Part 1: Ideation
"Ideation starts with clearly defining the scope of the problem and ends with a proof-of-concept prototype," says Bolt founder and partner Ben Einstein.
Problem research. Product design starts with an "a-ha" moment - when you realize your product can fill a need. "Spending more time here will ensure founders lay a strong foundation for the rest of product development," Einstein adds.
Einstein adds that when gathering information for product design by interviewing potential customers, keep an open mind about where the product design may go and work toward building 3+ customer personas.
Proof-of-concept prototype. Next step: testing the concept. At this phase, you'll validate the major assumptions you formulated in your research. You'll build the prototype, use it in its natural setting, and observe to gain more insights.
Part 2: Design
The design phase involves improving user experience and presentation.
Customer development. "Startups that focus on customer feedback are far more likely to succeed than those that sit in a basement and engineer endlessly," says Einstein. "A design mentor of mine once said 'you can only learn how much your design sucks when you watch people use it.'"
Wireframes. Storyboard the full product experience, including:
- First use
- Repeated use or special use
- Customer support
Looks-like prototypes. A looks-like prototype is non-functional final product. Look at other products and sketch design options. Make the prototypes quickly and cheaply - and out of anything from clay to foam. Continue testing with customers once complete.
Part 3: Engineering
You want your product to function reliably and be cost-effective to produce. Done in tandem with the design phase, the engineering phase involves function.
Specification. Critical at this phase is the engineering specification documentation. Documentation should include information about:
- Durability and packaging
Works-like prototype. "The works-like prototype is built to answer a large number of questions uncovered by developing the engineering requirements: core function, component selection, PCB, mechanics, feel, and assembly," says Einstein. You should select components based on price, durability, and supplier availability/lead time.
Firmware/software. Since accompanying software depends on the hardware, software development generally follows hardware development. You should consider:
- Hardware test
Part 4: Validation
In this phase, prepare your product for mass production by joining the design and engineering phases:
Engineering prototype. In this first phase in merging design and engineering, create one prototype. "Often this is the best time to raise money from investors," adds Einstein.
Engineering validation. This phase answers “does my product cover the functional requirements of my specification?” Create a minimum of 20 products to test the product engineering.
Design validation. This phase answers "“does the product meet all possible requirements including cosmetic and environmental?” In this phase, focus on the production process. Create a minimum of 50 products, then test.
Production validation. This phase is your first official production run. Create a minimum of 500 products. You may need to create jigs and fixtures in the production process.
Mass production. This phase is the first full production run. Create a minimum of 5,000 products.
Along the way, continuously improve. Once you complete these phases, it's time for marketing and distribution. Oh and that other important thing you may not have had time for: sleep.