Design for Success

By Tarasewich, Peter | Industrial Management, March/April 1996 | Go to article overview

Design for Success


Tarasewich, Peter, Industrial Management


Companies create products to meet the needs of their customers. Proper design of those products can be the critical factor that determines whether or not a firm succeeds in the marketplace. There continues to be a proliferation of philosophies and methodologies that attempt to guide the product design process. Many of these are of the "design for X" variety: "design for manufacturability," "design for testability," and "design for quality," for example. However, these regard product design from one particular functional viewpoint only, such as marketing, manufacturing, or engineering. All relevant issues of product design are not always considered. Approaches that are too focused can result in product designs that excel in one regard but fail in others. A product manufactured easily and cost effectively may not necessarily be marketable, usable, reliable, or easily disassembled. Examples include IBM's illfated PC Junior, which was designed for low cost but never achieved customer acceptance, and early versions of Kodak's popular one-use cameras, which were not designed with recycling or reuse in mind.

What is needed is a more comprehensive definition of product design-one that considers all factors involved. Such a definition can be used as a guide for designers and firms so that all issues relevant to a particular product's design are recognized and considered. More successful product designs most likely will result when a company uses this definition, no matter how the process itself is implemented.

Importance of product design

Product design is quite important, particularly in terms of competitive priorities and the product life-cycle, both of which are components of strategic planning. For our comprehensive definition of product design to be effective, its strategic importance must be understood. The increasingly global economy means that product designers should consider initially every possible market in an attempt to eliminate redesigns for specific countries or situations. Factors such as logistics, distribution costs, inventory investment, product availability, customs duties, and local market customization should be accounted for to minimize overall product costs. Whitney stated, "Design is a strategic activity, by intention or by default." Product design strategy attempts to gain competitive advantage by designing products that create new markets or by meeting market needs with a design better than that of a competitor. Given the influence that product design has on costs, time, quality, and flexibility, product design strategy should receive the same considerations as corporate, financial, marketing, and operations strategies in order to be most effective.

Product design therefore has a significant effect on a firm's competitive priorities, which include cost, time, quality, and flexibility. Much of how well an organization can compete on these priorities is determined during the product design stages, and each priority relates to different aspects of product design.

The cost of a product is determined by such factors as materials used, labor and production resources needed, and design effort expended. Studies have shown that while product design activities account for only about 5 percent of a product's cost, 70 percent or more of manufacturing costs may be determined in the design stage. Design determines packaging and shipping requirements, as well, which have an impact on transportation and insurance costs. Product design also affects costs that a company incurs after the product is in the customer's hands, such as those related to warranties, disassembly, disposal, recycling, and litigation.

Time considerations may include tradeoffs between a well-polished and tested product design and an early entry into the market to increase sales. Quality improvement depends on number of factors before and during design. A product designed to be more tolerant of the manufacturing process is an idea known as "robust quality" and is one aspect of highly customized products. …

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