Product Design Influencers

In the previous post, I discussed a few of the challenges that I see with my Kids Double Desk product and how I have come to realize that there are other factors that sometimes affect the design of a product. Product design influencers, are not always what you might expect.

Logistics is not just trucking, but also everything it takes to get the product from point A to point B. This could be USPS, UPS, air, train, courier, email, or many other transportation methods. In my case, I need to figure how my product will be shipped. Weight is a factor as shipping will be a significant overhead for me. Between shipping cost and the cost of 5/8th inch material, I will be doing some weight tests with ½ inch material. Any time I can save on overhead cost I will either gain directly in profit or indirectly in sales as I lower the price of the product.

Size and shape of a product affects the density. The more you can pack in a space, the better. Have you ever noticed that many items are shaped as a square, rather than a cylinder? This allows the manufacture to fit more products into a carton. I am reminded of a product that I once saw on #Shark Tank. A couple had invented a brilliant sippy cup. They had invested a lot of time and money into very clever and attractive packaging. But what they discovered was that the packaging would not sit well on a shelf and stack. The stores did not have a good way to display their product, so they had to go back and redesign the package.

Have you ever ordered a product only to discover that it arrived in a much smaller-than-expected box? I know I have. And I always have that small, sinking feeling in my stomach. Because right away, I know a couple of things. 1) I know that it will require more assembly than I expected. And this means that it is made from more small parts that I would have preferred. 2) All the pieces and parts that make up the product are probably not as durable as I would like. 3) I hope the directions are clear.

There’s a lot of work that goes into the design of a product that will be shipped. When it comes to basic furniture and shelving products, I would say more design goes into the product specifically to lower the cost of materials, packaging and shipping, rather than into the product itself for functionality and customer satisfaction. I can not help but wonder if I will find myself doing this also.

My Double Desk is designed with some rather solid pieces. This is good for strength and assembly, but not so good for shelf space. Retailers expect to make a certain amount of money per square inch of shelf space. My desk will have some limitations of stores due to the size of the desk. Due to the design, I do not have a way to make the largest piece of the desk any smaller. So this item will likely be sold like other furniture. The shopper will pick up a slip of paper and later hand it to someone who will bring it out on a cart later. An obvious fit would be Ikea.

Weight of a product is a factor for several reasons. As mentioned, this can affect shipping cost. It can also affect buyer perceptions. Heavy is sometimes associated to quality and durability. On the other hand, a product that is heavy or bulky can be difficult to assemble or move.

The materials of a product are extremely important. These materials are critical to the supply chain and there are many things to consider. The most obvious, of course is cost. Cost eats into profit margin, so the natural instinct in manufacturing is to keep these costs as low as possible. But what about availability? What happens if a product is discontinued? What happens if there’s a strike? What happens if the manufacturer of a particular product substitutes an ingredient, or changes a metal piece to a plastic piece? What would happen to your business if the EPA makes a change to regulation and you have a warehouse full of inventory parts that you can no longer use? This happens to manufacturers all the time.

For instance, last year, fireplace manufacturers lost millions of dollars, and some went out of business when the EPA required these manufacturer to put screens on their fireplaces. They were caught off guard because the lawsuits, which had been ongoing for a couple of years, were going in favor of the fireplaces manufacturers. The upset occurred at the 11th hour and the manufactures were all surprised and left with products that did not comply. No provision was offered in the new regulation to allow the manufacturers to sell what they already had in inventory. Some screens and burn guards did not meet the regulations. Others simply did not provide screens. Most manufacturers found it more expensive to retrofit the fireplaces that they had in inventory, than to throw them out and build newly-redesigned units. As a result, some manufacturers went out of business. Other manufacturers had to throw out their inventory or sell them for scrap metal prices and were forced to raise prices on future units to make up the difference. Manufacturers felt additional pain as propane prices rose sharply during the same winter of 2014/2015.

In my case of the first Double Desk product, my design uses ⅝ inch cabinet grade plywood. However, what I have discovered is that it is hard-to-find and rather expensive. ¾ inch is common, but much too heavy. (The average mom needs to be able to assemble this.) ⅝ inch seems just about right, but is expensive and not easy to find. I did research and discovered that there are more options than I was initially aware, and technology has advanced since the last time I worked with plywood with my dad. So I will likely built a prototype with ½ inch of a slightly different (and stronger) material. Testing will be performed to ensure safety. And of course, real moms and kids will perform additional testing and provide feedback.

My engineer sent me an email last week (August 14th, 2015) to let me know that he’s running behind on cutting out the next prototype. So stay tuned. I should have another prototype update later this week.

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Regular family guy working to change his stars for his kids.

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