Yes, digital design is a wonderful tool. But unless it is supported with strong management processes, there can be unintended — and negative — consequences.
Digital design has become pervasive in the development process. It is easy to see why. The benefits include rapid iterations, the development of quick prototypes and the ability to model entire systems without expensive physical prototypes and to do so from remote locations via virtual teams.
Traditionally used for computer aided design and manufacturing applications, in recent years digital design has migrated to the front end of the development process, facilitating ideation, conceptual design and globally distributed innovation. Through empirical and case-based research – including a longitudinal study of the development activities of 145 organizations that are heavy users of digital design – the authors report on the challenges and opportunities of employing digital design during these early stages.
While there are many advantages, there are also several potential downsides to using digital design in product development. The digital design tools can make the work appear complete before it actually is, creating problems down the line. And because the tools are simple to use, the tools make the concept appear ripe too early. This can promote endless tinkering, delaying production. Digital design at the concept development stage can lead to backloading, a condition in which teams cut short the valuable work of gaining user insight and iterating potential product/system solutions.
The integration of digital design into the development process cannot replace the need for distinct phases of learning, design and development. The authors show that R&D management must balance facilitating creative iteration while maintaining overall process discipline, and more generally must not sacrifice quality in designs for speed of development.
Finally, the authors’ research shows a direct correlation between a firm’s R&D efficiency and a strategy for integrating digital design within an overall IT infrastructure for new product development.