unique insights and perspectives. Are there additional questions you’d ask these users? Different environments you think we need to consider? Let us know.

Phase 2: Define

This stage of the process typically includes:

Persona development, point of view statements, goals and objectives, opportunity areas, pain points, customer journey mapping and more.

Why we define:

To define user needs and align with the business goals of the product.

How engineers can improve this part of the process:

Push us to think wider, and add in your perspective. Did you see something different correlating in the research, or know of any appropriate details or technology that can address the user needs in a useful way? Let us know.

Phase 3: Ideate

This stage of the process typically includes:

Brainstorming, sketching, sharing of ideas and more.

Why we ideate:

To translate insights into ideas and explore possibilities.

How engineers can improve this part of the process:

Contribute your ideas. And take a look at our ideas early and let us know if you see us going down a path that might become problematic later on in the product development process. This could include part design complications, assembly issues, and product cost implications.  

Phase 4: Prototype

This stage of the process typically includes:

Mockups, storyboards, quick iterations, breadboard models, foam study models and more.

Why we prototype:

To quickly test ideas, learn and improve details, including product use, ergonomics and control interfaces.

How engineers can improve this part of the process:

Take a look at in-progress and completed models and let us know if you see any areas of opportunity to improve the design. Is a critical mechanism, assembly method or a necessary internal component not being considered? Now’s a great time to let us know.

Phase 5: Test

This stage of the process typically includes:

Usability tests, user interviews, ergonomic studies, focus groups, tests for design intent and more.

Why we test:

To validate design direction, and learn what resonates with end users.

How engineers can improve this part of the process:

Be a part of our tests. Help us observe, and in some cases, be a test user of our concepts.

Your perspective on each of these areas is unique and valuable.

Share Engineering Options and Manufacturing Needs Early

The sooner designers are made aware of critical manufacturing constraints, material options, and mandatory mechanisms, the faster products can head down the most ideal design direction.  

As we begin to think through concepts and talk through user needs with you, let us know what needs and opportunities you see, and if there is anything we will need to avoid or rethink from our concept’s direction.

Designers will commonly embrace design constraints, and if we know about them early in the process, we can work through them to save valuable time and money in the long run.

Allow Designers to Fight for Product Features That Need to Stay

Don’t underestimate subtle design details. Some of the smallest aspects can leave the biggest impact on the overall user experience.

How will you know which features are critical?

First, create full-size models of designs as early as possible to confirm design intent and ergonomic considerations. Then, have a discussion with the design team. Ask them which features must stay and push for why. Your design team should be able to tell you the specific user consideration that will be compromised and why that is so central to the optimal user experience of the product.

If, after hearing our side, however, you still feel strongly that a prized feature will be problematic, know that we want you to push back. Just be sure you share design options in exchange that account for the user consideration, explains fully why designs must be altered, and shows how both designers and engineers will be happy with the end result.

Designers are happy to work with necessary mechanisms or other engineering constraints, we just ask you also to remain open-minded about designers’ alternative ways of thinking and varied approaches to design problems too.

Work with Us from Ideation to Product Launch

Don’t expect designers to end their involvement on a project during engineering development. The work of industrial designers and mechanical engineers works best when teams work together from the start of a project through to product launch.

Your design team cares about how the end product turns out, and will want to ensure that any required modifications made to the design for practical reasons is understood, and options are discussed to maintain details that are key to the product use or aesthetics. Keeping designers in the loop will only help you and the product in the long-run.

Including designers in the process also helps to educate them on your process, making for a more seamless work together on future collaborations. To achieve the best results, the work of designers and engineers should really be inseparable.

Designers: Is there anything you would add to this list? Share with us in the comment section below.