Designing for Home Goods vs. Hardware
When creating a connected device or hardware product, there are a few things you want to look for in your industrial designer. These days, “design” encompasses so many things in just one product, especially if it calls for a beautiful physical form, engineering, and software, as connected devices do.
There is a difference between a furniture designer, an automotive designer, a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, software engineer… you get the picture. But, in the end, all good consumer hardware must have a pleasing and intuitive form to be useful and marketable. That’s where an industrial designer comes in.
We asked three of our designers, Ivan, Benedikt, and Jake, to tell us about the differences between, and challenges of, designing for hardware and technical products. This is a vertical that Red Clay has really dug into over the last few years, and we wanted to share what we and our Design Community have learned.
What are special considerations you take when designing for hardware?
“There are 4 aspects we need to consider whenever we design any product: aesthetic, functionality, manufacturability and marketability. However, when it comes to hardware, you need to consider functionality and manufacturability the most, because it is not simply related to the production of the outer casing like a typical household product or furniture, but to its electronics parts, PCBs, and other technology involved. You need to maintain the aesthetic of the hardware design while balancing technical constraints.”
“The design for a product or smart object that has some technology inside, like computer chips and software, is way different than any other physical object’s design. You have a lot more limitations designing a hardware device because you need to know how to use the product, how to open the device, how to start, stop and adjust communication with the product, how the materials connect, how the part assembling will work, how the temperature of computer chips will affect the parts inside, if there are waterproof shells needed, how to maintain the inner parts later, etc.
It’s more like transporting the device’s function into the right design so that the user understands it.”
“The biggest difference in designing hardware is that there are much tighter restraints on what kind of shapes and forms you can create due to the rigid nature of most electronics.
Since circuit boards are flat, and generally square, it limits how many flowing curved surfaces you can use in a product. I think a nice example of working around this is in video game controllers. While they include circuit boards in the center, they’re able to fit other components in the handles like vibration-feedback motors.”
What is the biggest challenge to designing for hardware?
“I cannot say it is more difficult as all products have different design challenges. I can say that you have more to consider before designing, as every details of the product may affect its functionality.
For example, you need to know that some materials may affect the strength of the products’ wireless connectivity. If you know this before designing, it can save time and make the whole design to be more practical. ’Form follows Function’ applies to hardware design, too.”
“In the design process the briefing and the back and forth question rounds are as important as working in a team with software, mechanical and electrical engineers in order for the designer to create the best design for a complex product that involves technology.
However, to get a design “out of the box,” it is important for the designer to forget everything — every limit, everything the engineers think won’t be possible — so that the designer is able to enter the beautiful land of new ideas. The designer’s main role in the process is to sketch new ideas, push for innovation and bring those to the table.”
“The most difficult part about working with electronics is that often times the features are already defined by the time it gets to the hardware designers. I’ve worked on a few projects where the scope included defining software features, and those have been the most rewarding.”
Featured image by Benedikt Amerongen