Design for X

Design for X

Under the label Design for X, a wide collection of specific design guidelines are summarized. Each design guideline addresses a particular issue that is caused by, or affects the characteristics of a product. The design guidelines themselves usually propose an approach and corresponding methods that may help to generate and apply technical knowledge in order to control, improve, or even to invent particular characteristics of a product. From a knowledge-based view, the design guideline represents an explicit form of knowledge, that contains information about "knowing-how-to" (see Procedural knowledge). However, two problems are prevalent. First, this explicit knowledge (i.e. the design guidelines) were transformed from a tacit form of knowledge (i.e. by experienced engineers, or other specialists). Thus, it is not granted that a freshman or someone who is outside of the subject area will comprehend this generated explicit knowledge. This is because it still contains embedded fractions of knowledge or respectively include non-obvious assumptions, also called context-dependency (see e.g. Doz and Santos, 1997:16-18). Second, the characteristics of a product are likely to exceed the knowledge base of a single human. There exists a wide range of specialized fields of engineering, and considering the whole life cycle of a product will require non-engineering expertise. For this purpose examples of design guidelines are listed in the following.

DFX means design for excellence, and also "design for X", where X is a variable with many values.[1]


Rules, guidelines, and methodologies along the product life cycle

DfX methodologies addresses different issues that may occur in a phase of a product life cycle:

  • Development Phase
  • Production Phase
  • Utilization Phase
  • Disposal Phase

Each phase is explained with two dichotomous categories of tangible products in order to show differences in prioritizing design issues in certain product life cycle phases:

  • Consumer durables
  • Capital goods

(Note: Non-durables that are consumed physically when utilized, e.g. chocolate or lubricants, are not discussed. There also exist a wide range of other classifications because products are either a) goods b) service or c) both (see OECD and Eurostat, 2005:48), thus you may refer to augmented product, whole product, or extended product as well. Also the business unit strategy of a firm - that significantly influence priority-setting in design - are ignored.)

Development phase

Production/operations phase

Design rules

Design to cost and Design to standards serves cost reduction in production operations, or respectively supply chain operations. Except for "luxury goods" or "luxury brands" (e.g. Swarovski crystals, Haute couture fashion, etc.), most goods - even upper-class goods - are reliant on cost reduction, if these are mass produced (Note: The same is valid for the functional production strategy "Mass customization"). Through Engineering design physical interfaces between a) parts or components or assemblies of the product and b) the manufacturing equipment as well as the logistical material flow systems can be changed, and thus cost reducing effects in operating the latter may be achieved.

Design guidelines

  • Design for manufacturability ensures the fabrication of single parts or components that are based on an integral design in mechanical engineering terms. Every production technology has its own specific design guideline that needs to be consulted depending on the situation.
  • Design for assembly addresses the combination of single parts or components to subassemblies, assemblies, modules, systems, etc., that are based on a differential design in mechanical engineering terms. An important issue is how the embodied interfaces within a product are designed (mechanical engineering, electrical engineering). Contrary, software or respectively firmware interfaces (software engineering, electrical engineering) are not significant for assembly operations, because these can be "easily" flashed within one production step. That itself is a cost efficient way to enable a wide range of product variants.
  • Design for logistics covers issues along supply chain partners (i.e. legally independent firms) but is by its means closely related to the Design for assembly guidelines. In academic research, Design for logistics is tangent to the Strategic alliances, Supply Chain Management, and the Engineering part of New product development. For example Sanchez and Mahoney (1996) argued that product modularity (i.e. how physical sub-systems of a product are sub-divided through interfaces; also called product or system architecture) and organizational modularity (i.e. how organisational entities are structured) depend on each other, and Fixson et al. (2005) found that the relationship between product architecture and organisational structure is reciprocal in context of early supplier involvement during the system design or respectively concept phase of the Product development process.

Utilization phase

Comparison: Consumer durables vs. capital goods

User focused design guidelines may be associated with consumer durables, and after sales focused design guidelines may be more important for capital goods. However, in case of capital goods design for ergonomics is required in order to ensure clarity, simplicity, and safety between the human-machine interface. The intent is to avoid shop-accidents as well as to ensure efficient work flows. Also design for Aesthetics has become more and more important for capital goods in recent years. In B2B markets capital goods are usually ordered, or respectively business transaction are initiated, at industrial trade fairs. The functional characteristics of capital goods in technical terms are assumed generally as fulfilled across all exhibiting competitors. Therefore, a purchaser may be subliminally influenced by the Aesthetics of a capital good when it comes to a purchasing decision. For consumer durables the aspect of after sales highly depends on the business unit's strategy in terms of service offerings, therefore generally statements are not possible to formulate.

Disposal Phase

Similar concepts in product development

There are several other concepts in Product Development and New Product Development that are very closely related:

  • Engineering Design: Design for X
  • Time Dimension: Product Life Cycle, Product Life Cycle Engineering, Product Life Cycle Management (that is not the same like the Product Cycle in business studies and Economics, see e.g. Vernon (1966). Primarily, the unit of analysis is here "a product", or more clearly a single item
  • Meso-Level Organisation: Concurrent Engineering (American), Simultaneous Engineering (British), and overlapping / parallel Product Development Processes
  • Micro-Level Organisation: Cross-functional teams, Inter-disciplinary teams, etc.

Looking at all life stages of a product (Product life cycle (engineering)) is essential for Design for X - Otherwise the "X" would not make any sense. When asking what competencies are required for analysing situations that may occur along the life of a product, it becomes clear that several departmental functions are required. An historical assumption is that New Product Development is conducted in a departmental stage process (that can be traced back to the classical theory of the firm, e.g. Max Weber's bureaucracy or Henri Fayol's administration principles), i.e. New Product Development activities are closely associated with certain department of a company. In the beginning of the 1990s, the concept of Concurrent Engineering gained popularity to overcome dysfunctionalities of departmental stage processes. Concurrent Engineering postulate that several departments have to work closely together for certain New Product Development activities (see Clark and Fujimoto, 1991). The logical consequence was the emergence of the organisational mechanism of Cross-functional teams. For example Filippini et al. (2005) found evidence that overlapping Product Development Processes only accelerate New Product Development projects if these are executed by a cross-functional team, vice versa.


Design for X references

  • Pahl, G., and Beitz, W. (1996). Engineering Design - A Systematic Approach, 2nd edition, London: Springer. (Google Book Preview)
  • Bralla, J. G. (1996). Design for Excellence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • VDI-guidelines of the "Verein Deutscher Ingenieure" can requested under (www) or purchased from the publisher Beuth (www); The most guidelines are bilingual in German and English.

Auxiliary references

  • Doz, Y. and Santos, J.F.P. (1997). On the management of knowledge : from the transparency of collocation and co-setting to the quandary of dispersion and differentiation. Fontainebleau, FRANCE.
  • Sanchez, R. and Mahoney, J.T. (1996) Modularity, flexibility, and knowledge management in product and organization design. Strategic Management Journal, 17, 63-76.
  • Fixson, S. K., Ro, Y., & Liker, J. K. (2005). Modularization and Outsourcing: Who drives whom? - A Study of Generational Sequences in the U.S. Automotive Cockpit Industry. International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, 5(2): 166-183.
  • OECD; Eurostat (2005). Oslo Manual 2005: The Measurement of Scientific and Technological Activities - Proposed guidelines for collecting and interpreting technological innovation data. : Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Statistical Office of the European Communities. (pdf)
  • Vernon, R. (1966) International Investment and International Trade in the Product Cycle. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 80, 190-207.
  • Clark, K.B. and Fujimoto, T. (1991). Product development performance. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Filippini, R., Salmaso, L. and Tessarolo, P. (2005) Product Development Time Performance: Investigating the Effect of Interactions between Drivers. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 21, 199-214.

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