Making calls

Design for new product development

It’s my job to look after a team who work on new product development. We’re a group of designers and software engineers who work alongside specialists in innovation, acquisition and product strategy in Foundry, Redgate’s research and development division. It’s our responsibility to come up with the next multi-million dollar revenue product for our company.

I’ve written previously about engineering in new product development, now I’d like to explain how the role of a designer - beyond making research calls - helps bring a new product to life and cover the nuances of design in this context.

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Making sense of the unknown

The unknown

The work of a designer is to rationalise. At Redgate we call this “making it Ingeniously Simple”. It’s easy to understand that designers operate well in the face of disarray, but “uncertainty” in new product development is different.

I’ll use Mike Monteiro’s definition of design to explain.

Design is the intentional solution to a problem within a set of constraints

In this statement, the existence of a definition for both problem and constraint is implicit. The reality for new product development is that these definitions don’t exist.

Here’s an example:

In this respect, a designer in new product development will be someone who is comfortable turning their attention to the definition of the problem and the constraints — to make them explicit — often with little to go on. Which leads me on to the subject of research.

Separating the signal from the noise


If we simplify the definition of research to mean a process of learning designed to get a clearer understanding of some thing, then it’s a little easier to explain why everyone in the team is responsible for research, regardless of their role.

The way an individual goes about learning depends on the task at hand and the skills of that person. I’ve previously written, for example, about how software engineers already possess their own research tools.

In the context of new product development, it’s not down to the designer to ‘own’ the research work, but they will be able to recognise the real design challenge.

Here’s an example:

The real challenge isn’t conducting the research, it’s reaching the right people. Now the designer is able to choose the appropriate form of research:

A designer in new product development will remain acutely aware of the different sources of information and the methods for retrieving it. They’ll possess the agility to switch between methods, to experiment with new methods and to ensure each member of the team knows when and how to use them appropriately.

Application of design

Application of design

In Redgate’s Foundry, research forms around 70% of what a designer will do. The remaining 30% is what’s probably more traditionally thought of as digital product design. With a couple of twists.

When there’s enough confidence to commit to coding a prototype, a designer will need to spend a little time working on the interface and interaction design. Because they’ll still mostly be concerned with whether the right product is being created, they’ll probably choose to do this with abductive reasoning. They’ll take the view that the first attempt is probably right and certainly good enough for now.

What really makes a designer in new product development is their ability to apply the principles of interaction design regardless of how the user interacts with the product.

Here’s an example:



The role of a designer working in new product development isn’t just about the discovery of a problem and the definition of a product to solve it. It’s also about being responsible for ensuring the rest of the organisation is equipped to be able to continue to design and develop for the products produced as a result of our work.

Foundry’s position in Redgate gives designers more opportunity to experiment with approaches to research and an exposure to new technologies and design paradigms. A designer working in this space will take it upon themselves to share their experience and knowledge.

Here’s an example:

In this case, the new product development strategy has created the necessity for the designer and the team to improve their research mechanism. This is something the rest of the organisation can benefit from.

Situational awareness

Hopefully the nuance and value of design in new product development are now a little clearer. I’ll finish up by talking about the thread that runs through each of the points above. Mindset.

The type of person who flourishes in this kind of environment has often been through a few stages of realisation when it comes to the design problems they are solving:

  1. There’s no point in it being visually impressive if it’s not usable
  2. There’s no point in it being usable if it’s not solving a problem
  3. There’s no point in it solving a problem if it’s not worth solving

As tempting as it is to draw a triangle to illustrate the foundational nature of number 3, the design world has enough pyramids and hierarchies. For now, I’ll simply point out that for new product development we begin at 3. When we discover a problem we can solve, but that’s not worth solving — that no one needs enough to pay for it — we move on.

A designer working in new product development possesses objectivity.

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© Jonathan Roberts 2018
I occasionally update articles to fix typos, improve readability or modify content when new information is available to me. View revisions for this article.