What is the Front-End Engineering Design Process?

For new product development, the front-end engineering design process helps organizations create, vet, and develop the best ideas. Several refer to this as the Fuzzy Front End of product development because it is often the least defined stage of product development.

A proven design process will help bring your team clarity and direction—and lead to exceptional product design.

DISHER uses a 12-step process to explore and develop optimal solutions centered around the user that meet requirements before detailed engineering and manufacturing occurs. Built within each step is the ability to gather feedback and continuously iterate around ideas.

Our front-end design process consists of:

  1. Defining the scope
  2. Gathering secondary
  3. Gathering primary research
  4. Creating experience maps
  5. Understanding opportunities
  6. Sketching Ideas
  7. Ranking ideas
  8. Developing playbooks
  9. Prototyping Ideas
  10. Testing ideas
  11. Assessing the data
  12. Reviewing the findings


DISHER's Engineering Front End Design Process

Why Is the Front-End Design Process Important?

The front-end engineering design process is valuable for several reasons. The biggest benefit? A rigorous design process leads to better product designs that will satisfy increasing consumer demands.

A vetted process also helps to mitigate product development risk and improve product success. It decreases potential mistakes, delays, and disunity.

Front-end design enables a human-centered design approach where user feedback is collected in each phase. By asking better questions throughout the front-end process—we can create better solutions. During the process, user desirability, commercial viability, and production feasibility are explored, understood, and vetted. According to a study by McKinsey and Company, “the best design performers increase their revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts.”

The Front-End Design Process

Phase One: Understand the User

Great product design is centered around the user. During this initial phase, DISHER gets to know the user and empathize with their pain points. Integrating the feedback of users in both the form and function of a product in the earliest stages of the process will reap rewards in the later stages of development.

1. Define Scope

During step one, we meet with our client to understand their objectives for the project. We gather information and listen carefully to our client’s needs and goals. We make sure all stakeholders are clearly aligned on the scope of the project. 

2. Gather Secondary Research

During step two, DISHER gathers secondary research (pre-existing data) from a variety of sources like the internet, reports, government documents, news outlets, and data bases. Secondary research is useful for three key reasons.

  1. It helps us understand as much as possible about the subject matter without having to set up our own tests.
  2. It is the first opportunity to fail fast because we can identify if there is enough of a market or underlying trend to support the existence of a new product in this space.
  3. Lastly, it informs us on what is currently not This enables us to develop the right questions to ask users in the primary research stage.

3. Conduct Primary Research

During step three, DISHER and our client gain firsthand information on our client’s end users through surveys, interviews, observations, and focus groups. Primary research is foundational to human-centered design because it allows us to better align our understanding of the user. It ensures we are designing for them and not for ourselves. Primary research also reduces bias and increases the potential for the user’s desirability to be high for the end solution.

4. Create Experience Map

During step four, we capture and communicate the touchpoints of users across multiple channels as they interact along the way. Then we create a chronological use journey to identify pain points and patterns. This helps us understand what can be improved. Experience mapping aligns product development teams early in the process, inspires creativity, and keeps stakeholders focused on the user’s needs and perceptions.

Designers working on an experience map

Phase Two: Explore All Ideas

A fruitful ideation phase is critical to new product development. DISHER provides clients certified facilitators, subject matter experts, and creative leads to guide stakeholders through idea generation. We have a proven Whiteboard Wednesday process with boosters and boundaries to maximize the number of ideas. After a large quantity of useful ideas are generated, we help teams synthesize, rank, and summarize the top ideas.

5. Understand Opportunities

During step five, DISHER reviews all the research, inspiration examples, and the experience mapping with our client. DISHER creates visual blackboards to organize all the insights, trends, and patterns collected. The information is clearly communicated and understood by each product development team member. Solutions are ideated around the opportunities discovered within the process.

6. Sketch Ideas

During step six, ideas for solving the opportunities are verbalized and sketched out. Visualizing ideas is the most effective way to help people communicate and understand new concepts. During DISHER’s Whiteboard Wednesday or Innovation Workshop ideation sessions, we provide our clients with an industrial designer and/or a conceptual engineer to sketch ideas. Potential solutions to the problem are illustrated in a fast visual way. It gives everyone a shared visual language to collaborate, iterate, and build upon.

7. Rank Ideas

During step seven, ideas are evaluated and ranked. DISHER and our client rank the top ideas based on three important criteria: user desirability, commercial viability, and production feasibility. A balanced approach is a must to evaluating each idea. Ranking concepts through the lens of the customer’s need, financial profitability, and manufacturability enables our clients to determine which ideas have greater potential for success in the marketplace.

8. Develop Playbooks

During step eight, the DISHER team summarizes the top ideas for our client by providing a one-page snapshot, a playbook, for each idea. The playbooks include the name of the concept, a sketch or two of the idea, inspiration examples, a brief description of the idea, the ranking scores (based on user desirability, commercial viability, and production feasibility), the estimated timing, and the next steps to further vet the idea. Our clients walk away with useful playbooks that provide a unified vision for what is next in the product development process.

Phase Three: Vet Top Ideas

During this final phase, DISHER and our client review the playbooks and select the top idea(s) that best solve the user’s problem(s). The top concept(s) chosen will continue to be vetted through prototyping, refining, testing, and evaluating.

9. Prototype & Refine Ideas

During step nine, DISHER’s Industrial Designers and Conceptual Engineers develop prototypes to make the abstract ideas more tangible. Prototypes are valuable for exploring and building upon new ideas while gaining valuable feedback from users. DISHER employs a variety of prototyping methods. We make prototypes with testing in mind, only building prototypes to the level of fidelity that is appropriate to learn what we need to know next.

Low-fidelity prototyping is an excellent way to quickly learn, make thoughtful changes, and craft the next version. We also create looks-like prototypes and renderings, works-like prototypes, and simulations to get valuable feedback on the form, fit, and functionality of a new concept.

Whether we need to build a looks-like show quality prototype or a cardboard-scale model—right sizing this effort allows us to move fast and learn as much as possible.

10. Test Ideas

During step ten, DISHER’s Advanced Product Development Team conducts valuable product testing and user testing. Prototypes are tested by the right audience of users. Testing often occurs through a variety of methods like user clinics, interviews, and surveys. We test the riskiest areas of desirability, viability, and feasibility within any concept to further vet the ideas. Our goal is to fail fast and learn quick.

11. Assess Data

During step 11, DISHER organizes the learnings and analyzes the user testing feedback. The findings give our team the opportunity to fix any issues and iterate or pivot on the design. Real-life user input helps product developers know how the design is working and what users are understanding and experiencing. By fixing a design early in this stage, costs associated with problems in post-launch are avoided and potential success of the product is extrapolated.

12. Review Findings

After the results are analyzed, DISHER communicates the findings with our client. The team decides whether to continue to iterate, create a different design option, or proceed forward to the engineering, manufacturing, and marketing phases of product development.

If the idea makes it to the next stage of detailed product development, all the valuable learnings from the front-end process are documented into product requirements for the launch engineering team. This happens after the concept is solidified and proven making sure that everyone who will work towards a mass-produced solution understands the user information—so nothing is lost in translation.

Who Needs Front-End Product Design Services?

If your organization struggles with product innovation due to a lack of training, strategy, or dedicated resources; ineffective tools or processes; too much red tape or even paralyzing fear—DISHER can help!

We love to come alongside clients of all types, from small start-ups to global Fortune 500 businesses, to jumpstart projects with a proven framework for product development. By hiring DISHER, our clients get to spend more time in their sweet spot while reaching their strategic product development objectives.

Comprehensive Innovation Awaits

Ready to accelerate your process of innovation? The Advanced Product Development Team at DISHER is ready to make this world a better place with you. Let us know how we can help move your ideas forward.