Renders versus Photos for Hardware Products

If you aren’t using rendering to visualize your products, you are wasting time and slowing how quickly you’re getting your products to market. Software and service companies do this every day, but a lot of hardware companies aren’t adapting to the new tools now available to them.

30-Second History of Product Visualization

Let’s first assume that you need to show something to your customers about your product before they buy it. The earliest way of doing this was physically showing your customers your product, followed at some point by stylized drawings. Along came photography, which co-existed with stylized drawings. Across these mediums into the 20th century, the development, blueprints, concepts, etc. were still done in physical media like paper.

With the introduction of computer aided design for buildings, products, and more, this development process went digital. Today, all meaningful work by designers and engineers is done on computers and stored as digital files. Those digital representations are then translated into production, be that going live on a server or going into physical production.

Pros and Cons

Your designs already exist in digital format. Thanks to the proliferation of free and open source tools, the cost of software for rendering is zero. For hardware products, check out software programs like Blender. If renders aren’t a regular and ongoing need for your company, consider outsourcing the work to keep your resources focused on what makes your business unique. You need access to computers and skilled people to do the work, too.

More importantly, consider the cost of not rendering. I’ve seen engineering and marketing teams go back and forth for weeks over minor changes, with frustration running high over everyone stressing about meeting their deadlines. From engineering having pressure to fix bugs and get products into production, to marketing needing to get collateral and assets ready for release, nobody has time to spare before a product release. And every minor change either means pushing out product photography or re-shooting everything.

Every time there’s a change to your product, needing to spend time re-shooting, re-creating lifestyle scenes, hiring actors, or whatever else went into the initial creation of assets. When this is done through rendering, these updates take far less time and far fewer resources. And you can create beautiful and rich environments for your products through rendering.

laptop sitting on a desk in an open room with a modern architectural design with sunlight shining through the windows
Laptop render © Freehive

Vaporware

The biggest risk I’ve seen that comes with relying on renders is that it is much easier to sell a product that doesn’t actually exist yet and may never exist. (Think of all the failed crowdfunding campaigns.) Products like this are sometimes vaporware, other times a function of unrealistic ambition.

This is especially true of hardware products, where there is substantial complexity associated with converting a design or concept into a safe, reliable, regulatory-conforming, physical product that safely arrives in working condition at its intended destination. These risks exist for software and services too, especially as you start talking about larger scale projects.

The easy way to avoid these problems is to be honest in your communications and setting expectations with customers about what they’re seeing in the render, when they can expect it to be available, how they can expect it will work, how they can expect it will change, etc.

Why Not Both?

If you’re a hardware company, you should be using renders to help sell your product. I’ve seen the extreme of not using rendering at all and it’s a mistake.

Of course, there is room for both rendering and photography. Each has its place and depending on the purpose of what you’re creating, you will probably want a little bit of both.

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