Why Hardware is so Hard, Hard, Harder!

Yes! Designing for hardware startups is not easy, let’s see why….

First of all to the technical challenges of a software startup such as User Interface Design and programming an App you have to add PCB Design, Firmware developing, Industrial Design, the cost of mouldings, prototypes, testing and lots and lots of things that often go wrong.

Plus sometimes the above mentioned App and UX UI Design if you have an integrated software part.

Let me mention also the that the moulding price it’s not the end of the financial burden but just the beginning. First batch, packaging, cables, instruction booklet if any, delivery, you name it.

They always say that startups fail because they are under financed or because of disagreement between the partners, well in my years of experience I’ve never seen any failure due to these.

They always fail for one good reason: distribution channel. Great ideas, great product, great design, doesn’t reach the shelves. Or it reaches the market when it’s too late, or sometimes too early. It’s the distribution channel the core of everything.

For hardware startups this is crucial because you don’t have the shortcut of App Store or Google Play, you have to reach real people, in real stores, sign agreements with real human beings, pay listings, fight for shelf positioning, struggle for faster delivery and price positioning.

Gosh so hard!

Have we spoke about the complexity of the modern product design world?

Indian clients based in Silicon Valley call a designer in Italy and a PCB Design Company in India, the PCB is produced in Vietnam, the plastic shell in Malaysia, assembled in China and distributed from Hong Kong all under the supervision of a Product Developer that speaks both English and Chinese. Did you know that working with the Chinese is not so easy?

Did I mention that Hardware startups have basically the same time to market as Software startups? In the first decade of the last century, it took 5 years to bring a chair to the market, 4 years in the Sixties and Seventies, just yesterday, in 2015, it was probably 1 or 2 years. Now we are asked to press the button of the production chain in weeks from the brief, these crazy times.

Designing for hardware startups is hard not only because you have to be comfortable with this geographical complexity but also because the timing is crazy. And you need to have the ability to see the market 6 months or one year ahead. Can you can see your products in two years, well you are a genius!

I want to introduce another character to this horror movie. A large majority of hardware startups are actually made by software people: programmers, coders, electronic engineers: this is often where the first idea comes from. The need for a physical device is secondary and subordinated to the software. This means two things: as a designer you are often considered a mere service to cover with plastic shells a hard and software.

And you submit your service to people that have never developed a physical product. Not all of them but… happens a lot.

Designing for Hardware startups is Hard! But also Fun!

You have to be updated on the latest technologies, you have to spend a lot of time in Amazon and in Apple Stores and in the markets of Shenzhen. You’ll wake up with a different problem every day, if this is what drives you, that’s your field!

Psss I know Industrial designers that have spent a life designing just bathroom fixtures, right?

Now let’s come to the skills needed to be an industrial designer for hardware companies.

Be prepared to work in a team, if you are a solo rider go back to design furniture accessories, way better. You’ll find yourself working in a complex environment in which the question is not where you live but which timezone are you in. Did I mention that you have to be connected 24/7?

Be prepared to use cloud-based softwares with strong sharing capabilities, we use Onshape.

Be proficient in Trello, Notion, Monday or any other managing platform or you’ll drown in emails.

As said train yourself to see the market trends ahead and hunt for the coolest innovations.

By the way , do you want to have a focus group and a market research for free about the product you are designing? Go to Amazon, take a look at similar products and see the sale volumes and the reviews, tons of information literally for free.

Keep your degree of innovation at a high level and pace, you are working for the most innovative field today.

There is a revolution here going on, I hope I gave you some ideas on how to ride the wave. If I did please consider subscribing and hit the bell below!