172: Product Concept Design & First Steps in Invention Process

172: Early Concept Design for a New Hardware Invention

April 20, 2023

With Robert Colgan, Industrial Design Leader at MAKO Design

Hosted by Kevin Mako, President of MAKO Design + Invent

172: Early Concept Design for a New Hardware Invention
172: Early Concept Design for a New Hardware Invention

For almost a decade, Rob Colgan has been a valuable member of the Mako Design team, where he has helped over 100 physical product startups bring their invention concepts to life. With educational backgrounds in mechanical and industrial design and a passion for building custom cars and motorcycles, Rob brings a wealth of expertise to the table. In today’s discussion, he will impart crucial knowledge to inventors, startups, and small manufacturers on the essential first steps to take when developing a new invention idea, from establishing proper product guidelines to creating concept sketches, performing Computer-Aided Design work, and producing visual renderings.

Today you will hear us talk about:

  • Ensure well-functioning features
  • Create sketches of products
  • Disassemble the components
  • Various sketching techniques exist
  • Sketch quick doodles to generate ideas on paper
  • Sketching can lead to the loss of the 3D element
  • Initiate product development at the skeletal level
  • Determine how the component system functions
  • Design the external appearance
  • Consider ergonomics and user interaction
  • Form should follow function in new product concept design
  • Avoid excessive focus on aesthetics at the initial stage
  • Reflect on the use case
  • The initial perspective prompts numerous inquiries
  • Collaboration is fundamental
  • Refine the preliminary components
  • Progress from concept sketches to…
  • Contemporary design is both streamlined and enduring
  • Prioritize cleanliness over trends
  • The design must appeal to the entire market, not just oneself
  • Transition to more sophisticated CAD software following the concept ideation stage


  • 3:00 – Industrial design is the merger of visual and mechanical, how something looks and work combined with the mechanical engineering of how it is manufactured.
  • 4:00 – Product Guidelines Document.  Planning for development before getting into sketching, and tracking features throughout the life of the project all the way through from idea to manufacturing.
  • 4:40 – Looking at your features and prioritizing them.
  • 5:00 – Must have and want to have features.
  • 5:30 – MVP.  A high-quality product but not stacked with unnecessary features, especially for a hardware startup.
  • 5:40 – Each feature is almost it’s own product development project in itself.
  • 6:00 – Your one or two core features are the most important aspect of your product.
  • 6:40 – Feature creep is very dangerous to a hardware startup
  • 7:00 – A hardware startup cannot afford to have all of the features you want, in the beginning – Eventually you can, but you need to get started somewhere.
  • 7:30 – Most inventions only have 1 or 2 core innovations, the rest is an afterthought.
  • 7:50 – Wedge yourself into the market with a high-quality first version of the product, then learn from your customer, get money, learn from design, and use those elements to increase the features of the product efficiently and effectively over time.
  • 8:50 – Fewer features mean significantly lower upfront costs.
  • 9:15 – Design your core features, prototype the heck out of them, and thus make sure your core functions are 100% nailed.
  • 9:25 – Set yourself up for future wins on the next version of your product too.
  • 10:00 – After the product guidelines document with your must-have and nice-to-have features, start sketching out your core features.
  • 10:05 – Figure out how to solve for those features with as simple of parts as possible that serve the purpose of your feature needs.
  • 10:30 – You sketch out both the project scope overall and distill each part individually as well.
  • 10:55 – Different types of sketching tools
  • 10:30 – The difference between hand sketching, tablet sketching, and block model CAD sketching.
  • 12:00 – Don’t get bogged down with a specific sketching process or tool, use whatever it takes for you to visualize the core innovations in whatever method is most workable for you.
  • 13:00 – The product guidelines document evolves as the sketching and design process evolves over time. Best to do guidelines documentation on a real-time basis tracked over time.
  • 13:30 – Collaboration on sketches and the guidelines is key.
  • 14:00 – Start with doing CAD design on a skeletal level, for most products.
  • 14:15 – Skinning the product around the skeletal structure.
  • 14:20 – Design for ergonomics, user interaction, and a product that looks great.
  • 15:30 – Think about the end customer when you are making hardware product design decisions.
  • 17:30 – The transition from skeletal design to full CAD design (Computer Aided Design)
  • 17:50 – The initial sketches review, when shown to the inventor, really sparks a lot of questions and healthy collaboration to make a winning product.
  • 19:00 – The inventor is the one with the vision.
  • 19:40 – Look at products that you like on the market to give influence to the design of your invention idea.
  • 20:45 – Modern design is more than sleek and sexy, modern design is timeless and simple.  The timeless design will outlast fads and trends.
  • 21:20 – Brilliantly simple design
  • 22:00 – Keeping design simple also keeps your up-front engineering, prototyping, and manufacturing costs low.
  • 22:15 – It’s a complex road to simple design.  Many people don’t appreciate the effort it takes to get to a simple clean design at the end of the development process.
  • 23:00 – Industrial design and mechanical engineering CAD is where it starts to get detailed and serious to a full product development specification.
  • 24:30 – It’s important to use design for manufacturing CAD software and strong manufacturing logic in design even from the beginning full scope CAD files, this allows for much more efficient design through the development process.
  • 25:45 – Visualization of CAD for collaboration with the inventor.


Rob Colgan Links:

LinkedIn | Website

The Product Startup Podcast Links:
Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook Page | Facebook Group | Pinterest | Twitter | YouTube

PTC Links:
OnShape | Creo

Mako Design Links:
YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Kevin Mako Links:
Instagram | LinkedIn | Quora | Facebook | Twitter

Partner: PTC’s best-in-class software solutions Onshape: The only cloud-native product development platform that delivers full-featured computer-aided design (CAD), integrated product data management (PDM) and enterprise analytics in a single system, and Creo: 3D CAD solution that provides designers with the most innovative tools to build better products faster, such as generative design, additive manufacturing, real-time simulation, IIoT, and augmented reality.