7 Design Risks and What You Can Do…

Every day, thousands of products are developed, redesigned, or completely remade. You generally hear of the success stories, such as Dyson, Apple, or innovative LED equipped bath fittings for the premium market.

Even organizations that stand for quality design worldwide, act only as quasi technical control boards (such as the Red Dot Design Award and IF Award), and only really praise the “positive” results. They reinforce the idea that you can win only with design and disregard associated risks.

This would be nice. But design, like any other creation process, can also miss the point or even backfire. Not every new product took its market by storm and many do not even reach the break-even point.

Here at WILDDESIGN we have been designing products for more than a quarter century and have learned to be realistic. Granted, we have seen poor results and suffered with unhappy clients. The latter have then developed with much effort a product that neither they nor their customers love. The result is always a waste of time, stress, and money. Over the years, however, we have learned to manage the risks and can now effectively help you hit the mark with your customers.

So, how do we do that? Essentially, we try to actively identify and avoid risks. Below we have compiled a list of potential risks and what we do as a design consultant to (somewhat) eliminate them. These are strategies that we believe can benefit every design firm.


 take design risks under the microscope

Potential Risks and How to Avoid Them
If you ask the client, they usually see time and money as the biggest risks – For example, a design project takes too long, or the budget is exceeded. While these are real risks, there are other less obvious ones which can develop down the line.

Most errors between designer and client are made in the initial phase – and that is also the point where they can be solved most easily.


Design Risk No. 1

The Briefing: Responsibility of the Client?

If you cannot define precise initial conditions or set goals, it becomes much more difficult to successfully implement a design project. The result is that after each intermediate presentation the direction is changed, and nobody knows which way to go. At WILDDESIGN we support our customers with our 24 Design Factors, a comprehensive checklist developed especially for the briefing. It is important that the client recognizes the limitations in design and aligns with realistic ambitions. If such a risk is detected, it can be met early with reality checks and implemented with professionally designed prototypes- clearly displaying for all parties where the problems lie.
James Dyson, for example, knows the importance of prototyping. He made an incredible 5,126 Prototypes over 15 years of development before he finally developed his award winning vacuum cleaner design.

Design Risk No. 2

The New Product is Worse than the Original

This possibility is not often considered, as one naturally assumes that the new product will be better. Often, product features loved by the consumer are overlooked- such as size, shape, or color- even if they do not seem significant to the product’s creators. Therefore, we always ask what the customer will give up when he or she buys a new product. Again, early testing with consumers helps to avoid these pitfalls.
In one example, Coca-Cola Management neglected to involve their consumers when it decided in 1985 to change the taste of their soda. As the new product was launched, such a violent backlash was invoked that Coca-Cola was forced to make a 180° spin, and the original, classic Coke taste was restored within a few days. It was still not fast enough to stop the lost profits, and is counted among the biggest marketing flops of the 20th century.

Design Risk No. 3

The External Design Service Providers Work Too Quietly

What may initially sound like a good strategy, can turn into a problem when the development path is followed too little or unsystematically. The “long leash” for the designer is often counterproductive because it only creates limitations and challenges rather than inspiring creative work. Then there is a lack of understanding and information when developments take place in the proverbial “ivory tower”. Only when an open, continuous flow of information is ensured in both directions, and when all relevant company representatives sit in planning meetings, is it ensured that all facts and concerns immediately come to the table and problems can be directly identified and resolved.

Design Risk No. 4

The “Not Invented Here” Syndrome

Otherwise known as: There is too little support from the company for the new design. Externally generated design services need to carefully “buy-in” the participating company employees. You must register them with the new product, and help them to make it their own. The best way to avoid the “not invented here” syndrome is to involve all employees to the greatest possible extent right from the start.

Design Risk No. 5

The Personal Taste of the Client

This risk is usually easy to recognize, but less easy to solve. The client needs to understand that it is not about him, but about his customers. It’s about the end user, who needs to be realistically considered and included in the development. Different methods of user observation are used here, such as participatory design, the lead user method, or crowdsourcing. At WILDDESIGN we insist that the client holds back personal opinion and taste, even if it’s difficult. The insights and judgments of taste should be obtained directly from the actual target audience, otherwise Design Risk No. 2 is likely to occur.

Design Risk No. 6

Dream Design, which ends in Nightmare-Engineering

Exciting design visions shared on paper may seem close enough to touch. What may seem entirely correct at the time of project financing, may later turn out to be a tangible risk. At WILDDESIGN we ensure that the design concepts are assessed early in terms of the technical feasibility and are continuously and repeatedly checked during development. The goal is to find an optimal symbiosis between the aesthetic form and manufacturability.

Design Risk No. 7

Unknown Industry Standards

An increasing number of products are subject to national legal regulations or industry standards. We have, for example, specialization in the field of medical devices, which must comply with generally very high regulatory requirements in accordance with the European CE or FDA standards. Even if it means more restrictions and disciplined work, it is important to be familiar with these standards from the outset and be able to involve them in the work. The higher amount of affiliated documentation pays later in the form of a comprehensible result.

Currently, serious problems are encountered by many medical device developments in the approval phase because the increased demands have not been implemented with sufficient care to ensure proper function. Required today is not only a properly executed product solution, but the entire development process must be tested and fully documented, starting with the requirements analysis, usability concept, and so-called verification and validation.

The Professional Handling of Design Risks
There are enough risks in the design field that it is rare to totally avoid them. It is important to be prepared and to strike a balance between both the client and the design professional.

To summarize, one could say that intensive communication between designers, contractors,` and end users helps minimize risks. At every stage of development tests should be done, and negative feedback should be used to optimize development. Keep the above strategies in mind and you will be well on the way to safely and successfully launching your design into the market.

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Markus writes about design- and innovation management, creativity methods, medical design and intercultural branding. More about...

Originally written by Markus Wild, 02. January 2016. Last updated 23. April 2023


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