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Top 8 product design mistakes start-ups make (and how to avoid them)

Bringing a new product to market can be both exciting and challenging in equal measure. For start-ups in particular, it can be a steep learning curve - especially if you’re looking to enter the medical device space, with all the issues of regulation and compliance that can bring.

There is a lot to think about and every decision made can have implications for both project budgets and the likely success of the end product, so it always pays to do your homework.

Here at MDesign, we work closely with start-up companies to help bring their product ideas to life – from concept through to manufacture – with medical devices being one of our key passions. In our experience, there are some common mistakes that start-ups can make along the way and which can hamper their success. We’ve pulled them together here, with advice on how to avoid them.

1. Failing to fully research and understand the target market

If the answer to the question ‘who will buy your product?’ is everyone, then you’re already in trouble!

Understanding your target market is essential in product design. After all, how can you design something that people genuinely want or need, if you don’t know who you’re creating it for, or what problem it can solve for them?

Addressing questions such as: Who will buy it? and What price will they be willing to pay? are essential and will help you understand if your product is both feasible and viable. There is no point creating a brilliant new product that you can’t sell because the price point is too high. If the cost of producing the product is also out of balance with what customers will be willing to pay for it, then you equally won’t have a viable business.

So, you need to do your research. While you will have to make some assumptions at first, don’t ignore what the data is telling you. To remove bias from the process, you should seek out feedback from potential customers and end users. If they’re on board, you know you could be on to a winner.

2. A lack of design thinking

Concentrating on looks over functionality is another big mistake that start-ups can often make. A great looking product might attract interest initially, but if its functionality lets it down then it will stall in the long term (along with the company’s reputation).

This is where design thinking comes in. Utilised by some of the world’s biggest brands, a design thinking approach focuses on the needs of the end customer from the outset and throughout the product development lifecycle.

By putting the user and product functionality first, you are more likely to succeed in creating something that delivers what the customer wants, prioritising factors such as usability and ergonomics over aesthetics.

3. Not having the right protections in place Failing to properly investigate patents and intellectual property (IP) also trips up many start-ups, and can sometimes result in costly and protracted legal battles. For this reason, it’s vital to do a deep dive into your competition from a legal point of view before you invest any time or money into your product’s development. Remember to take into account international markets, as this will ensure you avoid any issues later on if your product takes off and you decide you want to expand globally.

Seeking the advice of an expert is a good first step here as issues of IP can be complex and will differ in different territories across the world.

4. Forgetting to consider sustainability and environmental impact

Failing to consider the sustainability of your product is yet another mistake new businesses can fall foul of. Younger generations in particular are far more sustainability conscious and ignoring the environmental impact of your product could have serious repercussions for your sales, as well as your ability to secure product investment.

As the world increasingly moves towards a low carbon future, a strong environmental focus offers more than just a positive marketing message. Legislation in this area is also only likely to get stronger. While demand for your product may endure, without the necessary sustainability credentials your market may become limited or disappear altogether over time. It can also be a costly issue to try and rectify further down the line and is far better considered from the beginning.

5. Not giving enough thought to manufacturing and scalability

Something we often come across at MDesign is a prototype where no consideration has been given to how that product can be scaled up and mass produced.

It doesn’t matter how good your prototype is, if the end product cannot be manufactured at the cost, speed, and frequency you need it to be made, to have a viable product and business. So you need to consider scalability from the outset.

6. Miscalculating the total cost of taking a product to market

How much investment it will take to get a product to market is another issue that start-ups tend to underestimate. The cost of tooling and shipping alone can often be much more than anticipated, with budgets for this area commonly falling short of what’s required.

Product costing is one area where it pays to get the advice of an experienced consultant or team, like ours here at MDesign. Being aware of the likely costs of your product before you invest any money can help you to get a better handle on the financial implications of proceeding, as well as ensuring you’ve considered and costed all aspects of the process accurately.

7. Underestimating the time needed to secure regulatory approvals

Underestimating how long it can take to get all the necessary regulatory approvals needed to take a product to market can be another costly mistake. This is especially true in the case of medical devices, where the time and cost associated with securing regulatory approvals can be extremely lengthy and convoluted.

If you’ve failed to factor in the time it takes to have your product tested and approved by the necessary industry regulators, this can have a huge bearing on your launch timescales. Unanticipated delays all add additional expense to the process, so it’s important to factor in a buffer to your budgets and product launch dates, so your business can withstand any prolonged hold-ups.

8. Not considering materials and finishes from the start

Historically in product manufacturing, colours, materials, and finishes wouldn’t be considered until much later in the process, but we now know that delaying these decisions can be problematic and costly.

That’s because every process or product change, no matter how seemingly insignificant, will have an impact on both a product’s overall design and the manufacturing process, which typically incurs a significant amount of redesign at additional cost.

At MDesign, we’ve seen start-ups arrive with a finished prototype that they want to make more environmentally friendly, or they want to change the finish on it. Both of these steps require taking the product back to the drawing board and starting over.

Wanting to mass produce medical devices using 3D printing is yet another issue we see. To pass regulatory approvals medical devices need to be made with medical grade approved materials, which often aren’t compatible with 3D printing. As 3D printing is much faster and more cost effective than traditional manufacturing, this can have serious consequences for the cost and time involved in bringing the device to market. All of which could have been avoided had the right expertise been engaged at the start of the design process.

Need expert advice?

At MDesign we’re experts at helping companies of all sizes to develop new products. Whether it’s materials, costings, timelines, advice on design thinking, making 3D prototypes, or selecting manufacturing partners our team can assist you.

To discuss a project and find out more about how our team could support you, email

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