The next generation of industrial design

Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
July 11, 2011 (July 18 on

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New technology accelerates product development timeline

Kevin Bailey of Design 1st.
Design 1st’s Kevin Bailey.
Photo by MARK HOLLERON for the
Ottawa Business Journal.

Even during a phone interview, the team at industrial design and engineering firm Design 1st doesn’t have any problems illustrating exactly what it does.

With a quick e-mail link to an online meeting service, Kevin Bailey and Ian Kayser are able to share a three-dimensional, interactive model of a device they’re working on, as well as a virtual thermostat interface complete with clickable buttons.

“It took us about six hours to render that 3D (computer-aided design) interface,” said Mr. Bailey, who’s the founder and president of the firm.

Mr. Kayser, Design 1st’s director of operations, added the team can build a quick prototype “literally overnight,” and then virtually share it with even faraway customers.

The key to Design 1st’s efficiency, and consequently, its success – it’s worked on a wide variety of products, from the notorious We-Vibe sex toy, to water heater tanks, cinema projectors and infant hospital tags – is its judicious use of advanced industry software, as well as of Web 2.0 and social media tools available to the general public.

Design 1st illustrates a changing product design and development landscape; gone are the days when a design firm would have to physically build several prototype units and then meet with the client in person, before deciding which direction to take.


$38B: Manufacturers’ total investment in product design and development (PD&D) in 2008

$10.6B: Forecasted PD&D outsourcing to service providers by 2012

50%: Wage premium for PD&D occupations over manufacturing and services economy average

Source: State of Design – The Canadian Report 2010, Industry Canada.

“Development is much more integrated with the customer, and it evolves at a rapid pace, with many iterations before going to production,” said Michel Cloutier, territory technical manager for SolidWorks, the 3D computer-aided design, or CAD, software that Design 1st uses.

Design 1st employs CAD technology to take a client’s idea from two-dimensional sketches to a virtual 3D model that can be turned, moved and inspected, and even scribbled on if changes are needed.

As well, it uses quick modelling tools to rapidly fabricate a working, physical prototype directly from the CAD model. The 13-person firm also benefits from having a team of both industrial designers and mechanical engineers to simultaneously work on products, an integrated approach that stems from Mr. Bailey’s days at Nortel.

An example of these efficiencies is Design 1st client Clearford Industries; the wastewater tech firm was able to test a full-scale physical model of its biogas harnessing system in a water tank within a fortnight, and see seven iterations of the product.

An Industry Canada study also found Canadian firms’ outsourcing of product design and development has grown and is expected to increase by 20 per cent to $10.6 billion by 2012.

The numbers have attracted more entrants to the industry, especially with the wide availability of cost-effective design tools on the Internet and the ability to “crowdsource,” or easily assemble ideas and expertise from across the globe.

While that means more competition for firms like Design 1st, Mr. Bailey and Mr. Kayser said it also represents an opportunity for potential clients to drum up interest and funding for their ideas.

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