March 2022
Industrial Design in Business: What you should know
Lynnaea Haggard
Lynnaea Haggard

Marketing Manager

Industrial Design vs. Industrial Product Design vs. Human-centered design vs. Design thinking


1. Industrial Design vs. Industrial Product Design vs. Human-centered design vs. Design thinking: what’s the difference and why all the hype?

2. The multidisciplinary nature of Industrial Design and sub-categories of Industrial Design services

3. Connecting dots: How to create great Industrial Design Products

4. Principles of Human-Centered Design : 7 practices to help you stay focused on the human


1. Industrial Design vs. Industrial Design Products vs. Human-centered Design vs. Design Thinking.

These terms are thrown around a lot in the innovation business, but there’s a fair amount of confusion about what they mean and why they’re even important. So what are each of these terms, how do they work together, and why all the hype about the need for a design team in order to achieve the innovative or competitive advantage?

A right understanding of these is essential for any of you just starting to build an innovation function within your company, for any of you who realize your company has to “up” their innovation game to survive, for you who are simply completely new to innovation & design, or for you who know everything about running an innovation function, but need a refresher to remember why you continue to pour your life into this between the hours of 8-5, and why it is, in fact, one of the most important drivers of businesses’ and societies’ success.

For our team here at Sundberg-Ferar, we too must never lose sight of the impact of Industrial Design, because it is the key to our clients’ success. Industrial Design has been our DNA since 1934 when the studio was created right here in Detroit, Michigan. It’s the core that has driven our success in helping clients develop exceptional products and meaningful solutions for nearly 90 years – across new mobility and automotive, as well as industrial & commercial products, and consumer products. It is also still one of our core service offerings today.

With all the evolution of the discipline that has taken place over the last century, it’s important for all of us to pause and make sure we’re still clear on what’s what.

Let’s dig in.

At its most basic, Industrial Design is the process of creating any mass-produced (or industrially produced) product to achieve specific functional and experiential or emotional goals within a specific context of use, so as to benefit the user(s) of that product. Industrial Designers work in many sub-fields like product design, transportation or automotive design, experience design, service design and more.


For any company that manufactures a product or service, Industrial Design with its method and tools, is the key in the ignition of the engine of innovation and can drive a company to any future state they want to achieve. You want to be more sustainable? Start with Industrial Design. You want to build a better industrial product? Start with Industrial Design. You want to achieve more widespread brand awareness and loyalty? Start with Industrial Design. You want to grow from a technology company to a solutions provider? Use Industrial Design. You want to beat the competition and gain more market share? Start with Industrial Design.

Sound too much like a magic bullet? While it’s admittedly not a magic bullet, Industrial Design’s ability to make or break a company’s success cannot be overstated. As Adam Judge, author of the Little Black Book of Design, once said, “The alternative to good design is always bad design. There is no such thing as no design”. If you’re not aware of nor purposely using Industrial Design for your products, there’s a strong chance the quality of your products (and therefore your business success) is suffering.

Industrial Design, alongside Engineering, are at the inception point of all physical objects we see and touch in any context at any time throughout our day. Industrial Design is directly responsible for the quality of a product. Poor quality products fail. If your products fail, your customers leave, and your company fails. Industrial Design is the baseline of your company’s ability to win or lose your customers, and therefore drastically affects its viability.

When taken to the extreme, bad design means companies go out of business, ordinary people suffer a decrease in quality of life due to the failure of products they rely on, and ultimately, societies regress.

When a society values Industrial Design in products, economies flourish, businesses thrive, and individuals achieve greater heights of accomplishment and satisfaction with the extra help afforded by their implements and products for daily life. I’m not talking about mere materialism here. I’m talking about, for example, the ability to use an electric staple gun to fabricate a play house for your children so they can explore their imaginations and accelerate their development, I’m talking about the ability to use your coffee maker to drink a cup of coffee in the morning so that you can perform well during your work day, get that promotion, and help your kid through college, or pay for a loved one’s medical bills. Without a commitment to excellence in Industrial Design, the ripple effects are enormous. We are dependent on objects more than we realize. And those objects enable us to live.


Industrial Product Design, or Industrial Design Products…

…not to be confused with the overarching field of Industrial Design, refers in most cases to the design of industrial products specifically. For example, an Industrial Designer or an Industrial Design Studio may specialize in designing Industrial Products, meaning heavy equipment and machines used for industrial purposes. This could include construction vehicles, airport tarmac vehicles, directional drills, large manufacturing or factory equipment like conveyors or picking robots, food service equipment, specialty machines and more. Industrial Product Design also happens to be one of Sundberg-Ferar’s areas of expertise. To see some examples of Industrial Product Design from our portfolio, click here.

Design Thinking…

…is the set of tools, practices, and methods developed and used by the Industrial Design field to spark creative, out-of-the-box thinking. It is the scientifically repeatable process for generating novel ideas, and bringing them to successful fruition in the form of an industrial or consumer product that enhances the lives of its users.

Design Thinking was popularized by IDEO and Stanford, but has been practiced for many decades by skilled and experienced Industrial Product Design Studios. Today, it is often spoken of interchangeably with creative thinking in general, and is now applied broadly across many fields in an effort to generate innovation and create solutions to the world’s challenges. This widespread adoption and application of Design Thinking techniques, along with the admission of its importance is undoubtedly a boon to innovation efforts around the world. But with widespread dissemination also comes inevitable syncretism, and unfortunately many organizations today only practice a superficial or incomplete version of it, and forego, abdicate, cheat themselves of its full benefit proportionately to the same degree.

Design Thinking is now a liberally used buzzword, but how do you know if a design studio or innovation function is using the tools of design thinking correctly? Nomenclature can be misleading, but the proof is in the pudding. If that team is producing impressively novel and successful products, and if they can demonstrate the ability to repeatably overcome stalemates and obstacles throughout the product development process, chances are they are using the tried and true tools of Design Thinking which have made Industrial Designers successful in producing innovations for over a century – being that the original development of the term Design Thinking was simply meant to capture and formalize what Industrial Designers had been practicing all along.

At Sundberg-Ferar we use the devices and methods of Design Thinking in every project we undertake whether tactical or strategic. At its most basic, Design Thinking follows an iterative process of discover (or research), design, prototype, test, repeat. However, these steps are known by many other names as well. For example, at Sundberg-Ferar, our process is: Discover, Create, Assess, and Realize, and we also believe in 4 key ingredients that must be present in any meaningful design: the Functional, Emotional, Business, and Viability aspects.

To learn more about tools and applications of Design Thinking, here is some further reading.


Human-centered design

Human-centered design principles can be applied in any design field, in Industrial Design, Business Design, or Graphic Design, for example. At Sundberg-Ferar, we practice human-centered design principles across all our work.

It is the practice of bringing the human perspective to bear in every stage of the design process, and making design decisions in product development that benefit not only the humans who will be using this product – this includes the end user, but other users like maintenance workers, care-takers, back-end software update developers, and anyone else who will interact with the product along the supply and distribution chains – but also takes into account the product’s broader impact and mitigates unintended consequences of the product for the larger community, societies and humanity as a whole. Today, some professionals use the term “humanity-centered design” to place even more emphasis on creating socially viable or sustainable solutions.

Are you looking for an innovation partner to help you realize your product design & strategy goals, or are you looking for a team who can bring design skills and guidance to the table? Reach out to us! We’d love to talk.


2. Multi-disciplinary Industrial Design Approach

The process of Industrial Design for product development is complex and requires a multi-disciplinary approach to be executed well. To create the optimal design and the highest-fidelity execution, Industrial Designers must organically interface throughout the development process with engineers, design researchers, software developers, manufacturers, graphic user interface designers, prototypers, model makers, and the list goes on. Ideally, the Industrial Design process brings in all the disciplines that will ever work on the product or have any influence on its production. This scale of collaboration often becomes prohibitive at some point especially in larger companies because it often requires unrealistic logistical feats and diplomacy skills to implement. Nevertheless, it is crucial in Industrial Design to bring in as many perspectives affecting the product’s development as possible. In contrast, this multi-disciplinary approach becomes easier to implement in smaller-scale independent design studios, or smaller design teams or task forces within large organizations that include representatives from all disciplines. This way, obstacles like silos, department politics, and the general inertia of large organizations becomes less prohibitive.

In any case, a multi-disciplinary approach is vital in the product development process to avoid loss in translation and misunderstanding, and to increase efficiencies, produce more elegant, holistic solutions, and speed up your time to market. Knowing the best moments to bring in one discipline vs. another in the development process and how to blend everything together into one unified product is a set of skills that can only ripen with time and experience.

Here are some examples of Sundberg-Ferar’s different design services and disciplines, with examples of how we have applied them to diverse Industrial Product Design challenges:


Industrial Design

Industrial Design has been at the core of Sundberg-Ferar’s innovation methodology since our inception in 1934. As Industrial Designers, we aim to make every product we work on more useful, usable, intuitive, understandable, ergonomic, and beautiful – all based on a deep understanding of user behavior, needs, and desires.

Portfolio Examples: Dannar Mobile Power Station, OBI Robotic Feeding Device

Creative Engineering

Our engineers take pride in making products beautiful from the inside out, discovering time and again that an elegant solution to a complex problem is the best recipe for success. The Sundberg-Ferar engineering team applies this mantra and serves to enable innovation, helping you determine your organization’s needs and how best to meet your challenges. We can execute designs for everything from high-volume, cost-sensitive products to limited production, couture systems and we know how to recommend the appropriate manufacturing processes that stage the products for success.Expertise in plastics, mechanisms, metals, composites, soft goods, electro-mechanical systems, among many others helps provide clients with a broad-scope tool box to pull from.

In early project phases, we invent new solutions and flush out specifications that guide the development towards robust solutions. We later execute and validate, bringing the design from the dream to the table with tool-ready data. In every case, we work as a team with industrial design, combining art and science to make your products not just emotionally desirable, but technically feasible and manufacturable to the highest standard.

Portfolio Examples: Hyundai T.I.G.E.R., SproutsIO

Innovation Strategy

Sundberg-Ferar’s Genesis innovation process is our proprietary set of techniques used to identify trends, discover unmet needs, synthesize conclusions and realize innovation pathways. Our Genesis process is the best way clients can dive into future business opportunities to establish ideal consumer experiences, confidently develop solutions and assess high opportunity innovation pathways.

Sundberg-Ferar’s Innovation Strategy techniques ensure that your company is prepared and tactically poised to create and develop sought-after products. Your resources are too valuable to be spent solving the wrong problems and developing products people won’t buy. Our Genesis™ strategy experts consider external and internal variables that may impact your business to uncover unmet market needs and define tactical initiatives to fill your product pipeline.

Portfolio Examples: Masco Cabinetry Merillat CoreGuard, Hyundai The Loop

Design Research

At SF, research is an integral element in the design process, providing insights to fuel innovation and amassing evidence to build confidence in a design direction. There are three distinct roles that research serves in our design process: Discovery, Refinement and Validation.

Through creatively crafted methods and techniques in both qualitative and quantitative formats, we bring clarity to the spoken and unspoken needs of ALL of the appropriate stakeholders: end users, purchase influencers and decision makers, sales and service groups and/or client management teams. Our approach is always customized, iterative in nature, and collaborative… bringing together the unique perspectives of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, designers and/or engineers.

Portfolio Examples: Club Car Precedent Golf CarAmes True Temper Pruners


Physical prototyped concepts are an early and prolific part of our product-innovation approach. Models and prototypes allow accurate evaluation of product concepts on many levels and at many stages in the development process. From quick mock-ups, 3D sketches, and proof-of-concepts, to high-fidelity, functional, and production intent prototypes the assets we develop are crucial communication tools that speed the decision-making process and are second-to-none in quality. Our techniques range from hand sculpted foam mock-ups and precision milled parts, to additive manufacturing and full-size production-intent prototypes. Along with our dedicated model-makers, every designer and engineer on our team has a thorough understanding of prototypes and we work with our hands wherever possible. Whether it’s big, small, simple or complex, the artists in our modeling facilities can build anything.

Portfolio Examples: JR Clancy Helios Hoists and SceneControl12, Arrow Fasteners Electric and Manual Staplers

GUI Design

We believe that the user interface should be crafted as a marriage  between the physical product, and the ideal user experience.  Beyond basic control, UI is increasingly being used to reflect deeper values; it is the personality of both your product and your brand.   We understand that a product’s user interface is an opportunity to connect the nuances of your users’ needs to feature solutions and the equity for your brand.  Our grounding in product design gives us a thorough understanding of how to intuitively communicate to consumers, and how to create that seamless experience.  Whether your product is a consumer durable, medical device, automotive application, or service, we can help you bring your interface to life in a way that is clear, functional, and beautiful.

Portfolio Examples: Chrysler Uconnect Infotainment SystemElectrolux Large Appliances

Packaging Design

We believe that packaging should reinforce the emotional appeal, elegance, and brand values of the product at the point of purchase. Too often, the best attributes of a product are ignored, covered, or diluted once it’s inside its final package. The way we see it, all of the research and creativity that results in a new product is also directly applicable to the product’s packaging design. The emotional hooks that make a product uniquely compelling must be communicated and accentuated in the “unboxing experience” as well as over its long-term use. At Sundberg-Ferar, our goal is to leverage the thinking that went into the design of the product and use it to develop a packaging strategy that shows off the relevant purchase decision drivers associated with the product itself.

Portfolio Examples: Wiss Tools Medium Duty Shop Scissors

Service Design

Products today are conceived and developed as three-fold embodiments of their physical, digital, and service elements. Service design is increasingly becoming a linchpin of the product development process. At Sundberg-Ferar we’ve navigated the complexities of service design helping clients develop everything from community programs to remote education strategies and elderly care services. Never straying from foundational research and insights on the needs, wants, and behaviors of all stakeholders involved, our designers craft meaningful and seamless experiences whether as product-related or stand-alone services.

Portfolio Examples: Michigan Virtual Emergency Remote Learning ,  Hyundai The Loop

By the way, if you’re looking for an innovation partner to help you realize your product design & strategy goals, or you’re looking for a team who can bring design skills and guidance to the table – reach out to us! We’d love to talk. 


3. Connecting the Dots: How to create great Industrial Design Products


Creating great Industrial Design Products is all about making the right connections – “connecting the right dots” so to speak. We just talked about the importance of connecting disciplines in the Industrial Design Process to smooth the development path, and bring successful products to market.

Correctly combining knowledge and insight from many diverse areas to develop an ideal user experience is the key to great industrial product design. As Charles Eames once said: “Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects…the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.”

What does this really mean? What are some other examples of the kinds of dots you or your internal Industrial Design team should be connecting to create great products? And how do you know you’re connecting the right dots? Here are some tips and insights on “connecting the right dots” to create market-leading human-centered industrial product designs.


Connecting the right dots using the Product Design Context:

You’ve probably heard it said that “Context is King”. The same is true when you’re designing any product or service. Understanding the context of its use, the demographic and psychographic positioning of the people using it, and what forces those factors exert on your product will make the difference between success and miserable failure on the market.

Ultimately your product must survive on its own and prove itself in the real contexts of people’s homes, company workflows, or job sites. All the great marketing in the world can’t save your product once it’s out there “in the wild”. You must do rigorous design research up front to understand and account for all these contextual factors that affect the product-to-human interaction. If you succeed in this, your product will integrate seamlessly with its real-world ecosystem and create a delightful, frictionless user experience worthy of claiming your customer’s loyalty.

Understanding the truth is not as simple as asking someone what they think. You have to extract the truth from them by gathering information about their behavior, wants, dreams, pain points, and habits. This is design research. A simple misunderstanding can have a huge impact. Even in Design Research, as you’re extracting the voice of the customer, conducting focus groups, developing surveys and beyond, beware of assuming that you understand your user’s needs simply because you’re listening to them. Listening to your users VS. understanding what they mean, and extracting the ideal product experience from that, are woooorlds apart!

Even within one culture, these minute differences in how we perceive and communicate mean that Design Research must also be nuanced and use a robust process to extract correct insights from what the user says, does, thinks, and feels.

As the Canadian designer, Marshall McLuhan said: “Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.” We put this principle to work at Sundberg-Ferar too. Our Design Research team has a big toolbox of qualitative and quantitative research methods and strategies to uncover the most relevant information from your target users about their needs, wants, dreams, and aspirations. Then we synthesize the information into practical insights that are actionable for your team with a list of functional and emotional attributes your product needs to include.


Connecting the dots between Stakeholders with Design Research:

We’ve been talking a lot about understanding your “user”. But who is your user?

Most product managers know that they should understand their end user, but what about all the other stakeholders in their product supply chain?

Your product will be just as likely to fail if it doesn’t meet the needs of one of your stakeholders as that of your end-user. The end user will always want all the features for free, but you have to understand how to make it a win-win-win for all your multi-users in the product’s form function and emotion. Design Research, therefore, needs to also include everyone who will be touching your product at any point in its lifecycle. Does it work for manufacturers? Does it work for your sales & marketing team? Does it work for your C-level executive’s company strategy? Does it work for those who have to do periodic maintenance on the product? Does it work for those who have to dispose of the product in a sustainable way?


Connecting the dots between Product Elements:

Product Design is not just about designing a product. It’s designing the configuration of a system.

A product is not just the sum of its materials, construction, and framework. The product is how all these factors come together in a new and compelling way. How does the product achieve a purposeful blend of hardware, digital, and service elements? Only gracefully combining all of these together will make your product successful. If you focus on any one of these in isolation, rather than marrying them all together seamlessly, the product will fail.

You simply can’t reduce a product down to just one of its elements. You have to analyze the individual parts while also not losing sight of the whole, and the overall experience you’re trying to create with all these parts coming together. For example, you can’t think of the Rocky theme song without thinking of the Rocky movie, and you can’t have the Rocky movie without the song. That’s how it should be with products: Software + hardware + service, all joined together in a perfect union.

Eames said that “[the details] make the product”. That’s true. However, only after you first determine the overall “macro” ideal user experience you’re trying to create can you focus on the “micro” details to make sure they further that overall goal. Design is never successful in isolation. You have to carefully craft all the parts of the product together.


Connecting the dots across the Design Process:

Steve Jobs famously said, “The design is not just what it looks like and feels like. The design is how it works.” We would add that design is also the whole process of masterminding how the product is crafted from concept to production. The quality of this process depends on the quality of connections between the designers, strategists, engineers, etc. who work together on it, determining how it will be made.  At Sundberg-Ferar our multidisciplinary team is all under one roof at our one location in Metro-Detroit for exactly this reason. ( Don’t worry, we’re also working seamlessly in the virtual world, with clients thousands of miles from us, using our robust remote working tools) We make sure that our design process is continuous with no loss in translation between the different stages and disciplines. Industrial designers, engineers, innovation strategists, design researchers, GUI specialists, and model-makers all have an important say in our design process.


Connecting the dots between Your Company and Your Product:

As you probably are well aware, how your product is physically made also casts a halo on your business profitability through manufacturing costs, sourcing costs, sustainability and more. On top of connecting the dots between 1) the real-world context of your product, 2) its multi-users, and 3) the process by which it’s developed, you also have to connect that with the needs of your business. Will the product be profitable, beneficial, and sustainable for your business?

Every company has their own unique objectives, goals and aspirations, as well as a unique starting point from which they’re building. For example, not every company wants to be an Amazon or a Tesla. It depends on your company aspirations. The question is knowing your starting point and your desired future state and then using all the tools of design to map out your own ideal journey or roadmap to that desired state.


Cross-connecting Knowledge to Optimize Your Product:

All fields of study and knowledge eventually connect somehow, and there is beauty to be appreciated in all those fields, as well as ways to use that knowledge in your product. This is a key element to great product design that a lot of designers don’t take the time to leverage. However, this element of curiosity to make new connections between seemingly disparate fields leads to the kind of innovation that takes your product from good, to FANTASTIC.

For example, Buckminster Fuller used pure math to design his famous geodesic dome. Antoni Gaudi designed The Sagrada Familia cathedral in Spain using elemental geometry structures that he derived from curves made by strings & weights, which he then blended with natural forms – essentially biomimicry. Once you get deep enough, biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics; business, engineering, design – it all connects.

As designers, we need to constantly cultivate our curiosity and immerse ourselves in these worlds to learn and retain ideas. That cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives (which is one of our strengths at Sundberg-Ferar as a multidisciplinary design team) means that when the right product challenge comes along, we’re equipped to solve it by making the right connections.


Connecting the dots to Change The World!

I’ll leave you with a case study on Baseball, where a simple design changed our nation as we know it today.

When the sport first began, it was typical in that era for American fathers to be busy at work for most of the week and have little time for father-son bonding. After a hard week’s work, when they finally had time to play with their sons on the weekend, more and more fathers and sons began throwing a baseball together. Next thing you knew, sons were dragging their dads to their baseball games.

That’s where the design of Baseball became an impetus creating one of the most formational venues of idea exchange and idea-breeding in American history. Why? Because as the nation’s kids were playing baseball, their fathers who were watching the game had the chance to meet other fathers there, talk together, make connections that they wouldn’t have otherwise made, and create ideas together. Just like that, a simple design, the sport of baseball, had a huge effect on American culture, as an assimilator of various ethnic groups together; It wasn’t just a pastime, it was fuel for the American innovation economy.

Perhaps the inventor of baseball didn’t have all of this in mind when he/she started. Maybe they just “got lucky”. But whether you’re designing a product, service, experience, or something else entirely, when you use all these principles to make your product complete, leaving nothing to chance or misinterpretation because you’ve done all the upfront work to account for its context, users, business sustainability, and the rest of it – then you stand the best chance of creating a product that could truly change the world!


Right now is the time to invest in Industrial Design and Innovation. Now is the time to ask what are the new needs and wants of your users and respond with new and relevant products. If you haven’t already, it’s time to pivot. It’s time to start thinking about design as not insurance but as an investment. We’d love to talk with you about how you can leverage industrial design thinking and innovative product design in YOUR business strategy to fuel growth in these times!


4. Principles of Human-Centered Design : 7 practices to help you stay focused on the human


When engaging in industrial design either internally or with an external studio here are 7 Principles of Human-Centered Design to keep top of mind for creating market winning products.


1. Clearly focus on the human

Yes, tech is key in enabling great products, but great product design can come from nowhere else than a foundation of human-centered design principles; understanding how humans will use and misuse your product or service, what they really want from it, what they don’t care about, and how it will fit into their existing lifestyles.

There’s no other way than to start by understanding what’s going on in the minds of your users, their influencers, and all the other multi-users and stakeholders of the product. This means seeking out your users in the environment where they’ll be authentically using the product, or at the point of origin. We have to intentionally make an effort to not be fixated only within the walls of the lab or design studio. Get yourself immersed in the field of use. Observe first, and don’t immediately jump to conclusions. Remember, in this human-centered design principle, the designer is not the user!

2. Next-level design

This human-centered design principle requires aspiring to that next-level of innovation. We should not merely create commodity products that contribute to a sea of same-ness. If you’re designing a product just because the competition is doing it, that’s not an innovation strategy. You’re a follower at that point. Unless you mature beyond this, you’ll be doomed to constantly squabble over one little slice of available market share along with countless competitors across the globe. We must make our solutions more purposeful, useful, usable, clever, and beautiful, by anticipating the needs of end users, making your product reflect them. Then they will self-select for your product. You want to be a market leader and attract users to your brand.

3. Making Things Work

A human-centered product starts with emotion, but delivers on the real object. Throughout the process, your design team must always be thinking about how you’re going to make the product work. Engineering is indispensable to design and the degree to which these two are joined at the hip will determine the product’s quality and functionality. The product must be technically feasible, physically sound and manufacturable in the chosen process. Here at Sundberg-Ferar, we intentionally keep our engineering and design teams working in sync from beginning to end of each project. This helps ensure no loss in translation of the product’s strategic intent. Thankfully, living here in Michigan, we also have access to a wealth of local resources, suppliers, and manufacturing talent to make anything work. In fact, we’ve design everything from toasters to tractors, bicycles to walking cars, and wearables to heart lung machines with companies right here in Michigan!

4. Be Different by design

Start embracing “Polarization”. That’s one of the primary pathways to success. All the best products today were polarizing at first, and if people have strong positive and negative reactions to your product, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong! If you see polarized reactions to your product, it can be a good indication that you’re on the right track. It’s already expected that the product will be functional, usable, useful, ergonomic etc. Those are table stakes. You must make your products different to transform them from a commodity to a sought-after product.
And yes, “different” can be good or bad. This is where you have to bring in rigorous design research methods to discover your target segment’s adoption propensities, likes and dislikes, and which of your concepts are the “right kind of different” to attract the early-adopters. You have to determine the right kind of different for your product to be a market leader.

5. Align your product to your business strategy

Although human-centered design principles are pivotal, in the end, your human-centered product might fail if it’s not also aligned to your existing business strategy. As a business you have the obligations of making money and staying in the black. Whether you’re a global enterprise or a startup, you have to understand your core competencies and other numerous economic factors like your subscription cycles, cross-docking, manufacturing capabilities, and organizational functions, platform locking, partnerships, etc. The product must be designed to work seamlessly with all of these essential aspects of your business. As we always say: Good design is good business. Moreover, your users, even if they don’t explicitly notice, will feel and experience that harmony of product and business in the quality of their user experience, in how the digital side of the product compliments the physical side, and in the accompanying service components they receive from your company. This harmonious experience is what will keep your users coming back for more!

6. Envision the Future

Any successful company must keep one eye on the horizon at all times. Yes, the here and now must be managed. Cash flow is king, and making your products faster, better, cheaper, lighter weight, sensorified, etc, are all important. However, you also must understand how to prepare for the future with a human-centered design perspective – the possible futures, probable futures, preferable futures, and most importantly the generative future that you (and a design studio like us) envision and create. We all must have a disciplined practice within our companies of extending our vision forward to a future ideal state, putting a proverbial stake in the ground 5, 10, or 15 years out, depending on your domain, and then back-casting to the present to embark on that path you’ve identified.

Without implementing this as a rigorous company practice and investing at least 8-10% of your budget in R&D, (this is our minimum advisable %), you simply won’t be prepared for the future. You’ll be stuck in an endless reactive cycle instead of being able to lead the market by anticipating user needs and offering them a meaningful solution before your competitors. Don’t be a laggard. Don’t get stuck in the game of catching up. Kedge to your future envisioned state.

As a disclaimer here, we know that nobody can truly know what the future holds. However, you can at least paint multiple possible scenarios so that your company is prepared for those possibilities. And we can’t generate this ideal future alone. We all must work together with our complementary players, collaborators, creative supply chain, and adjacent industry forces. Our industry and society are products of complex adaptive systems; they’re always in motion and always changing. But that can be harnessed by a proper innovation strategy approach that addresses these forces. It’s always a collaboration to envision and create the future.

If you’re interested to learn more about our Innovation Strategy offering, click here.

7. The art of making

Admittedly, the world of VR/AR is expanding daily and alternate forms of reality are becoming ubiquitous, BUT when it comes to human-centered design principles, nothing will ever or can ever replace the need for the physical art of making. If we lose our ability or willingness to roll up our sleeves and get down and dirty, to build those prototypes, to touch, feel, and physically experience what we’re trying to build, we will continue to miss make-it-or-break-it aspects of the user experience we’re creating. Whether a physical product, digital UI, or service, it’s creating physical prototypes of these use cases, interfaces, or service flows that will give you fast, rich, and often unexpected insights. Yes, we can all work in CAD, but the immediacy of physical aids, prototypes, mock-ups, and 3D sketches is irreplaceable. As designers, innovators, and businesspeople, we must invest in prototypes, mock-ups, and this art of making. In the beginning, always start with low-fidelity mock-ups using non-precious materials, and then as you mature your product, bring in the real craftsmen who build those high-fidelity, production-intent models to hand-off to manufacturing.

So there you have it!

That’s our 9-decade “proven” foundation for design to makes people’s lives better and more beautiful! Whether you’re an enterprise, mid-size company, or a startup/entrepreneur, these 7 principles will get you started in making sure that together, we create meaningful solutions and exceptional designs that will pave the way for your business growth and sustainable success.

If you’re looking for an innovation partner to help you realize your product design & strategy goals, or you’re looking for a team who can bring design skills and guidance to the table – reach out to us! We’d love to talk. 

Industrial Design in Business: What you should know


Lynnaea Haggard

Marketing Manager

Lynnaea Haggard, Marketing Manager, has a natural passion for storytelling and building relationships. She started her college education in Journalism, but soon found her passion in switching and completing her degree in Industrial Design. Now she uses her industrial design skills and enthusiasm for communication to support studio projects as well as design and develop Sundberg-Ferar’s marketing and communications materials. In her spare time, she is a freelance musician, reads, does anything outdoors, and works with her husband on updating their 1924 Detroit home.

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