The Importance of the Conceptual Design Phase
The conceptual design phase is a critical stage in new product development. At this stage, designers and other members of the development team brainstorm product ideas based on research into customer needs. They aim to produce initial concepts in the form of sketches or outline specifications for commercial and technical evaluation. Following a detailed review, the most promising concepts go forward to detailed design and development.
At the conceptual design phase, the development team must decide whether the product concept meets real customer needs. They review the performance of their own existing products, in addition to competitive offerings, to see if the concept provides a better solution to a real problem. Developing products that do not meet customer needs can prove an expensive mistake. Designers who recognize that a concept does not have a viable commercial future must therefore make the decision not to proceed, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
The development team must also consider the practical feasibility of developing different concepts. They compare the estimated costs of developing, manufacturing and marketing the product with its potential value to customers and the price point it could achieve. Technical feasibility is another key consideration. The team considers whether the company can develop and manufacture the product with current skills and resources. They also look at the feasibility of completing the development project within a time frame that gives the company a market advantage.
The level of technical stretch is an important factor at the conceptual design stage, according to Synthesis Engineering Services. Designers must consider if they have to invent anything new to make the concept work or if available technology can meet all the concept’s performance objectives. Developing new technologies could delay the entire project, so designers must also consider whether alternative technologies can deliver the same results.
A survey by design software firm PTC found that a high proportion of development costs are committed at the conceptual design phase. According to the survey conducted in July 2011, 61 percent of respondents reported that 61 percent of a product’s total development costs are fully committed at the concept stage. A further 43 percent claimed that 71 percent of the total product cost is fixed by the time they complete the conceptual design phase. The implication is that poor decisions at the conceptual design phase mean companies could waste money that is committed before detailed development starts.