Archive for the ‘Product Design’ Category

Prototyping for Success (and Failure): The Value of the Prototype in Design, Development, and Sourcing

By on November 18, 2009 | Category: Product Design,Product Development,Product Innovation | Comments Off on Prototyping for Success (and Failure): The Value of the Prototype in Design, Development, and Sourcing

I've recently been reading a bit from IDEO founder, Tim Brown, on design thinking and the importance of prototyping in IDEO's design culture.  IDEO is one of the leading product innovation and design companies in the world. I posted the above video because it quickly captures the reasoning behind why IDEO encourages utilizing prototypes extensively in the design process.  I love the question the video begins with: "How can somebody become great at failing cheaply and quickly?"  The concept of failing fast and failing cheaply is widely promoted by successful entrepreneurs and innovators as a way to reach a successful product or business model through innovation.  Devorah Klein (in the above video) and Eric Saperstein, of IDEO, gave a speech at the 2008 Nantucket Conference, Design Thinking for Entrepreneurs: Identifying New Markets and Developing the Winning Product or Service (h/t blogger Simeon Simneonov) which I thought gave a great snapshot of IDEO's process.  Some main points:

  • Focus on Desirability (As captured by Simeon: The core of the IDEO philosophy starts with a focus on desirability. Come up with something people want then figure out how to optimize the technical and business aspects of it.)
  • Get Inspiration:

    • Spent time with people, both current customers and people who you’d want to have as customers. Develop deep empathy. 
    • Imagine what the future could be. Do not constrain your thinking. 
    • Embrace failure. Failure is data. 
    • Build to think. The act of creation helps you see things in a different light. 
    • Build low-res prototypes. Paper is OK. Iterate quickly. Generate many options. Be passionate about your prototypes but evaluate them dispassionately. 
    • Build it yourself. It’s another way to get yourself to see things from a different perspective. 

In the successful product development projects and entrepreneurial ventures I've been involved with, executives and managers have always been extremely involved in the prototyping phases, often building the prototypes themselves.  If possible, build it on your kitchen table or in your workroom with whatever handy materials you can find.  By getting your hands dirty, you become fully acquainted with the ins-n-outs of your product.  Think of the early stages as play and allow your mind to roam freely.  

Understanding the emphasis on the iterative nature of this process is key.  Although it's fun to tell and hear stories of entrepreneurs having a dream one night about a product that went on to great sales success, the truth is that most successful product developers and entrepreneurs have a substantial amount of failure under their belt that we don't hear as much about.  Think: that old Michael Jordan commercial in which he talks about every game winning shot or free throw he missed, or Thomas Edison saying that he didn't mind failing over 100 times before he reached his successful lightbulb, because he knew that each failure brought him one step closer to success.  One is much more likely to develop a successful path to market by doing the hard, but fun, work of developing several iterations until something desirable and viable is reached.  

Referring back to my last post on developing empathy for those that might use your product, this goes for more than just listening to your users or potential users.  Involving your partners in the supply chain to foster collaborative innovation will help you develop a solution that accounts for the whole lifecycle of a product.  On the manufacturing side, through prototype iterations, one can discover and work to eliminate design elements that might cause snags in manufacturing and assembly.  

Thus, when it comes to the design and development of a product, although many see this as a linear process, it's important that valuable feedback later in the project–say, from a manufacturers point of view, can work it's way back into "earlier" points of the design process and change the design accordingly.  This is why it is important to fail cheaply in the beginning–because spending lots of money on something that is likely to change later in the process burns cash needlessly.  

Once the design begins to solidify somewhat, one might need to move towards more mechanical rapid prototyping processes to gain and share information more effectively.  This post on MindTribe's blog, a Silicon Valley engineering firm, does a great job of explaining some of the various forms of rapid prototyping, such as stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Polyjet, and Machining processes.  

From a sourcing perspective, the prototype is immensely helpful.  Not only will it spur feedback regarding the design from a manufacturers perspective, it is often critical in communicating an enormous amount of information on the product's look, function, and construction.  If a picture speaks a thousand words, a prototype speaks a million.  One is much more likely to arrive at accurate projections and quotations of cost in the sourcing process, when manufacturing vendors can see, touch, feel, smell, and hear what they are to be producing.  

If your product or business is not enjoying the success you would like to see, perhaps you are still just in the prototyping stage and x number of iterations away from success.

Sustainability: Product Designers Beginning to Dig Deeper

By on July 25, 2008 | Category: Product Design | Comments Off on Sustainability: Product Designers Beginning to Dig Deeper

Maybe 4 year old boys know something we don’t.  I’ve recently seen a few lads of this age run outside in the wee hours of the morning when the garbage trucks come and stare in exuberant wonder as trashcans are emptied into the large trucks in a series of jarring mechanical movements and noises.  Something happens after we turn five and six years old.  We just stop caring about trash.  Aside from the color of bins and the nano-second of thought most of us put into categorizing our trash, as far as we know, it disappears off into…trash heaven?

Sustainability.  Green.  These concepts are slowly climbing the charts in our consciousness. Although the product design community seems to be a little behind the building architecture community on implementing sustainability into product design, the seeds are being planted. 

The San Fransisco chapter of the IDSA held a great panel event this week called, Digging Deeper.  The event brought panelists from prominent product design firms and educational programs around the world to discuss in grand fashion, as well as noteworthy detail, the how’s, why’s, what’s, who’s, and when’s of increasing the level of sustainability in the products that an overwhelming majority of, inevitably, will find their way to the landfill.

For the amount that this event was cast in the vein of "sustainability", there was a surprising amount of contempt for the term from some experts.  The same goes for the word "green".  This seemed to be predominantly because many felt these terms conjure up negative associations and images in peoples’ minds.  As much as they might draw favor from some consumers, the terms chafe against those who don’t want to be associated with "treehuggers" and "hippies", or those who foot the bill for these projects and assume that making something more "green" refers to the greater amount of money it will cost, rather than the resources it might save.

Whatever you want to call it, product designers are taking more of an interest in not only promoting environmental sustainability in their projects, but are improving their abilities to do so by coming up with finite steps an industrial designer can take to infuse these concepts into their designs, as well as disseminating the information (check out Lunar Design’s, The Designer’s Field Guide to Sustainability).  Although we have a looonnnnng way to go, I believe this bodes well for the future of sustainability in consumer products.  Regulatory initiatives like WEEE and ROHS are now pushing sustainable practices up the supply chain by putting pressure on manufacturers to cease incorporating specific, harmful materials in their products.  This, coupled with the injection of sustainable concepts from the top down in product design, may make for a compounding of positive results in the way of sustainability and consumer products. 



It is the fact that you follow through to make sure that everything is done properly that makes it a pleasure to work with you.

Russell Short
CEO, Cansporter Inc.