ITERATE Design and Innovation Ltd is a small, dedicated team of design engineers located in Chepstow, Wales. The company specializes in helping startups and other businesses tackle all the challenges of turning a glimmer of an idea into an actual finished, marketable product.
ITERATE is succeeding in this mission because of its commitment to “purpose-driven” design, its accessibility to those who are new to the process, and its agility. All these factors are also what led them to select Autodesk Fusion 360 as their primary design and development platform.
'UnderStand' footstool designed in Fusion 360. Photo courtesy of Iterate UK.
ITERATE founder Gethin Roberts started his career as a product design engineer. But after a decade of project work and consulting, he became frustrated with the industry’s lack of a bold vision or forward-thinking ambition. So, he started ITERATE eight years ago, buoyed by a unique set of values and a commitment to helping other companies who have big ideas for new products but may lack prior experience with the go-to-market process.
“We call it purpose-driven product design,” Roberts says. “We aspire to work on projects that will have a positive impact on the world. We know we can design widgets all day long. But we want to be intentional about delivering value through useful, sustainable products.”
When Roberts first started out in product design, the cutting edge of rapid product development was focused primarily on emerging technologies like 3D printing. Today, he acknowledges that what really accelerates product development is much less flashy and much more straightforward.Specifically, it means spending a great deal of time up front analyzing the product concept in terms of its manufacturability, market viability, and financial backing.
“If these aspects haven’t been considered, you can waste a lot of time,” he says. “In my prior jobs, products would be developed before teams realized the design needed to be twice as large to be manufactured correctly or its key feature had already been patented. We really encourage our clients to think about all these factors before they even officially engage with us.”
“If these aspects haven’t been considered, you can waste a lot of time ~ We really encourage our clients to think about all these factors before they even officially engage with us.”
—Gethin Roberts, MD, Iterate UK
Electronic PCB design in Fusion 360. Photo courtesy of Iterate UK.
Companies that gravitate toward ITERATE’s purpose-driven approach include startups that may lack in-house design capabilities or are developing a product for the first time. They span the spectrum from those who have an idea but no financial backing to those who are fully venture-backed and are ready to move from concept to finished design quite rapidly. Many of these companies tend to work in the tech, healthcare, and medical device sectors.
“No matter what they need, we work with them in a lean, efficient way to provide them with some form of design collateral,” Roberts says. “That may be concept designs or a prototype they can use to generate funding. We help them get the process started.
The company’s willingness to work with those who lack experience sets it apart from larger consultancies that may seem intimidating to the uninitiated. ITERATE prides itself on its accessibility and approachability, as well as its transparency and open communication style
Underlying these values is a commitment to agility as well as the financial necessities that come from being a small but growing business. When ITERATE started up, choosing a design platform that aligned with these values was the company’s first challenge. Roberts was a Solidworks user throughout his university education and professional career. But the cost caused him to rethink this decision.
“Choosing Autodesk Fusion 360 is kind of a big part of our success,” he says. “At first, I wanted to get a Solidworks license. But I quickly realized, if we need a second design engineer, we’ll need another license. And that would be a real struggle.”
At this point, ITERATE tried out a range of cloud-based solutions, eventually deciding on Fusion 360 because of its overall affordability and flexibility as well as the number of capabilities it included in a single platform.
In addition, Roberts notes the platform is very intuitive to use, with a very shallow learning curve, especially for anyone with any level of CAD experience.
“Fusion 360 has allowed us to be braver in our work,” Roberts says. “What I mean by that is, we could grow our design team and pitch new projects without any concern about where we would find more money for additional licenses. Without Fusion 360, growth would have been much riskier.”
Much to his surprise and delight, Fusion 360 has continued to expand the capabilities it offers, from generative design to Moldflow to electronics.
“Fusion 360 is becoming a single CAD design hub for everything we would ever possibly need,” Roberts says. “When we decided to use it, we never anticipated that there would be so much continued investment in its development, and that it would happen so quickly. Fusion 360 is basically a competitive differentiator for us at this point.”
“Fusion 360 has allowed us to be braver in our work ~ we could grow our design team and pitch new projects without any concern about where we would find more money for additional licenses. Without Fusion 360, growth would have been much riskier.”
—Gethin Roberts, MD, Iterate UK
'Mohonto' Shower head. Photo courtesy of Iterate UK.
In addition to working with private clients, ITERATE develops its own product design ideas. The first of these is the MOHONTO sustainable shower head, which recently won a European Product Design award. The key insight behind the design is a perfect example of ITERATE’s insistence on starting with a complete picture of the product and market landscape.
“Our research showed that even if you have a multi-pattern shower head, you don’t use most of those patterns,” Roberts says. “You set it to the one you like and leave it there.”
The ITERATE team then aligned this idea with the two major drawbacks of most multi-pattern shower heads. One is the number of components involved, from chamber seals to springs and switches, which can run as high as 20 or 30. The other is the need for ultrasonic welding, which makes the shower heads very difficult to recycle.
“We wanted to develop a more sustainable approach, but also one that could do more than three patterns,” Roberts says. “Using Fusion 360, we designed a very simple shower head with a machined aluminum head that is smaller and weighs less than most other shower heads and can be outfitted with any number of 3D-printed faceplates that change the shower pattern.”
The MOHONTO shower head has three parts instead of 20 or 30. The metal construction of the head extends the lifetime of the product significantly, and the entire head is much more sustainable and easier to recycle.
“You can print as many pattern face plates as you like, using a little tool to replace them as needed,” Roberts says. “We’re envisioning a smartphone app that lets users take a little survey to identify their ideal shower pattern and see it in a virtual environment. Then we could 3D-print it on demand.”
Gethin Roberts of Iterate UK. Photo courtesy of Iterate UK.
Fusion 360 also comes in handy during ITERATE’s government-backed consulting work with small businesses in Wales. This program incentivizes businesses to improve their products or generate new IP assets with help from the government. Specifically, companies with 10 or fewer employees can work directly with ITERATE for up to eight days.
“We can help them identify the right material for a new product, find a market for a concept they have in mind, sketch ideas, or create 3D CAD models with Fusion 360,” Roberts says. “True to our values, we are often helping them think through the entire product design process to make it more efficient or use technologies they weren’t aware existed.”
ITERATE has won three consecutive contracts for this work, all in a competitive format. The projects have involved companies from a wide variety of sectors, including medical, biotech, defense, consumer products, civil engineering, and more, many of whom return to ITERATE after the initial engagement to continue developing the product.
Empowered by Fusion 360, ITERATE continues to steadily grow and expand through these and other relationships, all with the goal of realizing Roberts’s vision of truly purpose-driven design.
“We have a responsibility as product designers to consider the environmental impact of our work,” he says. “As ITERATE continues to grow, we will have more opportunities to work on projects with a bigger reach and a potentially bigger impact on the world. That’s what I’m most excited about.”