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How to Make Sure You’re not the Next Hardware Development Failure Statistic Featured

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Turning an innovative idea into a successful commercialized product is no small feat. In fact, most hardware product design projects fail to deliver a positive return on investment. Research shows there are a myriad of contributing factors to hardware product design failure. And among a thousand decisions that need to be made in the product design lifecycle, there are fewer than 10 critical decisions that if made incorrectly, not only lead to new product failure in the market, but also start-up company failure.

So how do you make sure your next hardware design project does not become another failed statistic? Here are 5 tips to consider that should be part of your new hardware product development strategy.

Know your target customer. Know who your customer is and what they need this product to do. This helps avoid bringing a great product to the wrong market segment and for the wrong audience. Physical products designed today live in a connected world. Do your homework by conducting market, country and customer value research. Solicit feedback from real customers that would use it. Are you delivering a new capability that customers need? Conducting primary and secondary research will give you a strong understanding of how competitors are distributing and positioning competing or similar types of products.

Identify and remove unwarranted risks early. Customers don’t use a product they don’t like. Product defects and missed customer expectations result in failures and returns of hardgoods that are not only expensive to solve but can also bankrupt early- stage companies. Making the wrong decisions in the concept design stage will increase your R&D and fuel future manufacturing and quality issues. Put a process in place to identify the key user acceptance features and feasibility risks as well as the mechanical, electronics and software architectures.

Decide who will manage the development process and how product decisions will get made. If you do not have the design, engineering, or manufacturing process expertise in house, find outside partners to create or audit your product concept to identify potential risks early. Design-for-retail price-point and yearly sales volumes are critical targets. Have a good estimate of your costs of goods early so you can track gross margin for the product. Cost of goods target will impact the decisions on product features, material choices, capital tooling and more. As companies strive to deliver innovative and bring new value, ensuring close alignment across business, marketing and engineering will help get you to market faster and with predictable outcomes.

Foster a collaborative development team. Expert led multi-discipline teams with long experience in business, marketing and hardware product development will make sure new opportunities and new risks are assessed and managed during the development. Close working collaboration with the right people during critical architecture and component selection is critical, and identifying opportunity and risk will come from many heads - operations, business, marketing, industrial design, engineering, electronics design, software coding and manufacturing. The Integration of ideas and concerns, weighting pros and cons of alternative concepts, and selecting the best fit solution to deliver the customer wow factor is critical to get right. Among a thousand decisions that need to be made, it’s the 10 critical ones if made incorrectly will lead to product development failure.

Test your product design early and expect continual refinement. There’s nothing worse than hitting “go” on volume production and then find out when delivered to market, it fails to attract customer attention, resulting in commercial failure. Ongoing user and engineering testing during the development process identifies problem areas early so they get resolved in the first product release. Hardware product development is a very involved process. Making complex products is a continual improvement process that goes from the first units sold to the many fine-tuning adjustments needed over several years of customer use and feedback.

Most new products in development have unforeseen quality and customer issues with the initial product release for sale. It’s important that your design and manufacturing teams identify and manage the ‘known-unknowns’. It is near impossible to catch the ‘unknown-unknowns’ and with less experienced teams, critical risks get overlooked. Take

advantage of outside expertise as an experienced design engineering team can augment your team and help identify critical choices that are risky and plan appropriately to make sure the finished design avoids them. This will help ensure first launch problem-free products get delivered to market that meet customers’ expectations of operation and quality. Importantly, it helps ensure business success.


Kevin Bailey is the Founder and CEO at Design 1st and is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the company. For over 25 years, Kevin’s product design and business expertise have successfully guided CEO’s, start-ups, and established organizations through the intricacies of the entire hardware product development lifecycle. Under Kevin’s leadership, Design 1st has delivered over 1,000 products to market across a variety of industries, and that influence millions of people globally. Global companies that Design 1st has helped turn ideas into successful commercialized products, include Motorola, Acer, Stanley Tools, Ericsson and Christie Digital.

Prior to founding Design 1st, Kevin was on the ground floor of global hardware product innovation, cutting his teeth with National Research Council, General Motors, Shell, Bell Northern Research Labs and Nortel Networks where he worked on the first global smartphone development and initial production in 1995.

Kevin holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Waterloo. In addition to being a registered member of the Professional Engineers of Ontario since 1985, Kevin is also a VC and Angel Investor.

Kevin lives in Ottawa, Canada with his wife. In his spare time, he plays hockey, mentors young entrepreneurs, and enjoys spending time with his 3 children and grandchildren Ronan and Adelaide.

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