Chinese design studios are ridiculously fast when it comes to transforming your prototype into a manufacturing ready (DFM) prototype, which you can then give to a factory to mass produce. Depending on your product, you can count 2-3 months of development time only.
However, I strongly recommend you to be on site for the whole duration. As a German, I really needed to get into the different working environment and attitude. Chinese designers are lightning fast when they rush over their computer keyboard to adjust a design, but they don’t generally think for you. You have to conceptualize, plan, and communicate, and they execute fast and in a high quality. You don’t have to micromanage everything, but you should thoroughly control the work results, to be sure they didn’t get you wrong.
Here’s a few things to consider when you’re working with a Chinese product design studio:
- Be well prepared. When you start working with a design studio, you don’t need to have a final working prototype with all the electrical components figured out (it will change anyway), but you need a profound understanding of your market and the product’s user experience flow. You just need to know all the use cases. The design studio won’t do research for you: They need decisions, and they need them fast. For example, did you already think about the necessary battery life your product requires? Materials used?
- Speak Chinese or have someone you trust translate for you. You’re in the better negotiating position if you speak Chinese yourself, of course. Most designers you will be working with only speak Chinese.
- The work result is as good as the instruction. Precision of language is important. On a side note: Use WeChat, not Email. They don’t check email regularly.
- Ask one question at a time, don’t make lists of questions. Ask the next questions when you have had your answer. That’s how it works best, must be a cultural thing.
- Spot mistakes when looking at work results. Therefore, you need to know your shit, and stay up to date with the development process all the time. For example, I already had the case where the mould for a motor was 4 mm too short. If I wouldn’t have spotted this, we could have thrown the mockup in the trash. It was short for no reason at all, just someone assuming a size.
- Iterations. Chinese design studios’ development is fast and sequential. They do Industrial Design, then Mechanical Design, then Electrical Engineering. However, in reality you cannot know all the parameters of ID before EE has even started. How could you decide on a casing if you don’t know the battery size yet? So if you want quality, prepare your project manager that your product won’t be the average Chinese product, but requires iterations of redesigns and testing to ensure quality.
- Delegate. Chinese design studios, especially in Shenzhen I guess, have an incredible know-how. They develop products here, that’s what they do. So don’t forget to listen to them, and don’t try to do everything by yourself. You’re the expert in your field, but for all general aspects of products (materials, wall thickness, Bluetooth connections, etc.), they know better.
- Don’t overburden. They may work fast, but they will still get angry if you continue asking for changes to the design.