You’re going to need products to sell to your customers when you’re starting an online business and these days, you have plenty of options when it comes to the different things you can sell. You can sell dropshipped products, wholesale products, even digital products—but if you have a specific product idea in mind that doesn’t exist anywhere else, or you really want to bring your own product to life, then you’re going to have to actually make your product.
So how do you make a product?
In this article, we’re walking through each step of the product design and overall product development process so you have an idea of what it actually entails. If you want to make your own product, these are likely the very steps you’ll have to take to bring your product to life.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right into it.
The Product Development Process from Start to Finish
Start with Your Initial Idea
First things first, let’s start with the very basics. You’re going to need an actual idea of what kind of product you want to make.
If you’re here looking for advice on product design and product development, it’s likely that you already have an idea of the kind of product you want to make, so you can check off this step right away. That’s good—it means you can already skip to the next step.
But if you don’t have a product idea—keep searching until you do.
Finding product ideas can be tricky, especially if you’re looking for a product idea that’s worth getting manufactured. In this case, you’re going to need a product idea that’s innovative or unique, or at least somewhat exclusive to your brand, to make the product development process worth it. After all, if you can just purchase the product from a manufacturer or wholesaler already, why wouldn’t you do that instead?
We have a few blog posts dedicated to helping you find product ideas, so start here if you need inspiration:
When you’ve settled on a product idea, move onto the next step of the product development process.
Research Challenges, Rules & Regulations
Before you get any further in the product design process, you need to do your own due diligence to understand any potential pitfalls or challenges your product idea might face, or any rules or regulations your product may be subject to.
This is crucial research to do before you actually start manufacturing your product because there can be some dealbreakers that might arise.
Take some cosmetics products, for example. Some cosmetics products aren’t able to be shipped by air so they must be shipped by boat, causing shipping delays. Beyond that, they’re often subjected to rigorous regulations in each country which may cause delays when getting them to the global market.
These challenges can be worked through successfully in most cases, but if you were hoping to work on a quick timeline to get your cosmetics products launched worldwide, it might not be possible—so it’s important to know that ahead of time.
And that’s just one example of one type of product. Many other products face similar kinds of restrictions, including food and beverage products, products that are considered “high risk,” electronics products, and more.
So do your research ahead of time before you go any further. Once you’re satisfied that you know all of your product’s potential challenges, you can move into the product design process.
Make a Prototype
Here’s where the fun starts!
Making a prototype is the first step in seeing your product come to life—but it’s often very preliminary. You really just want to get a sense of what your product looks like and some of its core functionalities so you can get an idea of the look and feel of your product. At this stage, your prototype doesn’t have to be a perfect version of your product, it just has to be the first look at it.
Depending on your product, there are different versions of prototypes that you can make. Here are some options:
- A Crude Prototype: This type of prototype is quickly and cheaply made out of whatever materials you have on hand, just to start with something. A crude prototype isn’t polished and it usually won’t work to its full ability, but it’s a start. Many crude prototypes are made by deconstructing existing products and assembling them with other items to create a new product.
- A Working Prototype: This type of prototype is more advanced than a crude prototype because it includes whatever working features the product has, but it’s still not completely refined.
- A CAD Prototype: This type of prototype is a digitally drawn-up version of the product in order to see the full design and features without actually fully making the product. There are many different CAD software options out there you can use to build a CAD prototype, or you could hire a CAD designer to make one for you.
- A Wireframe Prototype: This type of prototype is a skeletal version of your product depicting what the end result should be.
- A Final Prototype: This type of prototype is a complete replica of your product and should be used as a demonstration to your manufacturer so they know what your goals and expectations are.
You don’t have to create every prototype on this list, these are just some options that might be relevant to your product type. If you’re creating a completely new product or a complex product you might want to create a few different ones from this list, or, if you’re creating a relatively straightforward product, you might only need to create a couple. It’s entirely up to you and your manufacturing needs!
If you need more information on prototypes, we suggest heading over to the Invention City website where they walk through the prototyping process in more detail, including the expected costs and specific steps to achieve some of these prototypes.
Put Your Prototype to the Test
After you’ve created a prototype, it’s important to put it to the test. This is usually best if you have a working prototype or a final prototype, but any prototype will do.
It’s always important to test your prototype because you want to catch any flaws, mistakes, poor design choices, or any other weaknesses that you don’t want in your final product. Now is the time to catch these things!
Some tests you should conduct on your prototype include:
- Daily Use Tests: Use your product on a day-to-day basis in a way that it’s intended to be used. Make sure it works how it’s supposed to, it meets the needs of the user, and that it stands up to daily use.
- Rigorous Use Tests: Put your product through some more rigorous use testing—be rough with it. See if it can stand up to harsh conditions and still perform its functions.
- Drop Tests: If applicable to your product, drop test it! If it’s a hand-held item it’s likely that users will drop it accidentally or knock it off of a table or counter, so test that out to see how the product responds.
- Heat/Cold Temperature Tests: Test your product at different temperatures to see how it reacts. Would it survive being left in a hot car for the day or a cold car overnight? What if it’s left outside in the sun?
- Cleaning/Care Tests: Conduct normal cleaning tasks or whatever tasks are needed to keep the product in good condition to evaluate how it holds up to it.
- Functional Tests: Test all of your product’s functions and make sure everything works how it’s supposed to work. Test out any levers, knobs, buttons, zips, closures, or whatever kind of mechanisms or moving parts it has.
Depending on your product, it may not have to pass all of these tests, but it’s important that you at least put your product through these tests just to get an idea of how sturdy your product is and how it will withstand typical scenarios your customers may put it in.
If you discover any weaknesses in your product that you weren’t expecting to find, take note of them.
Refine Your Product Design
After you’ve performed all the tests on your prototype, take any of the weaknesses you noticed—whether they’re functional or cosmetic—and make those changes to your product.
You want your product to be the best it can be so make these changes now before you get any further in the product development process.
Develop a Tech Pack
This is where the product development process starts to get more serious—it’s time to make the tech pack.
A tech pack is a detailed drawing and explanation of your product that breaks down its dimensions, materials, notions, and basically all of its technicalities. Your tech pack is what you’ll give to your manufacturer when it’s time to actually start making your product.
Tech packs are very detailed and specific, so it’s a good idea to have a professional make one for you. You can reach out specifically to tech pack designers, or look for product designers that specialize in your particular industry. Some manufacturers will even be able to make a tech pack for you, but if you don’t have a particular manufacturer in mind yet, it’s a good idea to start off with your own tech pack.
Some places you can find people that can make tech packs include:
Shop Around for a Manufacturer
Once you have a tech pack made for your product, it’s time to start looking for a manufacturer to make your product.
This part of the product development process is likely going to take a lot of time. Finding the right manufacturer is so important because they’re going to be an extension of your company and they’re going to have a direct impact on your business. You want to find the right manufacturer to partner with so you experience as few headaches as possible in the future.
The best way to find manufacturers is through Google, manufacturer directories, word of mouth, or third-party sourcing services. So either get busy on Google searching for manufacturers in your industry (this can take a lot of time, but it’s possible), or find directories that curate manufacturers (like our USA-based Manufacturers Directory), or join Facebook groups or Reddit forums to discuss potential leads based on others’ experiences, or use a third-party sourcing service like Sourcify.
At this stage, you’ll want to take your time and shop around—don’t just pick the first manufacturer you find. Your best bet at this stage is to find a few good manufacturers and get samples from them before committing to one.
Make Samples of Your Product
That brings us to the next step in the product development process—getting samples of your products made.
Once you have a narrowed-down list of a few manufacturers, get a sample from each of them! The difference in quality between each manufacturer or even the difference in time-to-completion might surprise you.
By getting samples made by each manufacturer you were interested in, you should get a better idea of which one is right for you. You want to pick a manufacturer that makes your products to your exact specifications, but also one that communicates well with you throughout the process and gets your product to you in a timely fashion.
We covered the sampling process in-depth in our Guide to Sourcing Products from Alibaba so if you want to know more (even if you aren’t planning to work with Alibaba manufacturers) then check out that post.
The most important takeaway here is to get samples made of your products. Never commit to a manufacturer without having samples made first.
Test Your Samples
Once you get samples from your different manufacturers, test them out! See if there are any flaws in the product or if there are any other modifications that need to be made at this point.
It’s also a good idea to run through the same product tests that you conducted on your prototype:
- Daily use tests
- Rigorous use tests
- Drop tests
- Heat/cold temperature tests
- Cleaning/care tests
- Functional tests
Get Audience Feedback on Your Samples
Your samples should be close (or virtually the same as) your final product, so now is a good time to get your audience’s feedback on them before you commit to a full production run.
Your audience is a wealth of knowledge, and since they’re the ones who are going to be purchasing your product, you want your product to be everything they want it to be. So show them your product and see what they think! Plus, your audience might catch flaws in your product that you may not have noticed.
If you already have an audience, you could reach out to them directly either on social media or in an email or however you communicate with them. Otherwise, work with a focus group of your target market to get unbiased, thoughtful feedback on your product. This option might be more costly, but it will likely get you very valuable feedback on your product.
Get Your Manufacturer’s Input
Since this is basically your last chance to make any changes to your product before you commit to a full production run, it’s important to catch anything that needs catching now, so ask your manufacturer about their feedback! They might not be your target audience but they’re experts in their field, so their insights are valuable too.
Ask them if there’s anything they would recommend to make your product better or ask them if there are any modifications that can be made to make your product more cost-effective to produce. See if they have any advice or if they foresee any potential issues with the product.
Use their industry expertise to your advantage.
Map Out Your Operational Budget
Next up, work with your manufacturer and your own team (if you have one) to get an idea of what your budget is going to look like to get your products made.
Work out what the manufacturer’s minimum order quantities (MOQs) are, what the cost per unit is, or any other associated costs you might need to cover like custom molds or materials costs.
It’s nitty-gritty work, but it’s absolutely essential so you don’t get caught out during product development with unforeseen bills to pay. Go in with a plan so both you and your manufacturer know what to expect up front.
Map Our Your Operational Timeline
It’s also important to get an idea of what your operational timeline looks like before you actually start the production process.
Ask your manufacturer beforehand when your products can start being made and how long it will take to make them. Some manufacturers have production schedules or they might be booked up for a while, so they might not be able to start on your project right away.
This is important to know ahead of time, so you can plan your launch and the warehousing and fulfillment services you’ll need in the future.
Keep in mind that production processes often don’t go completely to plan, so give yourself a little wiggle room, too. Plan for the worst-case scenario so you’re hopefully not rushed to make your launch date.
Produce Your Product
Now it’s time for your products to actually start getting manufactured!
See how much goes into the product design and product development process? It isn’t necessarily as easy as just picking a manufacturer and getting your idea turned into a product—there’s a lot that goes into it.
At this stage, your manufacturer should be working hard to bring your product to life. Make sure that you’re easily available so you can answer any questions they might have along the way.
Now is a good time to start getting your storefront ready, if you haven’t already!
Perform Quality Control
Once your products are complete (or as they start getting complete) it’s time for quality control. This is something your manufacturers should be doing anyways throughout the entire production process, however, it’s a good idea to conduct some quality control yourself if it’s possible.
At this stage, you want to catch any errors or faults that may have occurred in products during the production process. There might be cosmetic errors in some products or functional errors, and you want to find and pick out any products that are not up to your standards.
This might be something you have to completely rely on your manufacturers for if you aren’t able to visit their factory yourself, or, it might be something you do once the products arrive at your office or warehouse. Either way, at some point in the product development process someone needs to quality control check your products.
Source Any Additional Product Elements
During the product development process, you can also start sourcing any additional elements that will go with your product such as hanging tags or product labels (like if you’re selling clothing products), warranty stickers, or anything else that’s kind of separate from your product but necessary to go along with it.
Depending on your manufacturer, they may be handling these extra things for you, but if they aren’t, you might need to get them created elsewhere and then sent to your manufacturer so they can add them to your products.
Make Your Product & Shipping Packaging
Your products are going to need packaging whether that’s packaging to actually present your products in or shipping boxes, so work on getting everything made so it’s ready once your products are ready.
There are so many different product packaging options, but we recommend creating a captivating unboxing experience, so use branded product and shipping packaging that creates that.
Some ideas include:
- Branded shipping tape
- Branded tissue paper
- Stickers with your logo on them
- Branded envelopes for the customer’s receipt
- Hand-written thank-you notes
- Packing peanuts or crinkle cushioning in your brand’s colors
To source your product and shipping packaging, we recommend checking out our free Shipping and Packaging Suppliers Directory where we’ve rounded up some of the top options in the industry.
Import Your Product
Once your products have been made, it’s time to get them shipped to you.
If you’ve sourced your products from an overseas manufacturer, you’ll have to get them shipped to your country and imported through customs. This can be a complex and time-consuming process so we recommend working with a freight forwarder to help you through. You want it to go smoothly so you experience as few setbacks and delays as possible, which is definitely a reality when working with imports and customs, so put it in the hands of an expert.
Your manufacturer might also be able to help guide you through this process, as they’re usually responsible for some of the paperwork, so they may be able to offer some advice. But, make sure you do your own due diligence to ensure that you know exactly what to expect and what you need to do to get your products from your manufacturers to your warehouse/office.
Set Up Your Warehouse & Fulfillment Operations
While you’re going through the process of importing your products, make sure they have an end destination to arrive at like your fulfillment warehouse or your office. If you don’t want to be shipping and fulfilling orders yourself, you’ll want to outsource that to a fulfillment and logistics provider in your area, so make sure you make arrangements with them before you send them your products.
They’ll be in charge of storing your products, picking and packing orders, shipping your products out, and handling returns, so they’re another major aspect of your business. This means that you’ll want to find the right partner to work with because they’ll have a direct impact on your company.
Some of the top warehousing, fulfillment, and logistics companies in the industry include:
Make Your First Sales & Develop a Marketing Strategy
At this point, the product development process is coming to an end and it’s time to actually get your finished products in the hands of your customers!
Concentrate on making your first sales and developing a marketing strategy that’s going to get your inventory of products sold.
There are so many different ways that you can start getting your first sales, so we’ve rounded them up into one guide so you can work through them in a logical process. Head over to our 52 Week Marketing Plan to get ideas and strategies you can use for your new store to start getting traffic and orders coming in.
Listen to Consumer Feedback
Once your orders start making it to your customers, keep an ear out for their feedback. It’s their opinions that really count, so you want to pay attention to see if your product is hitting or missing the mark.
Keep an eye out for product unboxing videos, product review videos, product review blog posts, social media posts about your product, or reviews left on your website and social media. You can even reach out to your customers directly and ask them how they like the product and if they have any feedback on it.
Your product design and product development process doesn’t stop after your product is made—you want to continue to evolve it so it keeps meeting your customers’ needs and expectations.
Evaluate & Update Your Product Design
Take what you learn from your customer’s feedback and make the necessary changes and updates to your product. This is a vital part of the product development process because it’s what’s going to take your product to the next level and keep your customers happy.
A Note on Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents & Licensing
When it comes to designing, developing, and inventing products, questions about copyright, trademarking, and patents often come up. While we cannot give legal advice on these topics because we’re not qualified legal professionals, this is what we can say: Registering a trademark, patent, or copyright takes time and money. It’s sometimes not the right choice for every business but it may be the right choice for certain businesses at certain times.
Your best bet is to consult with a lawyer who specializes in the protection you’re looking for to better understand exactly how much it will cost and when the right time to register it for your business is. Make sure to check out our legal resource roundup for your best options to find a lawyer to help you.
Not sure what the difference is between the protection three options?
- Copyrights: Protect intellectual property/artistic work
- Trademarks: Protect brands
- Patents: Protect inventions
To get a better understanding of the differences, visit the USPTO (United States Patent & Trademark Office) website.
In our non-expert opinion, copyrighting, trademarking, or patenting is not usually worthwhile because it’s usually only effective in the country where its filed, it’s costly, and when you’re just starting out you are just developing your brand so you usually don’t really have anything to protect.
Your best bet is to focus on your business’ branding and setting your product apart from copycats in any way possible—whether it’s by quality, price, options, availability, etc.—so consumers purchase from your brand to get the real thing and steer clear of knock offs.
Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are a tricky subject and in an ideal world, no creator, brand, or business would have their work stolen or used by others without their knowledge and consent, however, that’s not the reality—as harsh as that may seem. You’re better off building a strong brand so consumers want the real thing and then work with your legal team if an infringement occurs (if you have the time and money).
Again, we’re not qualified professionals in this area, so conduct your own due diligence and seek the advice of qualified lawyers in your area for up-to-date information.
The Invention City website also has some helpful information regarding patent protection, and they also cover licensing options if you want to sell your product inventions and earn royalty fees from the rights.
There you have the full, step-by-step walkthrough of what it takes to bring a product to life.
Here’s a quick overview of the product design process:
- Start with an idea
- Research rules & regulations
- Make & test your prototype
- Refine your product design
- Develop a tech pack
- Find a manufacturer
- Make & test a product sample
- Get feedback on your sample
- Create an operational budget & timeline
- Produce your product
- Perform a quality control check
- Source extra product elements
- Get your product & shipping packaging made
- Import your product to your warehouse
- Make your first sales
- Listen to customer feedback & refine your product design
- File copyrights, patents, trademarks, or licenses if necessary
If you’ve been interested in creating your own product from scratch but weren’t sure how the product design or product development process works, we hope this article has answered your questions and given you some helpful resources so you can get your product made!