Tangents

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Entries in product development (27)

Thursday
Mar152012

Innovation Success and Failure—Meeting Stakeholder Needs 

By Ty Hagler

As I navigate different industries while wearing a few different hats—innovation management consultant, industrial designer, and product developer—I try to absorb as much knowledge as I can from the successes and failures I see in the marketplace.  And if there’s one thing that both successes and failures remind me of, it’s the fact that there are no shortcuts in product development.

Any new product development professional worth his salt understands the importance of building a deep understanding of customers and stakeholders prior to design, development, and launch of a new product, through customer-focused ideation and research. But do companies always know how to meet the needs of their customers and other stakeholders from the very beginning, at concept stage? Well, that’s another story.

The Intricacies of the Healthcare Markets

One of our core markets is in the development of medical devices.  Working in healthcare, whether it’s in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, diagnostics, or medical devices, can be very rewarding. But what these areas all have in common is a huge level of risk, since these markets not only play to customer needs but have to meet the stringent demands of other stakeholders during the development process.

Each of the healthcare markets have a number of gatekeeper stakeholders, including the Food and Drug Administration, various health plans, hospital formularies, and other government agencies that administer healthcare to millions of people, such as the Veterans Administration, Medicaid, and Medicare.  When a company is designing and developing a product for healthcare purposes, teams must know the end-users—patients and/or providers, but they must pay painstaking attention to the other stakeholders that control market access, pricing, and insurance reimbursement for the product.

Exhibit A: Brilliant Execution in the Medical Device Market

I recently observed an instructive example of success and failure in the area of medical devices. The first company is one that I admire and respect.  Everything about this product is stunning—the design and development process has yielded a versatile, elegant product that’s first-in-class. But the best part is that bedrock knowledge the company obviously obtained up front in the process, since they have achieved multiple indications (read:  approvals) in over a dozen areas. Indications for the first company’s product line range from classic rehabilitation cases like knee surgery, but also run the gamut from recovering stroke victims to non-ambulatory physical therapy.

To achieve this many indications takes time and effort, but most of all, it takes knowing your stakeholders. This company obviously invested a great deal of upfront resources in knowing what the rehab market needed from a new device and gave third-party stakeholders reason to believe in a product designed to meet previously unmet medical needs. They then went about designing insanely great products that would achieve international approval and adoption at third-party level, so that more patients would benefit from use.

Exhibit B:  Fitness Center Exile

On the failure side, I ran across a second company that obviously didn’t do their homework.  Their platform of rehabilitation products is simply repurposed technology that looks pretty commonplace in any fitness center from the 1980’s.  Compared to the elegance and quality of the first company, the lack of investment in understanding the customer and quality products indicates that the company leadership is exploiting an old platform with few options for growth.   At this point in their history, the team that’s developed the product has failed in terms of market access. They have no approved indications, and they are left to marketing their product at trade shows and through their website.

By failing to know their third-party stakeholders in both public and private healthcare payer organizations, the second company has achieved zero indications to help treat the myriad of conditions that require physical therapy. Instead of getting in there and competing with the first company, this product is now basically an over-hyped elliptical machine. 

One more thing—it’s one thing to take shortcuts, but another entirely to ignore the advice of your stakeholders. In our research, we found evidence that this second company ignored third-party payers’ advice for changes in the product design and instead opted on a second shortcut, simply attempting a label change.  Now, instead of having a market challenger on their hands, the company has a white elephant, hoping that they can sell a few fitness centers on the trade show circuit.

I’d personally rather have one of the devices we’re working on land in every major medical center in the country, and I’m not willing to advise shortcuts along the way.

Wednesday
Feb292012

SolidWorks Poses Competitive Advantage for Industrial Design

By Ty Hagler and Patrick Murphy


Many industrial design firms working in product development rely on surface modeling to express their creative vision for a product in development. Surface modelers such as Rhino, 3D Studio Max, and Alias StudioTools all have a high degree of usefulness in building complex surfaces.


Designers are attracted to these packages because they have an expressive workflow that enables creative output that is free of constraints. A great example of this type of application is in the auto industry, where particular attention to complex, multi-dimensional surfaces is essential to a successfully designed product. While these 3D CAD modeling packages optimize surface quality, they tend to lack the dimensional stability needed to design engineered parts to be used at the manufacturing stage. Surface models have their own limitations—they basically represent sheets of paper, constructing origami-esque geometry to define shapes.


Manufacturers and engineers around the world, however, rely on parametric modeling to build their design solutions. Unlike Surface modeling, which is relatively free of geometrical and physical parameters, parametric modeling allows designers to create objects and assemblies whose digital properties mimic physical ones. Where surfaces are like sheets of paper, solids are more like blocks of material. These blocks behave like the material the designer selects for the product. Solids thus take on the shape and form of materials like stainless steel, aluminum, or injection-molded plastic.

Since these digital objects have real-world properties, they can also simulate real-world applications of physics, such as force, liquid flow, heat, and many others to determine if parts or systems will break, melt, or explode all before an actual prototype is ever produced. Because of this, parametric modelers bridge the gap between development and manufacture - they allow designers to model solution with a viable end product in mind.


There are many parametric modeling platforms in the marketplace, such as CATIA, Autodesk Inventor, and ProEngineer, but by far the most widely used and accepted in the world of product development is French firm Dassault Systemes' SolidWorks. Used by more than 1.3 million engineers in more than 130,000 firms worldwide, SolidWorks is the Rosetta Stone of product development, allowing developers and manufacturers from all over the world to communicate effectively through the process of bringing a solution to fruition.


The Trig crew continues to choose SolidWorks as our primary modeling software platform. So, why do we choose SolidWorks over other parametric modeling tools? We have a few reasons, actually. First, SolidWorks is used by more product developers, engineers, and manufacturers than any other parametric modeling platform in the world. If the object here is for us to be meeting our partners in the engineering community in a workable dynamic, why not choose the framework within which most of them work?


Second, SolidWorks powerful parametric modeling engine makes it possible to create physically accurate components and functional working assemblies. It has a unique timeline-based interface that allows dimensions and configurations to be altered at any point in the modeling process. Hole too large? Gap too narrow? These changes can be altered quickly without affecting other attributes of the model.


Perhaps most critically, SolidWorks simulates real-world materials, mechanical movement, and physics-based applications like force, heat, and liquid flow, among many others. The software creates ready-for-manufacture data output, removing complex and costly development phases between design and manufacturing. Obviously, when a firm like Trig is trying to pack as much value as possible into each design project, this is a huge win for our clients.


The Trig crew views our core competency in SolidWorks as one of our strategic competitive advantages during the product development process. By having our team of designers build products within an engineering tool, this allows us to have more control over the design intent behind a concept, instead of relying upon engineers to interpret an aesthetic from a surface modeling solution. When we’re speaking the engineers’ language from the outset, nothing is lost in translation! Thus, there’s no loss in design intent from designer to manufacturer to engineer.


And from a results standpoint, SolidWorks’ output retains the highest level of dimensional stability, and can be converted to vast number of different CAD data file types. Results are ultimately what business is all about, and SolidWorks helps Trig to achieve results that take as many engineering and manufacturing factors into account for a product’s design, ensuring that our products meet the many user demands for functionality, performance, and endurance in our core markets of hardware and tools, home improvement and furniture, and medical devices.


Trig designers take a pragmatic, collaborative approach to their work. To meet this aim, we stay on top of the tools that give us high compatibility with our partners who take the project to its ultimate solution, a finished, ready-for-market products. SolidWorks is therefore the best fit for our culture.

Tuesday
Feb212012

Industrial Design—Strategic Context Is Everything, Part Two

by Ty Hagler and Patrick Murphy

Recently, we had an engaging conversation while ramping up a new client, and they posed an interesting question: “Where does industrial design fit into the product development or innovation management picture?”

A short answer to this question, that’s quite illustrative of ID’s raison d’être, is that industrial design is the bridge between marketing and engineering in product development. Living in this intersection, industrial design provides the touch points in a product’s development that influence both brand elements and the product’s mechanics.  And, according to its place within an overall strategy, ID can be both a fulcrum to drive the strategy or a support block for a strategic foundation alongside other main drivers.

A more complex answer to the “where does it fit” question is that ID is both scaled and scoped for levels of influence according to the strategic focus of a given company.  A company’s strategic focus should be the determining factor for the degree of influence that industrial design has a component in corporate function.  A couple of years ago, the leadership of Trig Innovation came up with a way to express this framework visually (it’s what we do for a living, after all).

Our Strategy Matrix highlights where industrial design can play a key role in manifesting a company’s strategic vision through product development. In last week’s installment, we reviewed some examples, such as design leaders, feature leaders, and niche players. Here are two more examples of how industrial design morphs itself to support form, function, and brand for different visions.

Market Challenger

Sometimes industrial design takes on a singular focus—whether it’s imaginative design, or hardcore technical amplification, or a captivating visual brand language. And at other times, ID leaders are asked to be somewhat of a hybrid, almost Transformer-like creature within a single product development framework. So it is with the market challenger philosophy that designers take on more of a support role to both marketers and engineers. In this framework, marketers pay attention to the brand hallmarks of emerging trends in a product category, while engineers pay attention to cutting-edge technical capabilities that they can replicate. Industrial designers, in this framework, must ensure that the fast-followers that they are helping to create must stand on their own in the marketplace while borrowing brand and functional elements from the existing market leader.

We see the market challenger strategy most commonly in the world of electronics, a fast-paced industry in terms of product development with lots of imitation. Mobile phones and device manufactures are especially eager to adopt this strategy in order to compete with design leaders like Apple—you might have noticed that ever since the iPhone came out, most of Apple’s competitors have rushed to develop their own Apple-fied versions these devices, with the design element quite restrained in comparison.

Cost Leader

In our final example, we see industrial designers must really know their boundaries. In a cost leadership framework, pricing trumps brand spending, technical investment, and design purity. Because of the tight cost restraints that drive this strategic vision, ID becomes the equivalent of graphic designers’ use of negative space.  The industrial designer must suppress his natural desire to reach his own creative limits, while playing a key support role to leaders in supply chain management, marketing, and engineering. This four-way collaboration, with the designer in the support role to the other three, ensures that development results in products that are low-cost leaders in the marketplace while showcasing satisfactory technical quality and aesthetics.

Many examples of cost leadership strategies lie in the packaging design industry. Many companies buy stock containers, as opposed to custom packaging, placing limits on industrial designers. We must then use our creativity through graphics and other embellishments to make the most of design within an inexpensive framework.

Wednesday
Feb152012

Industrial Design: Strategic Context Is Everything—Part One

by Ty Hagler and Patrick Murphy

Recently, we had an engaging conversation while ramping up a new client, and they posed an interesting question: “Where does industrial design fit into the product development or innovation management picture?”

A short answer to this question, that’s quite illustrative of ID’s raison d’être, is that industrial design is the bridge between marketing and engineering in product development. Living in this intersection, industrial design provides the touch points in a product’s development that influence both brand elements and the product’s mechanics.  And, according to its place within an overall strategy, ID can be both a fulcrum to drive the strategy or a support block for a strategic foundation alongside other main drivers.

A more complex answer to the “where does it fit” question is that ID is both scaled and scoped for levels of influence according to the strategic focus of a given company.  A company’s strategic focus should be the determining factor for the degree of influence that industrial design has a component in corporate function.  A couple of years ago, the leadership of Trig Innovation came up with a way to express this framework visually (it’s what we do for a living, after all).

Our Strategy Matrix highlights where industrial design can play a key role in manifesting a company’s strategic vision through product development. Here are a few key examples of how industrial design morphs itself to support form, function, and brand for different visions.

Design Leader

Some companies, like Apple, have found success and even built an empire on a philosophy of design leadership.  In companies like Apple, the influence of industrial design permeates almost everything the company does. In these companies, where design leadership is of paramount importance, an industrial designer, such as Jonathan Ives at Apple, should lead the attack during product development.

Feature Leader

Other companies, like John Deere, have an entirely different strategic focus. In their world, engineering prowess wins (in) the marketplace, and they want an industrial design emphasis that plays to a strategy of feature leadership. In this framework, ID supports and amplifies engineering, using design language to communicate the technical attributes that differentiate the products in the marketplace, and ultimately, showcase why their products are superior. John Deere occupies the premium function leadership position within the agriculture, construction, and forestry equipment markets.  While industrial design and branding are essential to the company's continued growth globally, customers primarily buy Deere because they get the best functional benefits and quality-retained value for strong resale values over competitors.

Niche Player

While the first two examples highlight the ability of industrial design to drive and support broadly-focused strategies, this example shows how ID can fit into a highly-concentrated, narrowly-focused customer niche.  In a niche strategy, industrial designers have to become something entirely different yet again, developing a deep understanding of a very specific customer segment. Through this understanding, the details of design emerge to create an intense loyalty to captivate the imagination and capture wallet share of a small market.

An exemplary sector of the niche player strategy is the medical device space. Medical devices place engineering and programming functions at the forefront; and, while industrial design often takes a back seat, it’s quite critical in this context for a higher concentration of ergonomics, versus form or aesthetics.

Thursday
Dec082011

Relating to Ideation--Part Two

 

In the first installment of this two-part series, we looked at how ideation yields powerful results that transcend particular industries.  In part two, we’ll take a look at behavioral differences that either drive successful ideation sessions or, in some sad cases, sabotage them. While in the course of normal social situations we may accept certain behaviors and even celebrate them, certain behavioral frameworks can run entirely contrary to the goals for effective ideation, leading to watered-down results that companies can’t even utilize post-session.

The Ethos of Improv versus the Devil’s Advocate

Great ideation emulates some human interactions and behaviors, while it eschews others.  For example, the best brainstorming sessions mimic the positive thinking and, better yet, positioning or opening up to thinking, as the world of improvisational comedy.

On the other hand, ideation sessions are increasingly hampered by the presence of Devil’s Advocate-type personalities, which basically run antithetical to the premise of ideation. Instead of a “let’s see where this takes us” approach, Devil’s Advocates tend to put the brakes on discussions where they fear the possible outcomes by cloaking themselves in this negative philosophical stance.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s, Blink, The Power of Thinking without Thinking, the author explores the art of improvisational comedy as a way to train one’s thinking in new directions. The most important rule of improvisational comedy is the idea of agreement.  In order to create humor, the characters must accept everything that happens to them and around them, by virtue of the actions and words of the other characters in the mix.

As Gladwell states, “In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action.  All the improvisation teacher has to do is reverse this skill and he creates very ‘gifted’ improvisers.  Bad improvisers block action, often with a high degree of skill.  Good improvisers develop action.”

Similar to the bad improviser who blocks action, someone who invokes the role of Devil’s Advocate can shut down the creative process. Tom Kelley discusses the role of these black hat thinkers, who are, in truth, the destroyers of innovation, in his work, The Ten Faces of Innovation.

 

“The Devil’s Advocate persona may be the biggest innovation killer in America today… It encourages idea wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective, one that sees only downsides, problems, disasters-in-waiting,” Kelly states.  “By invoking the protective power of ‘Let me just play Devil’s Advocate for a minute’ the speaker is now entirely free to take potshots at the idea with complete immunity.  Essentially saying, ‘The Devil made me do it.’”

 

Ultimately, the Devil’s Advocate stops short.  In an ideation session, you need to balance constructive criticism based on a deep understanding of the problem with encouraging your team to move toward a better solution.

 

 

Tangents


The Trig Team


Trig® Innovation, is a nimble vessel for navigating the possibilities of innovation in product and service development. Based in the Research Triangle, North Carolina region, a global hub for science and technology, the Trig® team packs creative and problem-solving prowess into an exclusive strategy framework to propel innovation in a variety of industries. From home improvement products to medical devices, Trig® is a proven winner in industrial design, ideation, and innovation management. Our company is growing, and how we grow is a direct response to the needs of our clients. With emerging service areas like animation, video production, and brand identity, we are expanding outside of a traditional industrial design framework with a host of offerings that mesh well with our keen understanding of product and service development. Global product and brand teams, as well as inventors and entrepreneurs, know that Trig® Innovation is the right choice for integrated development solutions and interactive marketing services.