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                                                           MAKING IT NICE

    It is almost impossible in today's consumer driven marketplace to simply purchase an item without having to make a choice between dozens of competing products. Pencils are offered with different sizes of lead, soft grips or no grips, pushbutton or lever lead advance, with or without erasers, various colors, with or without pocket clips, and even in plain old yellow wood, with a choice of a dozen lead hardnesses. Most consumer products suffer from this same problem, from cars to cough syrup.

    This blooming of choices has resulted from the fact that enlarging worldwide markets have created niches for products with various features and that these niche markets are now large enough to support the product and the expense of manufacturing and marketing same. While this may all be to the good, giving the consumer a wider choice, it also means that it is more difficult to make your product stand out from the crowd. While the simple yellow wood pencil performs well, is inexpensive and durable, it does not stand out in the crowd! The one selling point of the basic pencil is its low price; when it comes to eye-catching customer appeal, it loses out, even to its gaudy glitter-coated wooden brethren.

    Simply designing a part or product to do its job effectively at a minimal price places that product at the bottom of the consumer food chain: it will command a certain segment of the market that looks only for function and price, but it will lose the portion of the market that is engaged by novelty and eye appeal. Unfortunately, the addition of eye appeal often means considerable added cost, as simple straight edges are replaced by complex curves, and soft rubber coatings are added to handles, but nothing is more expensive than designing, producing and marketing a product that does not sell!

    It is obvious that functional parts buried inside a product and mostly unseen by the consumer do not need eye enhancement; a gear is a gear, and should be designed for performance and minimal cost. The outer case in which the gear resides, however, should be made attractive, even though it may simply be a functional component. The principle is simple: if the customer will see or handle the product before purchase, at least some eye appeal should be added. This may mean no more than concealing bolt heads, smoothing corners and putting a utility frost finish on the part, or it may mean a decorative pattern finish, a co-molded rubber cover and a carefully selected color scheme enhanced by a freeform design.

    The amount of eye candy added to a product must be decided by the customer. The injection molder will design for efficient production and minimal cost. With the basic design and cost  then in mind, the customer must estimate the cost/benefit to be derived by adding what are non-functional or minimal improvement features aimed at increasing customer interest and commanding attention. This decision must factor in the added expense of tooling, part price increase, the added packaging needed to display or protect the added features, probable increase in market penetration and, most importantly, the competition.

    Crowded markets, with many similar products, require careful consideration of all eye appeal features (consider what you might have to do to design a pencil for today's market). On the other hand, if the product is completely novel, without competition, a simple utility design may well be sufficient, although that will guarantee competition in short order! Market appeal is a strong factor in product design, and can drive sales, often to the point where a manufacturer will bring several similar products to market, becoming their own competition.

    Design economically, soundly and then design wisely. Make it nice!