Five Questions Every Freelance Product Designer Should Ask Themselves

Five Questions Every Freelance Product Designer Should Ask Themselves

When someone is designing a product, there is a great deal of thought, time, and effort that goes into that process. There will be many steps in the process, from figuring out the initial ideas, designing starting sketches, and contacting a rapid prototyping service. All of these steps can be long and repetitive, and if you aren’t properly prepared, you can waste every single step.

If you’re a freelance product designer, you don’t want to waste your precious time or your clients. And if you’re hiring a contract designer for the project, you want to make sure that, first of all, you get your money’s worth. Second of all, you want to make sure you get the correct product in the end. If you’ve hired a freelancer for a product design job and your final product isn’t correct, you will definitely not be satisfied.

It’s important for a product designer or anyone using a product design service to ask themselves several questions to get the best out of their product. This may be a discussion you have with the freelance designer you hire for the project, or it may be something that gets incorporated into every project you do. Either way, it’s imperative you understand the answers to these questions before you start designing, or else your product won’t be as successful as it can be.

1) What problem is your product solving?

Clothes folding machine product design by Arild.

This is the most vital and fundamental question in all of product design. If you get this question wrong, you will immediately fail. In the process of creating, the most important parameter of the design will be if it meets the criteria required by the customer. It doesn’t matter so much whether a new fashion design is yellow or red, or whether it has a cool design on the outside as much as it does that it functions properly. If the shoe is intended to provide extra orthotic support and it’s designed to be flat and unsupportive but look cool, you’ve missed the entire point of the project.

There are many ways to go about defining the problem, but essentially, it always comes back to the voice of the customer. What did the customer demand from their product? That is where you will find the most useful information because you’re simply trying to solve the problem they’ve presented. 

When you work closely with your client and know what problem you want to fix, you’ll be able to focus your efforts on the most important aspects of the design to create a successful product. In the example above, if you spend most of your time designing the function of the sole and orthotic support, you will start off with a better quality product that will meet the requirements of the project and you will find your constraints for the rest of the design. 

Once you have the sole, you can understand how thick the rest of the shoe needs to be structurally supported, and how tall the overall shoe will be. Once the necessary guidelines are accounted for, then you can start to fill in the extra details, like colors and design elements.

2) What is your competitive advantage with this product?

Modern 12v fan product design by aad.

Another important question when designing a product is how you will beat your competition. The goal in any business is to make money, that’s clear. By the nature of the economy, competition exists, and you have to overcome it to sell your product. So, your product needs a competitive advantage. This is what will set your product apart from the competition.

If you’re a product designer, you don’t need to have the best product on the market. In fact, with a large number of CAD designers and creators out there, there will probably be many people with superior products. What you need is a great design to set your product apart. 

Think of this example, what would make you purchase a Kia over a Toyota? Aside from the brand name, there are so many things that each company touts. If you watch a commercial for a Toyota Corolla, you will get the impression that it’s the best car on the market with absolutely no flaws. But, if you watch a commercial for a similar Kia model, you’ll learn that it beat the Toyota Corolla in five categories, and it has additional features for the same price. These are competitive advantages. 

With interchangeable products, each competitor has specialized in certain areas so that they can market specific advantages. This is what you will do with your product – figure out how to design in a competitive market edge. To do this, you need to understand what your competition is offering. Is the competitive orthotic shoe company offering a ventilated shoe? Then you can go a different direction by offering a lightweight alternative, and advertise how it “reduces stress on the joints and legs.” 

Marketing is just as important as product design, so you need to ensure that you can find a marketable, competitive advantage and design it into your product.

3) Where will it be used?

Bike Trailer product design by Michael Dimou.

As a freelance product designer, there are many things to take into consideration that are not readily obvious. Clearly, the end-user is important because this is the main question you’ll be answering as we discussed in the first portion. However, where it will be used is just as vital.

The environment in which a product is used will determine as many of its properties as its end use will. For instance, industrial design services can be dynamic and very interesting, but if you don’t take into account the environment it will be used in, it will not be as successful. Kitchens frequently get dirty and there are particulates throughout the air that can clog up ventilation and small machinery, so these things need to be considered when designing the product. Additionally, fall damage should be examined as a possibility for this product, because people often drop things when working in a kitchen.

Here’s a more personal example. I worked at a company designing electrical connectors for oil and gas mining. The products we designed and manufactured met every electrical specification and were excellent products. We tested them rigorously, had them certified by international boards, but we were still getting complaints. 

There were two things we didn’t consider in our designs, and both of them had to do with the environment they were used in. First of all, oil mining facilities are often very wet, both with oil and water. This made every surface slick and made the connectors disconnect frequently, and would occasionally short them out, which was a serious hazard.

The second issue was that, because the people installing these were on an oil rig with limited tools and even more limited time, the installation process tended to be less than ideal. Many times, installers would use their trucks to pull connectors apart and use sledgehammers to drive them together. So, while the products met all of the electrical specifications, they were failing mechanically. 

We had to address this issue, and in the end, we lost a large sum of money due to customer complaints and returns, all because we didn’t properly understand the environment in which these products would be used.

4) What is it made of?

Plywood PC Table product design by ansilmi.

Another important consideration for a product design company or freelance product designer is the material of the end product. The material of the product will determine quite a bit of your process, in fact, so much so that it can drastically impact your design. 

Think back to the analogy of shoe design we’ve been discussing. Different fabric materials and plastics for the sole and sides of the shoe may require different levels of ventilation to keep the foot cool because polyester will breathe completely differently than cotton or another material. The materials can even promote some of the design aspects you’ve been creating. Using an aerogel or memory foam material in the sole of the shoe can promote the support your client wants, so if you can recognize this early in the design process, you can plan for it, which may take the stress off the conformation-based support you’re designing.

Think about this, however. The material you choose to make the product out of will impact its production, at every stage. When creating a prototype, 3D printing services can provide a quick and accurate product if you’re using plastics. However, you’d need to get a custom piece created if it’s a machined aluminum part. This impacts the final manufacturing process for your company or your client. 

It may have been an initial constraint given by the client because they may not be capable of working with certain materials, but either way, as the product designer, you need to account for it in your design or else it may not be feasible. The material of the finished product can make or break the design, so if you account for it upfront, you’ll be much better off.

5) Where will it be sold?

Lightning Cable for Amazon Sales by Design2render.

A final thing to consider when designing a product is the marketplace. Where will you sell your product, or where will your client be selling their product? This can be as broad of a question as you like because the marketplace in China is significantly different than the marketplace in North America, so that should be considered.

But you should also consider what kind of store you’ll be selling your product in. The designs that sell well at Target are a bit different than those that sell well at a Lowes Home Improvement. This goes back around to the initial question and how you need to understand the voice of your customer. If you know their needs and what they plan to use it for, you will be better equipped to handle these decisions in the end.

Where a product may sell could even be more diverse than what we’ve discussed. If your client or your business is in an industry and doesn’t sell directly to consumers at all, your design ideas will be drastically different. For the electrical connectors my company made that we discussed earlier, they were not appealing to the crowd that would shop at a traditional retailer, because they’re not designed to sell to consumers. Instead, they are designed to be easy to use, rugged, and to have clear indications of use and certifications on them. 

Some of these are industry standards, so you have to understand those aspects before you complete your design and some are just more appealing in certain markets than others. Consider all these aspects to ensure that your product design is as effective as possible because, in the end, the goal is to make a product that you can sell and make a profit from.

Cad Crowd’s Freelance Product Designers Can Assist with Any Project

As a CAD service or industrial design professional, there are many questions you’ll ask yourself. Hopefully, if you ask these questions and apply the answers properly, the only remaining question will be how to handle all the sales you have for your product. 

Making sure you ask the right questions when you’re a product designer or are asking the right questions of your client when you’re offering a product design service, will help you make the right product. Without a true understanding of the customer requirements and the market you’ll be selling in, you won’t be able to make the best product possible.

A little time spent at the beginning of a project doing the right things will go a long way to ensuring that your product turns out right. If you’d like help, find out how everything at Cad Crowd works. We’ll give you a free quote and connect you with some of the best freelancers on the market.