Improving access to product design

How Design Anthology made it easier for anyone to start a product design project.

5 minute read

When Design Anthology received feedback that their proposals were ‘expensive’ they could have dropped their price. Instead, they decided to ask themselves how they might make it easier for anyone with an idea to begin turning that idea into a real product. This story is about how The Expert Hour, Kickstart Workshop and Design Review make it easier for DA’s prospective clients to begin a product design project for a predictable, fixed fee.

The Client

Design Anthology (DA) is an award-winning product design studio in Newcastle, Australia. The close-knit team has delivered successful products in a range of markets including aeronautics, sporting equipment, medical devices, industrial equipment, consumer electronics, homewares, advertising, point of sale, transport and commercial interiors.

Their most recent achievement was designing Orica’s FRAGTrack which won the Innovation category at the 2019 Hunter Manufacturing Awards.

The Challenge

DA services clients across a range of professional maturities. At one end of the scale are individuals with an idea but no experience or knowledge of product design or manufacturing. At the other end are industrial or commercial clients with in-house innovation, design and manufacturing capabilities.

One of the challenges DA identified was that potential clients perceived their proposals as “expensive.” This perception was preventing them from proceeding with product development.

We asked the question:

How might we make it easier for anyone with an idea to begin turning that idea into a real product?

One key observation that DA had already made, was that it was difficult for them to provide an accurate proposal early in the development process because they had very little information. This lead to them overestimating project values in order to reduce their risk of loss should a project end up being more complex than they anticipated.

Writing proposals under these conditions had turned into a costly exercise that wasn’t resulting in new projects.

The Project

Over a period of about six months we made observations about the reactions to our proposals. The potential clients at the lower end of the maturity spectrum found it difficult to proceed due to the “cost.” Those at the higher end of the maturity spectrum found it difficult to commit to an entire development process covering multiple phases of work.

We observed that existing clients kept coming back to us to conduct more product design work. We interpreted this as meaning that once clients had started the process with us, they generally saw it through to the end. Many even returned to go through the process again.

We concluded that we needed to make starting the product design process easier.

We mapped the customer journey to build our understanding of what was really happening during those early interactions up to the point where we received a signed contract back.

In combination with that, we reviewed all the documentation and information that flowed between DA and the prospective client during those early stages.

Three aspects emerged that needed to be addressed:

  1. The structure of those interactions was inconsistent internally and in terms of what the client needed to do
  2. The documentation that DA was communicating was too extensive, overwhelming and ‘scared’ prospects.
  3. Vocabulary and language used across the website, documentation, proposals and in face-to-face and email communications was inconsistent.

Three Workshops

We started exploring ways of reducing the cost for the very early phases of product design. The best way we could find, was to separate the very early exploration of an idea into a service all of its own with a fixed price.

With three different target groups in mind, we developed three workshops suited to prospects at three different levels of professional maturity.

The Expert Hour is a single hour workshop where the client can ‘pick DA’s brains.’ Regardless of the client’s maturity level, they can ask for DA’s opinion on anything. It’s mostly questions about how to move past various kinds of blockages.

The Kickstart Workshop is a workshop aimed at lower-maturity clients who are trying to establish whether or not to pursue an idea and, if so, what that development plan might look like.

The Design Review is a review process and workshop for mid to higher level maturity clients. DA uses standardised criteria, which we developed, to review an existing product, prototype or concept. They then propose a range of fixes, improvements or opportunities based on the clients intentions.

The Results

The Expert Hour, Kickstart Workshop and Design Review make it easier for DAs prospective clients to begin a product design project because:

  • the cost of the entire design project is not communicated until after one of these workshops.
  • that means the financial commitment is smaller
  • the fixed price is easier to understand and accept than a flexible price based on ‘it depends’
  • they provide a way out, an end, with no further commitment
  • they reduce the information load on the client
  • they allow the client to ‘test’ DA for a a competency fit as well as a relationship fit

The Workshops are also a better way for DA to do business because:

  • they no longer waste time writing proposals for projects that might not eventuate or that might be used only for comparison
  • they no longer need to conduct lengthy unpaid discussions before preparing a proposal. This information gathering exercise is partly conducted digitally and then in person during the paid workshop
  • they enable DA to prepare more accurate proposals for further development
  • DA can ‘test’ the relationship
  • it increases the likelihood that they’ll receive ongoing work

Moving all new clients, and some existing clients, through one of these workshops – before proceeding with further development – has resulted in DA writing fewer proposals that are more accurate. They are also winning more of these projects.

The client experience has dramatically improved with more predictability and consistency suited to different levels of idea maturity.

When does this make sense?

Exploring how and why you win work makes sense when you have the feeling that are putting in a lot of effort but not winning much work in return. That applies particularly to service providers who write lengthy proposals for higher value, longer timeframe projects.

If your prospective client asks you “how much will all of this cost?” and your answer is “it depends…” then it might be worthwhile developing a fixed price service to try to help reduce some of that uncertainty. It benefits both you and your client.

Methods used

Hypothesising - Observations - Problem Definition - User Stories - Service Design - Prototyping - Information Architecture - Copywriting

Work with standing man
“These workshops just make it so much easier for our clients to take that first step. All our new clients end up starting with one of these.”Josh Jeffress, Principal Designer, Design Anthology
Expert Hour
Kickstart Workshop
Design Review