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Design Team Dynamics

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

This week, I'm thinking about dividing Roles and Responsibilities in Product Development Teams. Specifically, I'm thinking about how specific roles compliment each other to expedite a development program.

Specialists vs Generalists

In product design, there are many different tasks that need to be completed. Many of them could be done by the same person. But is it efficient? Does it lead to the best result? Today I'm explaining the complimentary roles of ME and ID.  Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design roles have different responsibilities. Having the same person thinking about both areas will dilute both results. Industrial Design is typically focused on things like:

  1. Ergonomics

  2. User interaction

  3. Unboxing experience

  4. Aesthetics (color, material, and finish)

  5. User research

  6. Human factors

Some think of ID as a creative person that 'makes it look pretty' but Industrial Designers provide much more value. Designers have very diverse skill sets, from concept sketching to mock-up prototyping.  They use these skills to quickly test user needs and validate product requirements.  While ID is mostly on the front-end of the concept generation, ME is usually on the back end, making the concepts real.  Engineers are doing things like:

  1. Tweaking the design for manufacturing

  2. Analyzing mechanism design

  3. Selecting components

  4. Calculating power efficiency

  5. Simulating thermal management

  6. Testing ingress protection, among others.

Engineers love solving these types of analytical problems. They enjoy working within a tightly bounded solution space. Few of the challenges listed here are directly user-facing. Solving them should be invisible to the end customer. All they want is a successful product.


Give your ID team freedom and flexibility to think about design and user-interaction. Don't expect them to know or understand things like mold flow and PCBA connector variations. Let your ME team focus on engineering analysis and manufacturing limitations.  Don't expect them to understand things like aesthetics or ergonomics.  Identify your team's strengths and assign them responsibilities that match their core values. Find an expert that can do each task that's outside your capabilities (whether it's an internal or external resource).

It takes a village

There's a host of other areas that need to be addressed for a successful development program:

  1. Project Management

  2. IP registration

  3. Clinical/Regulatory filing

  4. Fundraising

  5. Research

  6. Verification/Validation

  7. Electrical Engineering

  8. PCB Layout

  9. Prototype manufacturing

  10. Testing

Development teams will be most successful when resources are specialized. Even if that means higher headcount with smaller involvement.


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