I had a conversation with a potential client several months ago about doing a redesign of their newly introduced product. Since they were not reengaging the initial design firm, I asked why. Their reasoning in short was that the product did not behave as they expected it to under changing conditions external to their product, and thought the design firm should have designed for that. I asked what the product specification called for under those circumstances and was asked “what is a product specification?” That answer said it all; the process went wrong at the beginning.
That’s not to say that starting with a napkin sketch won’t work, but a clear and detailed product specification is the mainstay of a successful product design. It saves development time, money, and can ultimately serve as a guide for marketing by pointing out how the product or device differs from competitor versions, or the company’s past models. Within the product specification the client and the design company agree on what a perfect iteration of the product will look like, what it can withstand from an environmental standpoint, how it will perform under ideal conditions, and how it will perform when conditions are less than ideal.
Use case discussions are invaluable in identifying how a new product should behave when the customer uses it as envisioned and more importantly, when they do not. If it’s a connected device, what happens when the connection is lost, for what period of time, and how does that effect power management if that’s a critical design element? A well thought out product specification will not only capture initial design goals, it will help reduce unexpected outcomes in the design.
In short, a product specification paves the way for a focused design effort that is cost effective and efficient. Pay for the product specification. You’ll spend a lot less time re-working a design you thought was ready for release.