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5 questions you need to ask when selecting a product design partner

Updated: Mar 18

Evaluating a product design partner is a more challenging task than many realise. Naturally, the eye goes to the fancy case study pictures on a company's website and the bottom-line figure in the executive summary. However, a proper evaluation will require a penetrating analysis of what lies beneath the surface of a quotation. The following are some key questions that will assist you in evaluating a design partner:


  1. What is your experience with, and qualifications for, the kind of product we are developing? Read more

  2. What parts of your case study project(s) did you actually do yourself? Read more

  3. Which projects were successfully completed with happy customers? Read more

  4. What extra or future costs have you left out of your quotation? Read more

  5. Tell me about things that didn't go well with your projects and how you addressed them. Read more


The key to open-ended questions like these is to start a conversation that builds confidence in finding the best match and the start of a trusted relationship. Below are some follow-up questions to ask regarding each question.


A product developer asking a product designer questions about their services

What is your experience in, and qualifications for, the kind of product we are developing?

Experience is everything in product design. While a design house is unlikely to have done something exactly the same as your product, if they have done something similar, then it is a huge advantage as they will already understand the underlying requirements and can leverage previous work in the space.

Some follow-up questions to ask and activities are:

  • What is the most similar product you have developed? Ask Question 2 below for this project.

  • How long has your company been in business? Longevity is an indicator of both experience and customer satisfaction.

  • Ask what their core service offering was when they were founded. If electronics design was not it, ask how long they have been offering electronics design and what percentage of their staff is dedicated to that.

  • Ask if they are certified to any particular standard relevant to your product, such as ISO 13485 for medical devices. Ask to see their QMS certificate and check its scope.


What parts of your case study project(s) did you actually do yourself?

Case studies put up by designers often look like they did everything on their own. Key elements of the project, such as electronics design, may have been delivered by other contractors in the project or in-house by the client. Some follow-up questions to ask and activities are:

  • Read the small print of all the relevant case studies on a supplier's website to discern their contributions. If they are not stated, then ask who else was involved.

  • In the case of a regulated product, like a medical device, ask if their work was delivered under design controls and in compliance with regulatory standards. If not, find out who took responsibility for regulatory compliance.


Which product design projects were completed with happy customers?

In their case studies, service providers will often obscure that customers were not happy with the services they received or that the service provider did not complete the project. While service providers will naturally put forward their best projects and not mention problematic ones, try to cut through the marketing spin to identify the true level of customer satisfaction. Some follow-up questions to ask and activities are:

  • Ask for examples of long-term customer relationships and instances of repeat business to gauge client satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Check the case studies on a service provider's website and see if a corresponding commercially active website exists.


What extra or future costs have you left out of your quotation?

Another way of asking this question is, "What costs are you hiding to lower your upfront bidding price and win the job?" Unfortunately, in a competitive environment, some unscrupulous service providers will only quote precisely what you have asked for in your requirements and not alert you to missing items, knowing the client will need to add them in scope later as a variation. Some follow-up questions to ask and activities are:

  • What items have I missed in my requirements specification? This is a rehash of the main question above, but it puts the onus on the service provider to help you develop a complete requirements specification.

  • If not provided, ask for a work breakdown structure (WBS) of the tasks that underpin their quotation (see example below). Compare the WBS to those provided by other quotes to ensure the one you select addresses every aspect of product development.

  • In the case of a regulated product, like a medical device, ask if they have included all the necessary activities and documentation to support a regulatory submission.

  • Check what budget has been allocated for meetings and ask what the contingency is for unplanned meetings to resolve issues and risks not anticipated at the start of the project. Hint: If the budget is zero or minimal, then ask how realistic that is.

  • Ask "what do you expect us to do when working with you on this project". If the division of responsibilities between yourself and your outsourcing partner is not clear in the proposal, this question could reveal things that they are not quoting to do themselves.



Tell me about things that didn't go well with your projects and how you addressed them

The honesty with which a service provider answers a reverse question like this can be revealing. The reality is that all projects will have some problems, small or large. If a service provider tries evading your question, you need to drill deeper. Some follow-up questions to ask and activities are:

  • What is the most common cause of delays, and what is the best way of preventing them?

  • What is the most common cause of cost overruns, and what is the best way of preventing that?

  • What is the most common cause of scope creep in your projects, and how is this addressed?


Genesys welcomes you asking these questions about our own work. Contact us if you are looking for an outsourced electronics designer to develop a strong long-term relationship with.

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