Your Consumer is Everywhere

Key Points

  • Time to market is critical.
  • Disruptive Technology can come from anywhere.
  • COGS and NRE costs have to be balanced.

Design for Consumer Markets

Few things in the world of new product design and development are as much adrenaline-pumping fun as consumer electronics design.  At Focus Embedded, we all can say we were the kids who got off the white-knuckle rollercoaster ride at the fair and ran straight to the end of the line to get back on. And with its short times to market, tight budgets, low COGS requirements, and huge payouts if you've created a winning product, much of consumer product design feels like a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone.
Frequently the very best consumer products represent a significant departure from what’s already out there in the marketplace.  Or the business plan behind them is predicated on providing an extraordinary user experience that builds the kind of cult following enjoyed by companies such as Apple, Sirius-XM Radio, and Lululemon Athletica.  When this is the situation, the engineering consulting firm that gets the nod to do product design also should be applying its creativity and innovation skills to the “optimization” problem of finding the combination of features (very well done, of course) and manufacturing components that maximize revenue in the short run while cementing brand loyalty in the long run.
The principal challenge in getting a consumer product to market (be it Audio/Video, mobile device, fitness equipment, assistive technology, IT product, or just about anything else) is that there are generally three forces at play, and just being a “tech geek” isn’t enough if you’re to balance them properly.  (You’d better see engineering in its all-important economic context.)
Remember that:

  1. Time to market is critical in the consumer space.  But a desire to keep that time short is diametrically opposed to the requirement that you take the time to find the optimal solution from the point of view of “best use of technology” or “minimizing the eventual cost of goods sold.”  Sometimes the best answer is knowingly to launch the “less than ideal for high volume manufacturing” product to get first mover advantage – knowing that the initial product launch is there to buy the time for the first redesign once initial adopters have provided marketing data and there’s a viable path to COGS reduction that doesn't totally miss the market window.
  2. Often the most disruptive technologies do not come from large, established firms.  True, there are firms such as 3M that are a hundred years old, have a large number of employees, and are still pushing an internal culture of innovation.  But more commonly a great new product idea comes from somebody who’s left to chase it with angel or venture capital funding, meaning he may be up against some stiff budgetary limitations and he’ll be feeling the pressure to generate a return on the investment relatively quickly.
  3. If the product eventually goes to volume, cost of goods sold – which can often only be held low with additional NRE investment – will become critical.  Then again, with a high-volume product NRE costs are much more easily amortized, and it can be well worth it to spend $10,000 now for design work that’ll get $1 out of every one of those 100,000 units you’re likely to sell over the next year or two.

What should be obvious about consumer product development strategy is that perhaps more than any with any other kind of design activity, any engineering consulting firm you have helping you had better have a firm handle on not just the technology but also the economic model that makes the product viable in the market space to begin with.  There’s a whole lot more to it than just hardware design, software design, chip design, or circuit board layout being done in a financial vacuum.
Focus Embedded is home to an unusual breed of engineers who can solve the very hardest of technical problems without losing track of the underlying economic reasons why they’re worth solving.  We’re not just going to take a specification and implement it without being very sure we understand our customer’s point of view and what drove the spec to look like it does in the first place.
At Focus Embedded, it’s our job to be sure you know what can be done, outline how it can be done, and suggest viable alternatives that might fit your business model better -- because no market demands this of an entrepreneur the way the consumer market does.
And then we do it better than anybody.