How to Invent an Idea that can truly wow: Part 2

Until the mid 18th century, individual craftsmen would invent an idea by using their skills and expertise, conceptualised the form, function and identity of the product. This skill set was gained through apprenticeships under more experienced craftsmen, trainings and experience. The advent of industrial revolution from 1760 to 1840 in Great Britain brought along numerous changes to the way products were designed and manufactured, and gave birth to new industries and services, one among them being industrial design services. For the first time, a dedicated group of industrial designers as part of a larger team could work on design of products and inventions across a wide range of industries. Ever since, product companies have faced this daunting question.

When does outsourcing to an external design consultancy make sense to invent an idea?

A lot of times, hiring an external design agency for a new product’s design works very well. A design consultant has worked across a wide range of industries and products, and brings a fresh perspective. Routing the wiring harness in an automotive design project could provide insights into better cable management for a mixer-grinder. Let’s look at a few examples of how working with an external design agency worked wonders for companies inventing the future.

The Apple x Frog design story

In the early 80s, Apple officials began looking outside the company for a designer who could cement Apple’s position as a world class company. Apple floated an RFP for a 6 month investigation into a new product family. The family consisted of 8 products – Lisa, PCS, Mac, tablet, mouse, printer, floppy disk drive and hard disk drive. The project was codenamed “Snow White” and the 8 products were named after the 7 dwarves. A 38 year old Hartmut Esslinger from frog Design won the contract and began working exclusively on Apple’s Snow White project, resulting in the design language named after the project.

Apple’s RFP to Frog. Image by The Verge

Read more about Apple’s design and invention history from Harmut Esslinger’s book- Keep It Simple: The Early Design Years of Apple

The first fruits of Apple’s collaboration with Frog came in the form of the Apple IIc computer – the first Apple product under the Snow White banner with off-white colouring. Snow White became the characteristic Apple design system through the 80s – off white or light gray colour, minimal surface texturing, rear corners at 3mm radius, front corners at 2mm radius and horizontal and vertical slots for venting. Over the years, Frog’s team worked on all Apple products in the Snow White theme, some notable mentions include the Mouse IIc, Apple 3.5 Drive, LaserWriter II, Macintosh II and Macintosh SE (Manoch and Oyama’s design updated with Snow White details) series.

Frog’s Snow White design strategy took Apple from a Silicon Valley startup to an international brand with a global footprint. Though Apple’s internal design team was working on several products at the same time, Frog and Esslinger’s perspective proved invaluable for Jobs and made Apple a household name. Apple’s bet on Frog paid dividends as Frog worked on the new design system, Apple underwent significant internal reorganization resulting in the departure of Steve Jobs. Apple could focus on solving the early struggles due to change in leadership and dealing with stiff competition from IBM and Microsoft, while Frog took care of new product development and expanding Apple’s product portfolio.

The Beats x Ammunition Story

Let’s continue the Apple story but in a different direction. Robert Brunner worked at Apple as Director of Industrial Design, before being succeeded by Jonathan Ive in 1997. Brunner’s tryst with Apple would resume in 2014 when Beats Electronics (Beats by Dre) was purchased by Apple for $3.2 billion. Beats Electronics was a collaboration between Robert Brunner, Dr Dre (rapper) and Jimmy Iovine (record company executive). Beats partnered with Ammunition Design (founded by Brunner) to design the product lines for headphones and speakers – Beats Studio, Powerbeats, Mixr and the Solo. Beats also outsourced their manufacturing to Monster Cable (now Monster Products) in California.

Ammunition CEO Robert Brunner

Click here to watch Robert Brunner’s Design Lecture series at Carnegie Mellon’s  School of Design

With the entire product lifecycle – from invention and design to production and logistics being taken care of by Robert Brunner’s Ammunition and Monster Cable, the Beats leadership could direct all their efforts into corporate strategy and marketing. Beats Electronics was a company founded by individuals who, at the time, had no experience of operating a company at such a grand level. Bringing in Robert Brunner was crucial to their growth. Beats is now known as an international brand with some of the best designed products in the audio wearables market and enjoys the second highest market share of 15% of the headphones market in USA.

The Bosch x Slany story

Erich Slany was an industrial designer who’d previously worked with Daimler Truck AG and Zeiss-Ikon. In 1956, he founded his own design consultancy – SLANY Design (now TEAMS), and convinced Robert Bosch that power tools housed in plastic would make them lighter. Slany worked with Bosch over several years to completely revolutionize the design of power tools. The Bosch brand became synonymous with high quality, reliable power tools.

Hans Erich Slany

Betting on plastic housing and creating a new approach to ergonomic tools was a risk that Bosch was Robert Bosch was willing to take. However, he outsourced the design to Slany and reduced the risk load on Bosch. The Slany – Bosch collaboration is a classic example of how collaborations between industrial giants and design consultancies are a symbiotic relationship. Today, SLANY Design is renamed to TEAMS Design and they still continue working with Bosch to design their new power tool inventions, three decades after Erich Slany’s departure from SLANY Design.

Pros of working with an external design consultancy to invent an idea

  • External design teams bring a fresh perspective to a product’s design. This comes from their extensive experience inventing a wide range of products across various industries. Working on the wiring harness of an automobile can provide insights into the cable management of a mixer-grinder.
  • Another advantage of working with a design consultancy is their understanding of latest design trends and ability to tap into the rise in popularity. Design consultancies like Analogy have a finger on the pulse of design trends through working with clients across various geographies, industries and by designing for a diverse user base.
  • Enlisting the services of a design consultancy is often times faster than hiring employees to form an in-house design team. Quite a few times, we have progressed from the first discovery call with a client to kicking off the project in less than 4 days. The same cannot be said for hiring individual designers and engineers.
  • Clients not only are outsourcing the design work to an external consultancy, they’re also outsourcing the admin, HR, payroll and project management work that comes along with the design project.
  • Design consultancies work very well for new product development. Whether it’s a new product line or creating a unique design language for upcoming products, external design consultancies quite often outperform in-house design teams in this regard. For clients, it is also more economically feasible and less time intensive to work with an external design team for new product development.

Cons of working with an external design consultancy to invent an idea

  • Confidentiality is sometimes an issue while working with external teams. To solve this problem at Analogy, we have a mutual NDA which we share with prospective clients for free. This protects interests of both entities entering into the agreement, whether the project goes through or not. We also are quite happy to sign our client’s NDA after a quick review by our legal counsel.
  • Any work outsourced to external teams has to be clearly defined and detailed. Projects go as per the Scope Of Work (SOW) defined before the start of the project and a project’s success metrics are tied to the SOW. Sometimes, this may seem restrictive for clients who are unsure of the full extent of services needed for their requirements. At Analogy, we solve this in two ways listed below.
  • We get on multiple discovery calls(free of charge!) with potential clients to understand their requirements and suggest the ideal SOW for their needs.
  • As the project progresses, in case clients require services that are outside the SOW, we quickly put together a change request and consider it as additional scope at a negotiable cost.

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When to use an external design consultancy

Having looked at a few case studies, pros and cons of working with an external design team, let’s see when it makes sense to outsource to an external design studio

  1. If you’re an enthusiastic entrepreneur with a product idea, working with a design consultancy is the best solution to turn your product dream into reality. Whether you have experience and expertise in the product domain or not, we recommend working with a design consultancy to materialize your invention, instead of hiring an in house design team and wasting precious funds.
  2. For developing new products with a radical design that are a breath of fresh air in the market, outsource the work to an external design consultancy. Internal teams, sometimes get entrenched in the regular way of doing things and find it difficult to come up with a design that’s truly revolutionary.
  3. If your brand language and design language needs a refresh, an external design team is what you need to get the job done. Some of the most iconic logos in use today came from external design teams. Steve Jobs outsourced Apple’s logo design to Regis McKenna in 1977. Rob Janoff, who was working for Regis McKenna came up with the rainbow striped Apple logo.

The decision between building an in-house design team vs outsourcing to an external design agency is one that could make or break your business. We’ve seen examples of successes and failures for both these options. At Analogy, we get on multiple discovery calls and meetings with potential clients to help them make decisions for the new project.

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