Polishing the Process

How a Design Guide can Help Streamline Product Development

When Catalano Design enters into a new client relationship, we evaluate the long term needs of their company through the lens of design. We consider how the company’s product and brand will need to evolve over time to continue to benefit their customers. We believe this question is important for each company we work with, regardless of the scope of project or length of our working relationship, as the design of a single project can send a ripple through a company - for better or worse.

Some projects are restricted by established company guidelines, while others may introduce something completely new to a brand and offer us the potential to inform company design moving forward. To tap into this potential, our firm must carefully consider the company’s future needs, products, and opportunities. Crucial to our process is creating guidelines that allow us to harness that design potential moving forward.

A good set of design guidelines helps a company eliminate the need to constantly resolve similar design issues. It can help streamline the product development process and promote a consistent approach to branding and product vision. Moreover, well-grounded guidelines are just that­–a guide, not a formula. The most effective design guidelines recognize that it is impossible to anticipate every situation that will require design and therefore offer a flexible path toward a solution in cases where a formula won’t work.

 
 Our design of the HIFIMAN logo

Our design of the HIFIMAN logo

 The HIFIMAN HE1000

The HIFIMAN HE1000

 

Catalano Design’s first two projects with audio industry client HIFIMAN were logo development and the design of a single set of headphones, the HE1000. If completed in a vacuum, those efforts might have resulted in products with a declining value for HIFIMAN over time. Instead, with an eye to the future, we created solutions that became design assets with details that could be easily adapted to subsequent products, forming a foundation for the brand going forward. This became the basis for a design guideline document that we created for HIFIMAN. Having a defined design vision has helped them establish and espouse consistent values and tone, organize their product tiers, and establish a stronger presence in their segment of the industry.

 
 HIFIMAN Susvara

HIFIMAN Susvara

 HIFIMAN Sundara

HIFIMAN Sundara

 

Now, with the debut of HIFIMAN’s critically acclaimed Susvara and Sundara headphones, our design guidelines are still hard at work. At opposite ends of the price point spectrum, Susvara ($6,000) is a class-leading product setting new standards in personal audio, while Sundara ($499) is an excellent value at the entry point for high-fidelity planar magnetic headphones. Design assets developed and catalogued from our very first work effort with HIFIMAN are still in use and still paying dividends for the company. For example, Susvara utilizes the patented “Window Shade” grill, first introduced on the HE1000, which minimizes the reflection of sound waves while creating a distinct family appearance for HIFIMAN’s top tier headphones. Both products feature one of two variations of our ergonomic suspended headband design, which allows even the heaviest headphones to remain comfortable for hours of listening. In addition, both headphones incorporate the HIFIMAN logo and branding thanks to the influence of the guidelines, even extending to product photography and marketing materials.

 
      A sample page from the HIFIMAN Design Guide on the Window Shade grill asset.

     A sample page from the HIFIMAN Design Guide on the Window Shade grill asset.

 
 
 
 The HIFIMAN Susvara's Window Shade grill is one of many established assets the design incorporates.

The HIFIMAN Susvara's Window Shade grill is one of many established assets the design incorporates.

 

Establishing the design guidelines also allowed Catalano to streamline product development for both sets of headphones, saving HIFIMAN time and money. New product briefs are easily categorized into the appropriate tiers. Many of the features, forms, and manufacturing processes required are already well-developed. This way of working has evolved into a comfortable shorthand between our companies, which enables HIFIMAN to focus on continuing to develop their famous driver technology. Our design guidelines help them incorporate that technology into their products more efficiently and with a more reliable, higher quality end result.

 

Susvara is a class-leading product setting new standards in personal audio. Read Steve Guttenberg’s review on CNET here.

Sundara is a high-performance, high-value entry level product in the world of high-fidelity planar magnetic headphones. Read a review of Sundara here.

Carol Catalano