Understanding End-User Needs

Understanding End-User Needs

There are many important components in developing a successful product, one of which is understanding end-user needs. At Fredricks Design, we have made a living from pairing our design and engineering teams throughout the design process to gain insights from both disciplines. This line of thinking reflects how we interact with our clients. We typically try to get as many key stakeholders involved in the process as early as possible to solve as many problems as possible.

No matter how you approach the product development process, understanding end-user needs is one key area to a product’s success. Even the best-designed product will not get far in any market without solving key issues focused on its end-users. This is rarely as simple as identifying a problem and offering what you view as a viable solution. The act of solving these problems can be complex and nuanced. Focused on the daily habits of individuals, a deep understanding of how they got to the process currently in place and understanding the key to solving an identified problem might be to answer a different problem they didn’t even know that they had.

Operating inside of end-user habits

During my final thesis project in my last year in design school, I had the opportunity to shadow several employees in different roles across a hospital system. I decided after some conversations with hospital leadership to attempt to tackle problems surrounding patient transfers. These transfers are extremely common, typically seen between a patient’s bed, a stretcher, a wide variety of testing beds, and various hospital equipment. My initial reaction was to develop an overhead crane system to help lift patients between these different pieces of equipment. You can imagine my surprise to find the same product I envisioned in my mind already installed in many of the rooms I explored throughout my shadowing experience.

When I witnessed how employees went about the transfers in their day-to-day routine, it was remarkably simple. When the time came for a nurse to transfer a patient, they would simply assemble 3-4 nurses, position the stretcher next to the bed or other piece of equipment and pull the patient’s sheet across to carry out the transfer. After talking about this discovery with the doctors and nurses, I learned the overhead system takes too much time and is rarely used.

This highlights a critical point in designing around end-user needs; operate within end-user habits. These overhead crane systems checked every box during its development, eased the strain on hospital staff, reduced the number of staff members needed to transfer patients, and created a safe procedure for the patient. So, where did this design fail? It operated too far outside the habits of the end-user. Because of this, it was quickly cast aside for the fastest and easiest solution available. This is a valuable lesson that could have saved hundreds of hospital systems around the country millions of dollars.

Seeing past the blinders

Another lesson I learned early in my design career was to help see past end-users’ “blinders”. This means that many individuals that have done the same routines for so long in their chosen profession can no longer see the problems they face in their everyday routines. It is human nature to build a routine and perfect it, finding their own solutions to their problems. Once these problems have been “solved” they no longer view it as an issue. We see this same effect across many disciplines in our clients’ walls.

An example from my time shadowing was something as simple as how to bring an IV pole with the stretcher as nurses move patients around the hospital system. Most nurses would just wrap their fingers around the handles of the stretcher and reach a finger out to grab the IV pole. Not a single nurse I shadowed identified this as a problem in my discussions with them or in the surveys I developed.

When developing products around multiple issues, I discovered throughout this shadowing process this was one of the simplest solutions. By simply adding some geometric features to hold the IV pole to the handle area of the stretcher, the process became easier for users to maneuver the stretcher and less stressful on their hands throughout the day. This tiny feature became one of the best-received solutions of the project and it solved an issue that wasn’t even seen by the user group. 

Identifying key end-user

A crucial component in understanding end-user needs is correctly identifying who your end-user is. We see many products developed around the customer, but how we define the customer can differ. In the examples used above, we have multiple end-users depending on their definition. The patient, the nurse, and the purchasing group inside the hospital system are all key stakeholders crucial to the success of the product.

A product such as a hospital stretcher can be broken into categories and weighted based on how important each stakeholder is viewed to the success of the product. The customer-centric features are for the comfort of the patient. The controls and usability functions with the nurse or caregiver in mind. Hospital leadership and purchasing groups are going to put more weight into the cost and longevity of the product. Understanding how to weigh these different user groups is important to create a successful product. It is typical to have to make concessions from one user group to another as they all play a role. A product that checks the boxes for patients and nurses but is too expensive for upper management is a non-starter. Finding a way to balance these groups is of utmost importance.


All in all, developing procedures and processes to drive end-user research is an early and vastly important part of developing successful products. Delivering new products to solve our user’s problems without completely changing how they work in their current systems can be nuanced and even frustrating, but it is crucial in their implementation. Understanding that we tend to be creatures of habit can help us step back from the low-hanging problems and identify new areas of improvement. Categorizing key user groups or stakeholders can help us understand the intricacies of delivering a successful product.


Insights About Concept Development And Production Engineering

Insights About Concept Development And Production Engineering

At Fredricks Design, we have had the pleasure of working across different industries through all phases of successful product and concept development. Our work ranges from automotive, entertainment, consumer goods, furniture, healthcare, and everything in between. As a consultancy, many companies contact us at many phases throughout the product development process. In some programs, we offer turnkey solutions for clients developing new products and brainstorming sessions through manufacturing. We even help marketing teams develop content for digital and print campaigns. In other programs, our reach is limited to a single phase as we help companies conceive new solutions, prototype designs, and develop concepts into production-engineered solutions ready for manufacturing or just about any other area throughout the process.

These workflows give us what we believe to be a unique perspective. We have experienced the development process for hundreds of companies across nearly all industries and have identified inefficiencies and leveraged lessons learned as we move on to the next project. Very early on in our company’s history, we found success balancing creative design and technical engineering from the very inception of a project. This balance allows voices from both disciplines throughout the process. It also heads off issues we see when the two disciplines are in separate silos. We still approach our projects the same today and typically reach even further when working with our clients. On a typical program with large clients, we will bring in key stakeholders from design, engineering, marketing, management, sales, manufacturing, end-users, and any other voice we believe needs to be heard to develop a successful product.

Our Conceptual Development Process

The product development process is something that has evolved over the years. Every company has its own version, and every design studio will tell you why theirs is best. Below I have outlined a simplified version of our internal process by phase to better inform you of what we see as one of the biggest problems in what we would consider the typical breakdown of product development.

Free space

  • Research – A deep dive into not only the problem we are trying to solve for end-users but also pain points created internally from current products, market positioning, benchmarking (in and out of the market), and defining opportunities based on current issues, needs, and insights gathered.
  • Ideation – Brainstorming using key stakeholders listed above to develop new ideas and solutions to current issues and needs.

Concept development

  • Feasibility and Packaging– Integrating purchased components, existing sub-assemblies, and “slabbing-in” surfaces to understand spatial implications and standards for specific companies or industries. Here we flesh out concepts through high-level modeling and mock-ups we can leverage as we move into detailed design.
  • Supplier iterations – Gathering feedback from suppliers and key stakeholders to obtain information to help accurately develop the concept package and prepare for production development. This phase is typically viewed as part of the Production Development phase and is a constant source of redundant iterations and costly changes.

Production development

  • Detailing – Developing concept direction through detailed modeling including final surfacing, developing component thicknesses, attachment features, hardware, draft analysis, and material applications.
  • Analysis– FEA, weight budgets, swing studies, etc.
  • Rendering– Photorealistic product representation to solidify final color, material, and finishes.
  • Drawings and documentation – Assembly level drawings, BOMs, component drawings, assembly instructions, “build books,” purchased parts, etc. 

With a general understanding of our process, we can get into a key activity that causes the most issues across all industries when developing new products.

The Problem As We See It

The biggest issue facing clients when we are brought into projects is a lack of time and budget spent on the concept development. This phase is seen as a relatively quick phase that is pushed through to production engineering to move the project down the pipeline and meet the goal delivery date. This thought process tends to lead to one major issue facing our clients, changes in the production phase. Significant changes implemented this late in the development cycle cause three main issues for our clients:

  1. They wreak havoc on budgets and timelines – Changes in this phase tend to include many different disciplines and stakeholders that need input on how to address the issues, which tends to be a nightmare for management and is a bottleneck for keeping programs on track.
  2. They tend to snowball – Simple things like a lack of spatial considerations for a purchased component, fasteners, or a part thickness can quickly snowball outside of one assembly and into another. In production phases, we typically see “frozen” parts or assemblies that are pushed into tooling or manufacturing too soon. This leaves a development team between a rock and a hard place.
  3. The number of players – Conceptual teams are typically small and agile. They can work around issues and have more freedom in the phases leading up to production development than they do once manufacturing partners and suppliers get into the mix. The amount of communication needed to make these changes in production is time-consuming. It also leads to inefficiencies and burns out team members.


Typical Timeline


Ideal timeline


How Does This Apply To The Real World?

To see this in action, look at a real-world example of a common occurrence. Recently, we worked with an automotive supplier to help develop some production seating assemblies for a high-end electric vehicle. Our team was brought in as an extension of the supplier’s team to help hit tight deadlines needed to hit production dates. Our scope was to work from the OEM’s A-surface to build a speaker assembly that would mount to the side of a seat with a large motion profile.

We quickly fell into discussions with the OEM about A-surface changes that were needed to feasibly construct the parts after offsetting A-surface for leather thickness, foam, and substrate. These changes were not that significant, but due to the nature of automotive, they were sandwiched between seat frames and frozen internal body panels. These discussions quickly grew to make tolerance concessions with manufacturers and concessions on aesthetics with the OEM’s studio. It also took the involvement of multiple other suppliers providing purchased components. We understand that these things happen when working on vastly complicated interiors with many stakeholders, however, these things are much easier to solve before production development where design teams have way more freedom and far fewer stakeholders.


Concept Development

The Solution As We See It

We will never remove all these changes because product development is an iterative process. However, we help position our clients for success by doing our due diligence in the early phases. This involves getting feedback from suppliers, manufacturing partners, and other key stakeholders to head off these issues. In this example, this would have meant positioning ourselves in one of two potential areas to better affect project flow.

The first and preferred is with the OEM. Positioning ourselves with the OEM to run packaging and feasibility studies on their interior A-surface before production development would have quickly located areas in the A-surface that would result in non-feasible or expensive tooling conditions. This position would be preferred as direct communication with the OEM studio would result in the quickest turn on any identifiable issues and keep the key stakeholders to a minimum. Positioning ourselves in this way is how we ended up working through the example above. The lack of a direct line to the OEM’s studio was not an effective way to find solutions. Furthermore, this approach would have left the OEM with a more defined package to bring to suppliers to get more accurate quotes and lead times.

The second potential area is with the Tier 1 supplier, only earlier in the process. This area is close to the position we were in, but late entry meant that many of the issues we turned up through the production engineering process either required concessions from multiple parties to find a solution or resulted in going back through the chain of communication to see if there was anything we could do with interfacing features to help solve our issues. The key is to identify these issues early in the process, giving us more time to make changes. It also takes fewer players to approve solutions and more accurate packages for quotes and lead times.

Our team’s unique skillset and deep knowledge of the entire product development process give us an edge when working through the concept development phase. Effective concept development requires an understanding of all manufacturing processes involved in the production of the product. It would be difficult for a team of industrial designers to effectively work through a concept and highlight areas that will likely need to be modified as the project progresses. This is part of the reason we tend to get as many disciplines as possible involved early in the design process in hopes of heading off future issues and reducing late-term changes to the product.


Concept Development

Wrap up

We know we will never have the perfect process for all clients, all industries, and all projects. This key area is just one spot we have seen significant bottlenecks and headaches in our 35-year history. We understand our client’s desire to push a product into production as quickly as possible and hit key dates and goals set by upper management, and our solution helps to alleviate just that. You tend to hear around our studio, “haste makes waste.” This phrase encapsulates a lot of what we just discussed above, and from our experience, it rarely fails. The simple solution to save time and money is to expand the concept development phase and reduce product development costs.




Advanced Themed Attraction Industry Developments

Advanced Themed Attraction Industry Developments

Over the past several decades, the team at Fredricks Design has worked with demanding design and engineering teams in diverse industries. While industry standards vary depending on the project, product, and intended use, the team has developed the capability to come up to speed and adapt to new projects quickly. Whether it be working with unique project teams or different cultures, we never fail to deliver excellent work under tight timelines and budgets. As our capabilities grew, Fredricks Design identified a fit in the themed attraction industry – specifically in rides, animated props, and special effects. Our deep experience in vehicle development, cockpits, interior systems, and seating for cars, trucks, and heavy equipment fit this industry’s needs well.

Entry Into The Themed Attraction Industry

Low volume production of custom build projects is a key requirement of success on entertainment projects. Rides and props are produced in quantities of less than ten units. The projects perform for decades under rigorous conditions. The team at Fredricks Design wanted to learn more about this industry, so we set about the hard work of presenting the firm and pursuing the first few projects.

Since that initial entrance into the entertainment industry, Fredricks Design has worked with prime vendors for entertainment brands. Our skills in design and studio engineering fit perfectly with concept development projects. Many Clients requested manufacturing capabilities for the outsourcing of turn-key “prime vendor” projects. After exploring several manufacturing suppliers, we had the good fortune to connect with Prefix Corporation based in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Like Fredricks, Prefix is a second-generation, family-run, and Michigan-based company. We began working on projects together, and by October 2018, we had framed and finalized a strategic partnership. This partnership allowed us to pursue and develop projects from concept development through fabrication, assembly testing, and installation of rides and animated props. Our partnership continues to thrive, and we are excited about the future for our Clients and diversified growth for our partnership and team.

Forward Thinking

We have learned many things over the past decade working in the Themed Attraction Industry. Our team has worked on multi-axis motion rides, animated props, advanced concepts, and full-scale mockups. Our portfolio of projects includes work with the largest and best-known entertainment brands in the world. We have also worked with innovative startups on projects from research, sketch, and concept development through production engineering deliverables. It’s been a wild ride and a wonderful adventure with fantastic friends! A big thanks to our Clients, partners, suppliers, and design and engineering team!

These are a few reasons we are driven to continue working in this unique and demanding industry:

  1. We grew up watching cartoons and animated movies. We feel humbled and thankful to help bring stories to life from sketch through the installation of the guest experience. 
  2. Families and friends build lasting memories in the theme parks we help create. 
  3. We work with some of the world’s most demanding creative and technical teams.
  4. We are challenged with performance and technical requirements to ensure the safety of park guests and protect the long-term investment of every project.  
  5. Our engineering team adheres to rigorous technical and performance standards to ensure the function and long-term durability of the systems.
  6. We are challenged with tight budgets and timelines. 
  7. Working as an extension of the Client’s creative and technical team, they task us with delivering complex rides and props. These will run for 18-hour days over years and decades with scheduled preventive maintenance.

Themed Attraction Industry

Attendance At IAAPA

We are now preparing for the annual Themed Attraction industry event in Orlando. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions is an opportunity to connect with friends, make new contacts, attend educational events, and tour the show floor to experience emerging technologies for future application.

Emerging and evolving themes for the industry will include the blend of VR and physical experiences. It will also host motion control technologies, character-based attractions, scaled rides for small footprints, and the application of advanced materials and assembly methodologies. Stay tuned for a recap of our insights from IAAPA in a future post.

Before attending the show, I will play in the golf event on Sunday, November 13, 2022. This special event will benefit the Give Kids The World Organization. Hosted right before IAAPA, the event speaks to the spirit of community and giving that thrives throughout the industry. It is an opportunity to relax, play golf, and reflect on why we love this industry!

Please reach out if you would like to connect at the show or set up a review of findings and insights. We are ready to help with your future projects, big, small, or medium in scale. Thanks for our past and future projects!