If there are several ways to implement a product idea, how do you choose the best one?

Whether the aim of a design project is to create a new product or develop an existing product further, the design phase rarely ends in a situation where there is only one possible solution.  Regardless of the initial situation, a lot of comparisons and choices have to be made in product development projects: What is the most suitable production method, which material is the best, and so on.

When it comes to simple products or the development of existing products, the features and functionalities required from the product are usually known. In these types of projects, the design work aims at a single, correct solution at an early phase as the work is precisely defined and it is perfectly clear what can and cannot be accomplished. Comprehensive specifications make it possible to exclude unworkable ideas rather easily and find the best solution.

Instead, the design of a completely new product rarely involves a situation where there is only one way of doing things as there is not sufficiently accurate knowledge of the subject when beginning the project, the design framework cannot be as specific as required. On the other hand, too strict limitations should not be made in the early stages in order to avoid excluding potential alternatives before studying them.

Find new perspectives

If, as the design advances, there are many feasible alternatives, the ability to compare them is important. The comparison of different alternatives and selection of the best method are vital, but ultimately rather straightforward actions. The selection criteria are directly defined by the features of the product the customer wants to emphasize and what are the most important features of the product. There is no single correct answer to this question or any basic rules.

The easiest way to explain the comparison and selection process is through an example. Imagine a design project that aims to install a light source onto a device in order to illuminate a working area. Only two commonly used methods of illumination come to mind: filament and LED lamps. Both of these serve the function of an illuminator, i.e. they provide light to the working area. Thus, both of these two alternatives are, in principle, equally feasible alternatives. In order to select the most suitable alternative for this specific purpose, other factors affected by the selection must be studied.

Explore options

Everything is interlinked

It is easy to think that there are not so many areas of comparison in such a simple example, but you might be surprised:

Are both alternatives equally available? Is there a difference in price? Does the excess heat generated by the filament lamp cause harm? Can the heat generated by the filament lamp be re-used somehow? How is the illuminator powered? Is it essential to think about the electricity consumption and energy efficiency of the lighting? Where can the lighting fixture be attached to? How large is the area to be illuminated? What is the maximum weight of the lighting fixture? Furthermore, the ease of carrying out possible repairs and maintenance work should be considered and whether the device is exposed to vibration, as it might shorten the filament lamp’s service life considerably. The hue of the light should also be paid attention to as the light of a filament lamp is often yellowish while LED lamps are available in almost all hues.

Although the example is simple, there are surprisingly many things to compare and consider. These questions will most likely uncover a factor that will exclude one alternative completely and provide a single alternative that can be deemed to be the best for this exact purpose. Regarding the example provided, low energy consumption can be a significant advantage of the LED lamp. If the lighting fixture is used outdoors, the waste heat generated by the filament lamp can prevent the fixture from freezing in the winter, which makes it a better alternative than the LED lamp.

Compare objectively and adopt different perspectives

Different alternatives have to be considered in product development projects mainly because a sufficiently specific framework for the design work has not been set at the beginning of the project. This may be due to lack of knowledge of the subject at the beginning of the design phase or intentionally avoiding limiting the design work too much so as to prevent the exclusion of alternatives that have not yet come to mind. In other words, a loose framework makes it possible to reach the same conclusion with a variety of different alternatives. As each project, product and alternative is different, studying factors that affect the product’s usability and functionality around the subject matter allows for finding the alternative most suitable for a specific purpose.