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Before I came to web design, I worked in product design, and my studio created products for luxury retailers all over the world. I was always really interested in their motivations and the sort of products they snapped up from me, and ones they ignored. I HAD to be interested – these were the guys whose orders were feeding my family, after all!

If you’re designing a product to be carried by retailers, you have to keep a few things in mind – do your research before you spend any money on sampling or manufacturing!

Product design has to be intelligent right from the very start if you’re going to succeed.  It’s very risky to take a wonderful idea and start putting it into production blindly, without any concept of its place in the world, especially if you are working on a limited budget, as any new studio is.  There are questions you have to ask yourself before you start talking to potential customers or manufacturers, and you may have to rethink your idea a little.

1. Is your idea commercial? It’s a fine balance, creating something that is new and fresh but also “comfortable” and in keeping with this year’s trends.  You would be surprised at how safe retailers play it, even the ones you might associate with being directional and trend-setting.  It doesn’t have to be universally commercial, but you need to be able to clearly visualise your potential customer base. It’s possible to create your OWN buzz around a new, edgy product, but you will need to be able to leverage influencers, PR and social really well. Big retailers are thinking about their bottom line – there’s no such thing as sale or return (thank goodness), and they don’t want to have to sell off excess stock of your product at cost six months from now.

2. Is your product or business model original *enough*?  It doesn’t matter how commercial your idea is, if somebody else is making exactly the same thing, mass producing it in China and stocking it in John Lewis or Target, you’re taking on a huge challenge.  The same goes for an ecommerce idea, even if you thought you were being super niche. Make sure there isn’t *already* a shop exclusively selling blue cheeses made within 1.3 miles of Scunthorpe. You might be surprised…

3. Research your competitors.  Go out and search all your favourite shops for products in your field that you like, or wish you had designed.  Make a list of at least five realistic potential competitors of them and find out all you can about them, what they’re doing, what they’re designing, where their products are made, where they are stocked (if your competitor is a designer), what sort of press they’re getting.  Do your designs and products fit into this milieu while still being original? Can you be better? How can you make sure you will outshine your competitors?

4. Now go back and look at your idea.  Can you see any areas for improvement?

Check out the first part in this series of posts about starting a product-based business and let me know what you think in the comments!

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