How the Magic Happens: Behind the Curtain of Our Product Design Process

January 4, 2021

For most people, when a new product appears on the market, they either like it or they don’t, and that’s the extent of the attention they pay. However, for some other people who love product design and development, the process of going from initial insight to concept to finished product is an interesting journey that is often mysterious or kept secret. This blog is for the latter group of people. It hopes to shed light on our product development process.

When we tell stories about past projects, we use a certain shorthand by describing the manner of ideation as “magic.” And while it often feels like there is alchemy at work, we all know there is no such thing as magic. 😊

Rather, we are a team of talented, passionate designers, with decades of experience, who methodically implement a product development process that has successfully brought to market thousands of products. For us, while product development is definitely more art than science, it is achieved on every project by executing on our process, which we’ll describe in the remainder of this post.

For a decade, Polder Products has been one of our favorite clients with whom to develop new products. As evidenced by a 2018 blog post called A Match Made in Product Development Heaven, Cal Scott and Kerry Cooper of Polder share our dedicated focus to the discovery of unmet consumer needs and using design to fill the product opportunity gaps they present. Our most recent collaboration lead to a breakthrough collection of cosmetics storage products called Glamour Grids. The initial insight, that consumers deserve better than the ubiquitous acrylic containers, came from Polder and was summarized in their design brief. It read, “Polder’s goal is to deliver to the market a fresh grouping of items that utilize alternate materials, forms and innovative means of storing these implements than the current market offerings provide. We also desire to attract potential consumers with the means to arrange and create a way to solve each person’s individual use and scenario in the home / travel.”

After a kickoff meeting with the Client, we go into our Collect + Define stage where we begin our research, with the main goal of developing empathy for the consumers of these products. For this project, that meant in-store benchmarking research where we confirmed that most current choices are acrylic and very basic.

It also meant becoming inspired by cosmetics merchandising within stores like Bloomingdales, Macys, Target and Sephora

Once familiarized with the category through a designer lens, we then focus our attention on ethnography, a qualitative research method where we observe and/or interact with participants in their real-life environment. For the glamour grids project, we relied on a COVID sensitive model: we asked people to send us photographs of their cosmetics storage.

In addition to hearing interesting anecdotes that informed our thinking, we also discovered some people like to keep their cosmetics in hard sided containers, while others prefer soft sided bags, and some use both. We learned that some people leave their cosmetics out on a counter or table, while others put them away in a drawer or medicine cabinet. As a result of this research, we knew we had to develop a modular system that could appeal to all users and provide the flexibility and customization that consumers desire.

With a fully developed, research backed design brief in hand, we start with ideation, which we also call Explore + Design. In our studio, ideation begins with pencil and paper sketching, on canary yellow trace and in Moleskine sketchbooks. It also means sketching on our iPad Pros in Procreate. Sketching by hand helps us organize our thoughts and facilities collaboration and communication within our studio.

(If you haven’t read it, and if you’re interested in why we believe drawing by hand is so important, check out Michael Graves’s 2012 op-ed in the NY Times about the Lost Art of Drawing.)

For this project, we developed two alternative design concepts, from which the client chose its preferred direction.

We also built rough handmade models for testing functionality and scale. These models were essentially 3D sketching. As evidenced by the photos below, when making these initial form models, we deliberately uses grey and neutral metals in the concept design models and renderings, to really focus on form. This is similar to logo development where you make sure it works in black and white before you start exploring color. We wanted to be sure the forms and proportions resonated, knowing color would just make it better!

When delivering a concept design presentation, we also like to include inspiration imagery for reference and context.

Once we’ve established design intent, functional goals, scale, and other design parameters for each product, we delved into the materiality and color, adding the translucency and ribbing to the designs. We finished design refinement with 3D CAD modeling in SolidWorks, which leads to 3D printed models, and renderings and animations created in KeyShot.

We also relied on simpler specifications for the cut and sew items.

The final stage of our product development process, Produce + Manage, is also known as Design for Manufacture. It is during this phase where industrialization happens, the designs are optimized for manufacture, and tooling and molds are created. Final prototypes and off tool samples are manufactured and reviewed to ensure fit and finish of the final products maintain design intent and achieve all goals of the program.

On December 27, 2020, the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design in cooperation with the European Centre for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies and Metropolitan Arts Press, Ltd., announced that the Glamour Grids won a GOOD DESIGN Award, representing the “Best of the Best” in new global design for Consumer Products! “Good Design celebrates the game changers, the innovators, the visionaries, and the pioneers and rewards the brilliant minds who believe our world can be better a better place through design” ,” states Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, the Museum’s chief curator of Good Design.


About Michael Graves Architecture & Design

MGA&D is recognized as one of the leading design practices in the world. We provide product design, graphic design & branding services, design research and design strategy consulting, as well as architecture, master planning, feasibility studies and interior design.


About Polder

Polder is the solutions resource, making items for everyday living throughout the home. We focus on universal daily tasks, apply our user-centered design philosophy and create products that are useful, beautiful and better. Whether it’s Kitchen, Laundry & Home Organization or Bath items, we are passionate about products and the evolution of how people live at home, every day. We’re also committed to quality and customer satisfaction, and we work to make items that perform and deliver on their intended promise.