Tangents

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Entries in product development (27)

Thursday
Jul072011

Better Patent Applications through Better Patent Figures

The United States Patent and Trademark Office reviews around half a million patent applications each year, and the agency approves these applications at a rate of roughly 50 per cent year to year. The level of execution of many elements of the application can lead to the pass or failure of the patent. One such piece of the application, the patent figures section, a visual layout of the patent’s design intent, is sometimes neglected.

From time to time, our Trig PDQ division receives patent drawings that have caused an office action on the patent application. We get requests to correct fuzzy, poorly illustrated figures that caused the USPTO’s rejection, and thus have added considerable cost and headache to the applicant. Compared to our work in the more expressive industrial design projects where creativity and artistic interpretation drives the 3D CAD sculpting, drafting patent figures require a different level of attention to detail to make sure the figures accurately represent the claims and comply with USPTO standards. 

For designers to assist intellectual property attorneys properly there is a learning curve.  Unlike the more subjective role of design in co-creating the rules governing a visual brand language, patent figures have a more defined visual script with specific rules for treating line art.  We not only carefully follow the USPTO Drawing Guide to make sure the figures adhere to professional standards, but also take note of individual patent attorney’s preferences to seamlessly integrate with larger patent applications.  Trained illustrators thus ensure that the figures are publication-ready for both utility patents and design patents.

In addition to finding the right talent that has been trained for the task, it is also important to have the right software tools.  At Trig PDQ, we use vector-based illustration tools to ensure accurate, clean lines on all of our patent figures.  Not only are the vector files clean, they are much smaller and easier to transfer among designers, intellectual property attorneys and staff, and the patent applicant.  Typically, we see a huge difference in file size—for example, you might see a vector file at 100KB versus a 2MB rasterized figure that had been scanned in from a hand-drawn illustration.

The process of bringing new products to market is difficult enough.  Like most things in life, it’s better when you don’t create your own problems.  With the knowledge that the USPTO rejects almost half of the applications it sees each year; applicants will be wise to work with seasoned IP attorneys and their trusted partners to make sure that the patent is weighed on its own merits, and not handicapped by cutting corners on the application itself.

Friday
Jun172011

Inspiration: Jamie Oliver’s Battle for Cultural Innovation

I recently found myself hooked on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, now in its second season on ABC.  The noted British chef is renewing his crusade, initiated last season in a town of 50,000 people in Huntington, West Virginia, to challenge our notions about the food we Americans eat and, more importantly, how we feed our children. This season, Jamie is getting much more audacious and taking his road show to a city of 11 million, Los Angeles – where fast food was invented. Jamie is getting radical in his attempt to change the culture of poor eating habits by working with individual families, an independent fast food restaurant called Patra’s Charbroiled Burgers, and is taking on the LA school district to improve the quality of school lunches.

What makes Oliver so compelling as a change agent is his willingness to take the powerful cultural resistance he is getting and persevere to work his message into the consciousness of the community.    What makes his story so interesting is that he fails repeatedly to gain traction. A large dramatic demonstration of the volume of sugar consumed by LA school children in 1 week is viewed by a crowd of 25 parents. The school administrators doggedly persist in locking Oliver out of their cafeterias despite the wishes of one school’s principal and parents. Most notable, is Oliver’s relationship with Deano – the second generation owner of Patra’s, who is willing to hear Jamie Oliver out, but at first blush, refuses to make changes to the more expensive, but healthier ingredients based on a pragmatic understanding that he can’t alienate his customers at the risk of going out of business.     

Jamie’s approach with Deano follows incremental innovation to produce breakthrough results.  There’s a really neat parallel here with consumer product development: Deano’s business model is highly risk averse with painful volume sensitivities. He can’t afford to make disruptive changes that would result in a temporary drop in sales.  Instead, Jamie focuses on making a few small tweaks by researching cost-effective, healthy cuts of beef to change the menu from unhealthy to healthy. I can’t help but relate this to the realities of bringing innovation to high volume consumer products.  Incumbents find it very difficult to make changes at the risk of drops in volume. The culture becomes focused on exploiting the original investment in innovation through cost-reduction and supply chain efficiencies. Similar to Deano, a second-generation owner, he lost sight of the original mind-set that introduced fast-food to the world.  The resulting pragmatic solution is one that preserves the core customer base by continuing to offer what sells today, and expanding the menu to offer healthier alternatives. Similarly, high volume consumer products companies can have a long-term disruptive innovation plan, but have to stage their progress in delivering that vision through a series of incremental changes that delight the customer without shocking them.

Thursday
Jun092011

Inspiration at Work—A Trig Innovation Core Value

Please don’t hate us because we love our work. 

It’s okay; we’ve paid our dues and worked in some pretty gut wrenching jobs where our efforts were disconnected with our interests, wishing we were doing . . . well, what we do today! The specific tasks of today’s work, as great as they are, could quickly become routine, boring, and even disconnected if we did not practice a simple value. So, what is that secret value that keeps us mentally and emotionally engaged? 

At our company, we talk with each other quite a bit about our core values, because we want them to be a living, breathing DNA, woven into everything we do. These conversations keep us mindful of our values as we place them into action. In trying to achieve this authenticity in our work, we must actually live those values in the service of our clients.

At Trig, we have found that seeking inspiration is so central to our work that we express it as one of these core values. It feels natural that a business, a profession—a pursuit—rooted in creativity should find its touchstone in inspiration. And our life pursuit—innovation—has so many creative entry points:  invention, design, and branding all emerge from a creative fountain.

Inspiration is what fuels those of us who spent our school days drawing on textbook covers and scribbling our manifestos in tattered notebooks. It comes from an appreciation for both our natural surroundings and humankind’s works in the worlds of art and architecture. While the muses of our youth were comic book characters and fast cars, the wisdom of experience tells us that inspiration comes from many other sources we may never have imagined.

Most importantly, we draw our inspiration in our current work in design, development, and branding from our clients themselves. We seek clients who are like-minded people—people who are open to devising new and better processes for bringing great things to life (to borrow an old line from our friends at General Electric).  We can’t navigate possibilities without first having clients who are open to them.

Next, we draw inspiration from the character of our clients, who are operating in what can feel like a cold business world at times. Recently, we intersected with a very special group of people, whose leader exemplifies integrity at every turn. While very straightforward and pragmatic, this gentleman’s commitment to honesty and fairness with his own team and his competitors—a deep respect for what’s going on in his industry outside of his own company—is nothing if not inspiring.  

And we can’t forget to have fun. This is perhaps the greatest gift that inspiration has to give to all involved in a creative process.  Our core design team gathered yesterday to discuss a current project, and I can’t help but think about how much we all laughed as we gave feedback to each other’s work in driving a better solution for the client. Laughter is a great medicine, but it’s also a driver for great collaboration with great purpose—it’s so much easier to take criticism and improve when it’s served in a kind-hearted spirit.

We should never forget to pinch ourselves, knowing how lucky we are to use the skills we first honed on our textbook covers earn a living.

Thursday
May262011

3D CAD Sculpting—the Bridge from Concept Refinement to Prototyping

Focus on Process with Ty Hagler

Product development occurs in distinct stages, with concepts being generated, culled, and refined throughout the process. For inventors and corporate product teams, the process begins with translating customer insights through ideation to generate concept solutions that are refined into polished solutions and renderings. The selected concept begins to take on new life as it moves from two-dimensional quick visualizations across the bridge to 3D CAD sculpting.

3D CAD sculpting is all about expressing the design intent, meted out through the different rendering iterations, in physical form. As we execute in SolidWorks, we champion the artistic feel captured in the sketch while working within the constraints of prototyping and manufacturability imposed by the engineering software. The advantage of using SolidWorks is that, since it’s a dominant application in the engineering community, design work completed in this space transitions seamlessly among the critical vendors needed to bring a fully-functional product to fruition.

Virtual sculpting is very similar to physical sculpting, in that the focus is on the revelation of the character of the product.  As we chisel away at the concept form, we achieve this expression of character through actualizing the physical features of the product for the first time. While some stages of the design process can feel nebulous, dealing with the abstraction of an initial idea, this stage really gets down to true dimensional problem solving. As great sculptors like Auguste Rodin wrestled with revealing their vision in stone, so too, we strive to make our client’s vision a functioning work of art.

In bypassing the more traditional surfacing CAD packages, we are able to create much more sophisticated solid models that meet our client requirements.  Experience has taught us that while surfacing CAD packages provides an easier expression of the artistic design intent, the results have to be completely rebuilt and reinterpreted in an engineering CAD package. Furthermore, the use of SolidWorks allows us to interface with prototyping and fabrication suppliers in real time, creating a streamlined development process for our clients. When beauty flows seamlessly into function, it’s a win all around for us, our partner vendors, and, most importantly, our client.

Tuesday
May172011

Through a Shopper's Eyes--Takeaways from the National Hardware Show

 

Her Angle

By Gayle, Working Mom, Guest Blogger

Statistically speaking, women may not be the more likely gender to operate lawn mowers on a regular basis. It was very clear to me, however, as I walked last week’s North American Retail Hardware Association National Hardware Show (NHS) in Las Vegas, that women are a powerful force to appreciate when it comes to selecting the lawn mower (or tool box or shovel or grill, for that matter). 

Did you know that, according to a study commissioned by Lowe's, women play a decision-making role in 80 percent of home improvement purchases? If that doesn’t give your product development team great pause and an impetus to do some market research studies about what women want, well, let’s just say your product may not end up in my shopping cart!

While at the NHS, I realized that we women were seriously outnumbered at the conference (Hooray! No line at the Ladies’ Room!), as I did not have to elbow out any other women to get to the products clearly designed to catch my eye. As a consumer, I found myself to be a critical target of many brands, and mentally marked my own gut reactions to items clearly designed for a woman's eye. I was drawn like a mosquito to a bug zapper to the booths that had a lovely palette of colors - such as the shovels and rakes designed by Radius Garden, as well as the beautiful True Grip gardening gloves being shown by Big Time Products.

I also detected my primal mom instinct when I nearly collided with other clamoring browsers to reach a booth featuring some really clever child safety equipment developed by Dream Baby. Note to all the companies/exhibitors targeting moms--if you can find a way to put a cute baby on your banner, we’ll come flocking your way.  Although, it may not be a great idea to have a picture of a baby wielding a power tool—that may be taking it a bit too far!

Finally, I can’t help but admit my comfort level was a bit higher for the companies that had a female representative manning (womanning?) the booth. I was surprised that I even recognized this change in my own comfort level, much less that I even cared about the gender of the people presenting their products to me.  After all, I attended a college heavy in engineering and sciences that was populated by men to the tune of over 70 per cent of the student population (Go Yellowjackets!). And, I am an engineer working in a profession with a similar gender divide as college and feel very at home in my work life.  But, there it is--give me a picture of a baby, a woman in the booth, some pretty colors--and you've got my attention.  Now, if your product also solves a problem I have and works well, I'm pulling out my wallet!

I hope next year to have a longer line at the Ladies' Room...well...maybe at least some more female company to ooh and ahh over the cute pink and orange rakes.

 

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.