A Brief Guide to Product Design

A beautiful moulding of flamingos by Kevin, one of the talented Kenyan artists. It was showcased at the Zaragoza Expo in Spain
The hallmark of handmade products is individuality. Some traditional products sell very well without changing even one detail. Unfortunately, those products are rare. More often than not, products require regular updating and redesign. Here is a brief guide to getting started on product design.

1. Revisiting Your Resources

What are your resources? The first set of resources you should consider are raw materials. Make a list of all the possible raw materials in your locale. Go outside and see what you can find! The second set of resources you should examine are human resources, specifically, your skills and those of your fellow artisans. What can you all offer? What are your backgrounds? Finally, write down your technical and product resources. Each can be helpful. Keep in mind what is available and keep an eye out for products you or others in your community or country have made.

2. Identify Trends in the Marketplace

Before you sit down and start designing your product, consider what trends are affecting your targeted market. Trends come from many different places. Economic, political, and lifestyle trends can affect your products’ success. While you can look for trends in places like fashion magazines, stores, art galleries, trade shows, and catalogs you can also get official trend reports published by experts who have built their reputations on successfully charting trends year after year. For a list of potential publications, check out the publications and resources at www.craftscenter.org/aen/trendreport.cfm.

3. Planning Your Product

Once you have completed your resource and trends research, you are well on your way to getting started on a design. Before you begin, take a look at how your resource and trend information correlates. For instance, if the group you chose to focus on is a large market with limited shillings to spend, do not pick a raw material that is scarce or very expensive. Similarly, if you picked a target customer that is cultured and highly educated, and you do pick a material that is expensive, make sure the product you design has skill and technical levels of sophistication and value to match both the raw material and the customers’ judgment.

4. Designing a Product Line

Though there are many methods to create designs, here’s one example of a typical design process. First, brainstorm alone or with others with the end goal of creating several new products or innovative adaptations of current products based on the research you have done. Second, add practical considerations to your visions. Add up every cost you may incur, add in your profit margin, and see if it falls within the range of prices your target customers will spend. Next, create a “line” of products. Usually two or three sets of three to four products is more than enough to demonstrate the design sense of your work, its quality, its reliability, and its price. Finally, create prototypes you can test out on the market. When you have your samples made, carefully catalog them individually in their families through drawings or photographs. Designate specific product codes for each piece and develop product information sheets that you can keep in a binder. They can be simple: the photo or drawing of the piece; its code, height, width, depth, and weight; materials used; the colors in which it can be ordered; its cost to you; and how long the production time is for specific quantities.

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