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What are the main differences between working with an industrial project, an art project and advertising?

An industrial project intended for mass production is usually split into at least four steps:

  1. Pre-study: What, why and how to do the specific product? Is there at all a possible solution to the problem? This normally takes around 1-2 work weeks (40-80h) and boils down to some kind of project specification.
  2. Prototype 1 (P1): A first rough working prototype, a.k.a. proof of concept. Getting here normally takes at least four work weeks (4*40 = 160 h) per person involved. From an engineering point of view a “normal product” often looks like this: Firmware (FW), Electronic Hardware (HW) and Mechanics (Mech) –> 12 work weeks. In other words: whatever you want to develop it costs at least a couple 10,000 EUR just to get the first working prototype, not counting materials and factory costs.
  3. Prototype 2 (P2): Lessons learned from P1 is implemented and the design is, if not earlier, optimised for the specific factory that has been chosen for production. This can, depending on the kind of product, take everything from just a couple of work weeks up to several months. Especially if making a very cost optimised product with large production volume this step takes long time. The development cost is then a negligible part of the total unit cost, so it is well worth saving a little here and there in production.
  4. Production version (Ver 1.0): The final version. If things went well only minor adjustments to P2 is needed to get here. When standing at this end of the project the spendings have seldom been less than 100,000 EUR. Getting the product approved by test institutes is an often forgotten part of the total project cost. Such tests adds at least least 5,000-10,000 EUR to the total cost.

As a good rule of thumb it takes at least a year and 100,000 EUR to bring an industrial project intended for mass markets from idea to finished product.

Aiming for a smaller production volume is a different story. There is still a pre-study and proof of concept (P1), but from thereon all possible shortcuts are used to keep the development time short. If possible the design is made from already existing building blocks, who are put together with different kinds of electronic and software glue to form the end result. Unit cost will be very high and if ever ramping up production the process has to be re-made from scratch. Some industrial products and art projects belong to this group, but with a big difference in creative process. An industrial customer will most often provide a detailed specification as basis for the pre-study. From thereon it is more or less a straightforward process of engineering. An artist will come with an initial idea or concept, that most likely will change over time, and a fixed deadline and budget. The creative process is ongoing, so much of the engineer’s job is providing a palette of ways forward and keeping the artist within set boundaries. It is sometimes more a job of being a guide in a technical world, than doing actual engineering. This might seem like a nightmare to most engineers, but it is actually very rewarding. You get to see your own world with a new set of eyes and the end result is most often a lot more interesting than your everyday industrial projects! A lamp making soap bubbles or a pair of robot beds sneaking up on people, will spark so many more smiles and curiosity than even the most advanced FPGA based hardware for image processing. In terms of time and money typical numbers for this kind of projects are a couple of months and 10,000 to 100,000 EUR.

Forward planning is a trait seldom found in the world of advertising. Maybe the problem is better described as working with very different project cycles. Engineering projects take months up to years, while advertising projects often have cycles of just a few weeks. Small last minute fixes in the advertising world, translates to weeks or months for the engineer making a redesign, ordering new parts followed by assembly and testing. This discrepancy in world views is to some extent compensated for by the joy of quickly coming up with unconventional solutions to unusual problems. Luckily the understanding for each others realities grows the more time spent working together. Due to the short time frames and ability to do digital post-processing, the projects are often good enough when looking good on camera. Compared to industrial projects such a mock-up sometimes does not even count for as a proof of concept, but can be fun working with anyway.

To sum up:

  • Industrial product development projects often takes at least 1 year to the cost of 100,000 EUR or more. They tend to follow a strict project specification and follows a more or less linear methodology.
  • Typical art projects take months to the cost of 10,000 to 100,000 EUR. The creative process is ongoing, so the project can take many turns. The only constants are the budget and deadline. The engineer must dare to jump into a black hole of uncertainty. Most often the outcome is fantastic!
  • Advertising is a bit like art projects on steroids, in the sense that the time frame is very short and the budget can be higher.

All three of these different customer groups have their own charm. Industrial projects tend to offer fun technical challenges with enough budget to find a proper solution. Art projects are very good for your general creativity and ability to communicate with non-engineers. Advertising projects improve your skill to “kill your darlings”, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) and get things done in very short periods of time. Please do take all opportunities to work alongside other professions! It is during such cross-border cooperations magic can happen!