Product Designers: 4 Tips for More Impactful Collaboration with Engineers

Posted by Greg, on February 12, 2018

You’ve designed something beautiful you think users will love, only to find out weeks later that it’s not feasible. It either can’t be built as designed, or isn’t cost-effective to produce.

Has your design team ever run into this challenge?

This commonly happens when design and engineering teams are not able to work in a true collaborative effort from the start of a project, and it could be costing your team and clients valuable time and money.

Improve early design concepts, and produce better solutions, with more meaningful collaboration. Four tips, from an engineer’s perspective, below.

1. Communicate Early, and Often with Engineers. Include Them in Your Brainstorms.

There is much to explore and consider at the beginning of the product development process.

Early design decisions will not only impact the look, feel, and function of the product, but what materials and manufacturing processes can be used, and even what the final price of the product will need to be for its parent company to be profitable.

With all of this in mind, having varied perspectives in the room early on, including engineers who can speak to cost-effective manufacturing strategies, material options, and assembly constraints can make a huge difference long-term.

Leverage engineers’ expertise against your concepts, and use their foresight to narrow down proposed designs with more meaningful agility.

2. Be Open to Technical Constraints Impacting Your Design Concepts

Famed furniture designer Charles Eames once said,

“Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem: the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible, and his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints.”

It’s important to keep a line of sight on the manufacturing piece of the product process, even at the start of product development.

Many great design concepts have been squashed because of key manufacturing requirements, and finding out too late could cost valuable time and speed-to-market.

While limitations are not always fun to work with, use collaboration to find solutions that successfully address all of the design, engineering and manufacturing constraints in the best interest of the product, the client and end user. 

Tap into engineer expertise for critical finish and texture, assembly, cost and capital expense needs. Have the engineers help you see possible problems with existing concepts early so you can make necessary adjustments before concepts are taken too far along.  

3. Educate Yourself on Engineering Process. Learn to Speak Engineer’s Language.

How familiar is your design team with common manufacturing methods, like casting, molding and machining?

What about process tolerances and repeatability in assembly?

Or the pros and cons of CNC machining vs additive manufacturing?

Even a basic understanding of critical engineering processes can help design teams have more meaningful conversations with their engineering colleagues, and make better design recommendations, with concepts that already keep possible constraints at the forefront.

One of the best ways to learn more about the engineering process and common engineering challenges is to remain involved in the project’s development all the way to its production.

4. Not Just a Hand-off: Aim to be Involved in Implementation

As the design concept becomes more defined and the detailed engineering work ramps up in the implementation of the design concept, remain involved along with the engineers to help resolve issues together.

This involvement will be important to the overall success of a project as it keeps the design team in the loop for critical decisions, and provides opportunity for designers to ensure that all needed human factors and ergonomic considerations are kept in place from start to finish.

Designers and engineers working together during implementation means tackling the challenges together, with design perspective all the way to the finish line, instead of guessing at which design features are sacred to the product.

Improved Collaboration, Improved Product Solutions

Engineers and designers share both similar and different challenges during the product development process and can see product concepts through very different lenses. 

Each perspective on its own will not provide all of the details. The people-focused and market-focused work of designers and the function-focused and manufacturing-focused work of engineers is really interdependent. If you’re truly optimizing the design, the work of designers and engineers is inseparable.

Hopefully these tips can help bridge these gaps:

  • Get every type of mind involved in the product development process in the room at your next brainstorm.
  • Formulate a plan for proactive, open communication throughout the entire project development process.
  • Poke holes in each other’s concepts. Designers poke holes in engineer concepts, engineers poke holes in design concepts. Improve solutions through constructive critiques that make the product better.

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