Developing an Industrial Product, page 2:
Every company that has been in operation some time has a specific set of products which is not accidental. Studying the reasons which have affected the present choice of products, updating the sortiment to contemporary circumstances and searching an optimal range of future products is an activity called strategic design.
The cornerstone in strategic design is the company's business mission which is a broadly defined, enduring statement of purpose that distinguishes a business from others of its type (according to Ackoff, 1987, 30). On this basis you can continue planning the direction of your company's next operations by posing to yourself a series of questions like:
A more systematic method of evaluating the strategic position of a business is the SWOT analysis where the company's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are identified, mostly in relation to competition.
The most usual goal of strategic design is to find ways to expand the business. The main directions where this can be attempted are, either finding new customers, or developing new products. It is also possible to combine these two alternatives (fig. on the right).
The strategy "B" necessitates market research which can be done among the existing customers and is thus easily feasible. As a contrast, in the strategy marked "?" you have to find out the preferences of target customers that you do not yet know. To manage this difficult task, you can put to yourself questions like:
Answering especially the latter question demands that the product development team knows or understands the evolving life styles of the target group of customers, preferably includes one or two people from this group, and is capable of innovation. The task can take a lot of time, and is is often advisable not to proceed directly to the product concept phase, but instead initiate it with a separate Design Driver innovation phase, see below.
The decisive thing in product development are the desires of the customers - but exactly who are your customers?
Existing customers are an advantage in some fields of industry where you can once and again sell replacements or improvements of your old products to the same customers. Their names and addresses are a precious asset in the development of new products and in their future marketing, and therefore they should be carefully stored into the customer register of the company. Cars are an example of products, the consumers of which are relatively loyal to the brand name, and in this case even the names and updated addresses of a large number of recent customers are well known to the company, because of the yearly visits that the owners of the cars habitually make to the service workshops.
More common, though, is that your new products must be marketed to not exactly the same individuals or firms that were your customers the year before. Anyway, usually your customers will continually belong to the same socio-economic group. If you think that this is the case, you will want to define this target group of customers in such a way that it becomes possible to approach them for market research, perhaps also inviting some of them to participate in the product development team. See the discussion on how to define the population to be studied.
When constructing the target group of customers you usually can benefit from already existing, generally used, defined classifications. Candidates for such are e.g. the human populations of countries, regions and cities, and long-established socio-economic classes: school children, students, young people, those living alone, young couples etc. up to old age pensioners. The unemployed constitute a group of its own nowadays. Language, sex and wealth provide also potential partitions. See classification for available alternatives when defining classes.
Generally used statistical groups are often too large or too vague for creating a meaningful target for your products, so the next step is to delimit your target by segmenting. The normal method is to cross tabulate two or more classifications as in the example on the left. Try to think creatively here, as often the most fruitful segmentation is one that no competitor ever came to think of. Try to define a group whose special needs your company could meet better than your competitors can.
Beside public statistical classifications you can sometimes exploit groups that have originated in the commercial or private sector. It would be interesting to see the customer files of your firm's competitors, but that is a book closed to you. Instead, you might consider such material as member lists of certain associations, or subscriber lists of specialized magazines, which are sometimes available for a fee.
When defining the target group you should also think about how you shall later approach these people. Marketing can be possible without the exact addresses of potential customers, but not market research. For the purposes of the latter you can use only such registers which contain both the names and addresses of people, or you must be prepared to do the awkward work of finding them out (for those people which have been selected into the sample to be studied). Some of the addresses may be found in the customer register, if your company has one. There are also firms who sell assorted addresses of potential customers. If the target population turns out to be very large, it may be advisable to pick out a sample of it.
In the product development project we examine the interests of the various parties around products and production, and try to combine the interests and needs in the creation of a new product.
During the development project the new product takes shape gradually. At the outset its idea often is quite vague. The very first abstract synopsis of the new product is often called product idea or sometimes design driver, and a more detailed description of it goes by the name product concept.
Because the product that shall be created is new, it follows by definition that its concept does not exist at the outset. Every product development project must thus include a concept phase, at least a rudimentary one. On the other side, every product concept does not proceed until finished product proposals, let alone until production. The most usual reason is that when studying the finished concept, the management of the company decides that it is not promising enough or too risky, and the project is put down.
Another reason for conceiving a product concept and then terminating the project can be that the company wants to build up an "idea bank": a reserve of preliminary ideas for new products. From this idea bank the management can later pick out the best ones, and the designers need then only a minimum of time to make them ready for production. They can also be useful in strategic planning and for internal education of own personal.
One novel use for innovative product concepts is to boost the publicity of companies. Karjalainen (2004 pp. 176-8) takes as an example the annual exhibitions of car industry:
"The central exhibitions ... are important arenas for building up the identity of a manufacturers' brand. ... Beside giving designers an opportunity to test the limits of creativity and conventions, the concept models also demonstrate the innovativeness of the company ... They make the brand interesting to the public, heighten the customers' expectations of the future production models and in this way strengthen their loyality to the brand."
Taking in account all these various missions for concept design, Keinonen et al. (2004 p. 35) enumerate them as follows:
There is no definite difference in the methods when targeting a product concept for the purposes listed above, or for production directly. Generally, an "idea bank" project has a longer perspective of time, and accordingly the data on customers, competitors etc. are less reliable, which means that there is less opportunity for exact reasoning and instead more guessing and intuition will be needed. Moreover, the presentation style of the proposal can be less detailed.
The new product must meet the expectations of several groups of people. Some of these groups work inside the company that shall make and sell the product: the management, the financing, manufacturing and marketing departments. The viewpoints of these can be found relatively easily: people from these departments can enter the design team, or the departments can give their views on the draft for product concept, when it is presented on paper to them.
The customer view can be more difficult to get. Ideally, the product should be made to meet the desires of the target customers and preferably in collaboration with a sample of them, but how can you reach the target customers, or at least get an idea of their views and needs? Some potential methods are listed below.
Outsider view can be relevant if there are detrimental side effects, for example the emission of polluting gas from a car. It is seldom possible to have direct contact with the people who have the risk of encountering the eventual side effects, but it may be helpful, at least, to generally enumerate these "stakeholders" in a development project. The usual method to deal with the side effects is to study their problems in research publications, for example on the questions of ecology. Another method is to communicate with researchers who are presently occupied with these problems.
Compressing the opinions. No matter how meticulously you define the people whose evaluations shall dictate the direction of practical operations, it nearly always turns out that the evaluations are more or less in conflict. However, often the target is to design only one product, not several of them. The researcher needs in this situation methods for compressing the distinct opinions into one collective resultant. Some strategies which are often used to attain such a consolidation are:
These approaches are explained on another page, under the title Normative Research. If none of the methods can produce an acceptable compromise of opinions, you should perhaps once more consider whether you really must aim at a single product for the greatest number of customers? The concept of "average consumer" entails a trap. It is easy to measure e.g. the average height of citizens, but what would happen if we made all clothing to this measure? Moreover, if we look closer at a designer's ideal image of the consumer this often turns out to be quite near an adult, right-handed, English-speaking white man. Thus, a car is normally designed for a male driver: there is no place for the handbag of the woman driver. Likewise, there are few scissors suitable for left-handed people. Indeed, it is worth while sometimes to ask yourself who and how many are the people whom the standardized product fails to satisfy? To cater for these people (see typical examples), there are two strategies:
If the last-mentioned approach seems possible, you do not need to compress all the contrasting opinions into one but instead to two or more arbitrations, which can be easier to do. Available methods for segmenting or clustering collected opinions can be found in Exploratory Classification.
When searching for completely new, earlier unknown products it can be useful to start at defining a design driver or design rationale, "product idea". It means verbal (or other) presentation of principal new properties or novel applications of the product that the marketplace seems to be missing.
From the researcher's viewpoint, the design driver is essentially a theoretical model, but it need not be as exactly formulated as scientific models usually are because it will later be replaced with the detailed product concept and other more exact presentations.
Drivers are often just guesses about the future. Often they are deliberately overstated, in order to clarify the idea. On the other hand, they can be such self-evident truths which nevertheless have not yet been achieved in present products ( Keinonen, 2000, p. 195).
An usual approach in generating novel product ideas is to start from a well known goal that products are expected to fulfil, and intensify this goal so that it becomes the backbone of the new product - the design driver. Use of the product is very often selected for point of departure in creating new product ideas (for methods, see Developing the usability of a product), but message, beauty, ecology or any other of the usual goals of product users can as well be taken as origin for the elaboration. As a matter of fact, selecting a "theme" for design and amplifying it (at the cost of other goals of design) is the method that has given birth to most new styles of architecture during centuries, see Thematic Theories of Architecture.
If the driver is presented verbally, it should consist of no more than three or four objectives of design expressed in as many words or short sentences. Moreover, it can be presented in any of the styles used for product concepts. Another suitable mode of presentation is a scenario which describes the typical use of the novel product. It can be written or depicted, for example in the format of storyboard or "comic strip" (like the one on the right by Keinonen p. 217).
Examples of proposed design drivers for new models of mobile telephones (idem):
When formulating the driver for a novel product a thorough understanding of the human situation of its use is essential. Therefore it is almost indispensable that the design team includes, or at least co-operates with, some persons from the target group of customers (cf. Sampling) and these test the new proposals at once and also in the subsequent phases of the project.
Methods that are often effective in the search of novel product ideas:
When the design team includes both professional designers and non-professional users of products, there is the difficulty is that designers are used to operate with theoretical concepts and imaginary products, while users would prefer discussing existing exemplars of earlier products or realistic mock-ups. Instead of a mock-up it is often possible to use an older version of the product and "make believe" that it already has those new functions or properties that the future model will have. Such a simulation or mock-up makes it possible to use some methods of innovative work, such as:
In the above modes of work one or several members of the team are actors and the others are the audience. The process continues then as normal innovative general discussion. It goes without saying that especially in the early stages you should not let seemingly imperative practical requirements restrict the free play of thought.
When preparing a design driver it is permissible to neglect seemingly imperative practical restrictions, at least in the initial stage. However, in the final stage it is appropriate to specify whether the driver is supposed to be feasible,
Product concept is a preliminary characterization of the future product. It is usually a recapitulation of many preceding studies concerning company strategy, target customers, etc., and its purpose is to serve, in turn, as a basis for the subsequent physical design of the product, its financing, production, and marketing.
Logical patterns for presenting a product concept. The product concept is essentially a preliminary description of the future product, something which does not yet exist and for which it can often be difficult to find a suitable language of description. Note that the product concept should also be presented so clearly that it can be discussed with all the interested parties like company management, workshop and marketing people, before it is given to the designers to be translated into a physical form. Some possible logical patterns for the description of the product concept are, among others, the following, which you also can combine in your project:
1. The Set-Of-Exemplars Method means that you select two or more exemplars among the best now existing models of the type of product that you are trying to create. No one of these exemplars will be perfect in all respects, but each of them entails something that is excellent, and it is these characteristics that the design team then shall try to combine in the new product. If this can be achieved, the new product will be more competitive than any single one of the exemplars, even in the case that none of its properties in itself are surpassing the exemplars.
The exemplars can be selected from your firm's own production, but it is also possible to take one or more of them from your keenest competitors, that is, they are the products that your new product shall supersede in the marketplace if all goes well.
When the selection of the exemplar depends on factual sales records, the method has the advantage of reflecting truthfully the customers' views. An alternative but much more arduous method for collecting the opinions of potential users of the product would be a survey.
Working with a set of exemplars is easy and straightforward; there is no great risk of misunderstanding. Its weakness is that it does not encourage searching new solutions faraway from the old and proven alternatives, and it is difficult to generate anything really new which could revolutionize the market. Your new product will contain only such qualities that your competitors already have in their products, if your firm cannot add something of its own.
2. Exemplar-and-improvements Method. Defining the improvements to an existing exemplar is an ancient method, see Logic of Natural Development. In its time, it was even possible to bypass designating the exemplar because the standard models for most products were defined by tradition. Today, the method is especially suitable if the products of your firm are relatively constant and need only minor annual improvements. In such a case, you will normally want to select the existing model of your product as the starting-point exemplar. This has also the advantage that it necessitates only minimal modifications to the production line.
Another possibility is to select a competing product that you wish to surpass.
Which properties of the exemplar then require improvements, and how much, that is a question perhaps already answered in the files of the customer feedback system of your company. Otherwise, you will have to do market research with the various survey methods among either potential customers, or among the salespersons of your company.
Advantages of the exemplar-and-improvements method are that it is simple to use, concrete and realistic. Misunderstandings are not likely. From the designer's viewpoint an exemplar is an expedient point of depart, because it is often relatively easy to continue improving it by the method of iteration.
A disadvantage perhaps is that it is all too easy to point out details that might need improvement, without realizing how the components of the finished product depend on each other (for example, costs tend to rise when qualities are improved). With this method you could easily give an insurmountable task to the designer. To prevent it, it is advisable to avoid giving too absolute directives but instead use scales of satisfaction (see below) when defining the desired improvements.
3. Specification method. In the case that no suitable exemplar can be found, methods #1 and #2 are out of question. In any case, the method of specification, i.e. defining the desired properties of the new product is quite powerful. It allows defining even radically new products with no known precursor.
On the other hand, the method is demanding, because you have to work with abstract theoretical concepts. It can be difficult to define the attributes of a product not yet existing. It is difficult to see the relations between various attributes, and that is why the requirements concerning them often conflict. Moreover, it is too easy to forget essential properties and their side effects, especially if they affect mostly outsiders.
The scope of properties that are relevant when developing new products is very large. It includes topics like:
For each of the above topics there is a separate www-page which you can consult if you need theoretical tools for handling the respective product attributes.
The list above contains mostly items that interest or benefit either the user or the manufacturer of the product. Besides, you should keep in mind that there can be side effects, perhaps detrimental ones, to outsiders. Such effects are, unfortunately, often quite difficult to enumerate and assess. See a general list of various "stakeholders" in a development project.
Every product possesses an infinite number of attributes, but not all of them are so important in regard to production, marketing or use that they need be included in the product concept. Moreover, we can disregard "self-evident" questions: those topics on which all the people in the design team agree and which thus probably will be regarded without any special mention in the product concept. Even then, the list of properties often grows difficult to handle. Some procedures which can help managing a lengthy list of properties and requirements are:
Obligatory requirements. These often concern the safety of use of the product, especially the mechanical, chemical or electrical risks of its use. Obligatory regulations are often given by the public authorities, or they are published as "voluntary" industry standard guidelines which are specified through separate research projects carried out by specialists like physicians, occupational health and safety engineers, etc. In the product concept it is usually advisable not to mix obligatory and voluntary requirements. Instead, make separate lists of them. In that way it will be easier, in the final inspection of the product proposal, see if they are met.
Interdependent requirements. It is not unusual that requirements to a new product conflict in some degree. This is especially common when the preferences have been collected from a number of people with different values and life styles. You should try to eliminate or arbitrate such conflicts as soon as possible, otherwise there is a risk of retarding the work of the designer in the next phase of the project.
Sometimes it is possible to arbitrate the goals that are ostensibly conflicting by uncovering their mutual relationship. An example of this method is finding the optimal thermal insulation for a new building. When selecting the thickness of the insulating layer, the cost of building materials (B, in the figure on the right) and the future heating costs (A) seem to conflict. Nevertheless, the values of both of these expenditures can be translated into annual costs which then can be added up and the minimum of the sum A+B is easily found. This new variable (A+B) can then supplant the two original variables of building and heating costs.
The science of operations analysis includes other comparable analysis methods such as, for example, the algorithm of linear programming which can be used to find the common optimum of several quantifiable attributes of a product. Most of these methods accept only quantitative variables. Of course, it is possible to "operationalize" any qualitative attribute, by constructing an arbitrary scale for its various levels of intensity and thus transforming it into a quantitative variable; but the conversion often overlooks some subtler aspects of the attribute and the validity of the results will then suffer. Therefore, this technique should be used only with discretion.
|Capacity is at least 55 units/hour||40|
|Design is striking and personal;
unlike all the other models in the market
|All materials can be recycled||10|
|Production will cost not more than $100||40|
Of course, the goal is to fulfil all the requirements given in the product concept if possible, but during the detailed design of the product it often turns out that accomplishing completely one target will prevent achieving another one, particularly the target of a moderate cost of production. This is why it is advisable to define the order in which the requirements can be relinquished if it turns out to be necessary, for example to make possible the fulfilment of more important goals. The order of importance can be given by assigning weights to the requirements. An example of a small table of weights is presented on the right.
A table of requirements helps handling a large number of properties, but only if its content is given in a logical order. Preferably it should be possible to comprehend all the principal contents in one complete panorama. To this end, it is advantageous to combine groups of associated properties into one weight. Such families of attributes can be found by contemplating or discussing in the team, or for quantifiable variables with the help of factor analysis.
The resulting groups of properties can then be presented in the pattern of a logical tree, a Venn diagram or another topological model. An example of a logical tree is on the right, where Shackel has analyzed the concept of usability of products.
Another logical tree (in table form, below) depicts the goals of building (by Niukkanen, 1980, p.20). Other logical groupings of architectural targets are discussed in Metatheories aiming at intersubjectivity.
|SATISFACTION / FIT|
|Costs / Resources||Usefulness / Function||Experience / Perception|
-costs of use
-decrease to output
One of the advantages of a logical tree is that in a later stage of the development project you can easily transform it into a table for evaluating the design proposals or submitting them to cost benefit analysis.
|Property: Ease of use||Merit|
|Most operations are automatic.||5|
|Several operations are automatic.
The instruction booklet is detailed and explicit.
|The operation and the instructions are mediocre.||3|
|The operation is sometimes clumsy or confusing.||2|
|The machine reacts not as described in the booklet.||1|
Note that the table above contains only qualitative properties. Nevertheless the degree of "merit" or satisfaction is given as a quantitative measurement. In other words, a qualitative property has been quantified, or "operationalized" in order to allow handling it later with mathematical analysis methods, such as value engineering. The same transformation can be done for almost any qualitative attribute of products, though the disadvantage can be that we miss some subtler components of the quality. (Remember that there is no fundamental difference between quantitative or qualitative properties of things, in other words properties are not inherently of one or the other sort. These words just indicate our usual method of recording the property.)
What about such properties which already are quantitative, in other words which habitually are measured as amounts?
It often happens that a property can be measured numerically quite easily, but this measurement does not necessarily directly indicate its value of utility or satisfaction. Let us consider a bicycle: if it possesses two gears it is much better than a single-gear vehicle. Three gears is still a little better, but if there are over ten gears the addition of one or two more does not give much increase in usefulness or satisfaction. In other words, the relationship between the number of gears and usability is not linear but more resembles a logarithmic curve, like in the diagram on the left.
Another example of a scale of utility is on the right. According to it, a CD player is to be rated poor (utility value=1) if it only transmits voice until the 5 kHz limit. 10 kHz is a little better, while 20 kHz is excellent (utility value=5). Thereafter higher performance gives no additional merit, because anyway the human ear could never hear voices over 20 kHz.
It is possible to measure, beside materialistic and utilitarian benefits, also humanistic attributes of products like beauty. An example is seen in the diagram on the left. The graph purports to indicate that there is a measurable optimum of the visual complexity of a work of art (and why not of a product, too). The philosophy behind this type of aesthetic measurement is discussed in Beauty of Products.
The scales of satisfaction are discussed further in Operationalizing the Attributes of New Product.
Conjoint Analysis is a tool intended to help to determine the various features (attributes) of new products in the product concept phase or early design phase. By systematically varying the degrees of different attributes of the product, their effects on consumer preference can be assessed.
In the first phase of the analysis, the researcher selects the attributes and their ranges to be tested. Below, you have an invented example of the selection of attributes of a cellular phone.
|Attribute||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3|
|Standby time, hours||50||75||100|
|Accessories||Car charger||Car charger and hands-free-rack||Car charger, hands free and data transfer|
|Extra properties||Memory||Memory and recorder||Memory, recorder and calendar|
|Appearance||Alternative #1 (picture)||Alternative #2 (picture)||Alternative #3 (picture)|
In the above example, there would in theory be not less than 3x3x3x3x3x3x3 = 2187 different product concepts, but we do not need to test all of them. By using so called fractional factorial experiment -design, we need only 18 product concepts for the questionnaire.
|Mean weights of attributes|
|Weight in grams||17 %|
|Standby time||13 %|
It is also possible to make diagrams showing how the total evaluation depends on any single attribute, in the fashion of the diagram on the right which shows how much standby time is being appreciated.
All the above diagrams can present either the average opinion of all respondents,
of a group of respondents, or a single individual's preferences.
Moreover, it will be possible to calculate the ideal product for all of the respondents, or for any predefined group of them. It might turn out like that in the table below (fictitious data).
|Mean preferences of Finnish
respondents under 30 years of age
|Standby time, hours||100|
In mass production, we do not want to design too individualized products; instead, we either try to define an average, universally acceptable product, or try to design a product which meets the requirements of a certain cluster of customers. In defining such clusters the conjoint analysis method can help, and the result may appear as it is in the diagram on the right. In the example, clustering resulted in three customer segments, A, B and C.
If the respondents of the questionnaire have been chosen as an appropriate sample from a certain population, it is finally easy to calculate the statistical significance of the results, or the probability that they are true in the original population as well.
After a conjoint analysis is carried out in the way described above, it becomes possible to define the product concept that best corresponds to the expectations of each client segment. This optimized product concept can finally be subjected to a simulation which predicts its future market share either on the prevailing market or in a foreseen situation.
Conjoint analysis has long been used to support product development, but the visual aspects of design have not often been tested as a quality. Earlier on, with hand drawn pictures, that would have been hard to do. Sometimes the visual qualities of the product were described verbally, which often caused misunderstanding.
One of the weaknesses of a verbal questionnaire is also the fact that the situation of the customer differs too much from the real buying situation. In the questionnaire, the properties of the product come up one at a time, "analytically", detached from other qualities, whereas in a real choice, the client uses mostly a "holistic" view at all the qualities of the product at the same time.
Nowadays we can get closer to this holistic judgement because CAD technology helps producing realistic pictures economically, fast and with sufficient alternatives. This method also provides some possibilities to analyse aspects connected with products which are difficult to define, e.g. signs of belonging to a social group or symbols related to ways of life. The methods of testing draft design proposals are discussed under the title Evaluating a Design Proposal.
If the combination analysis includes a great number of product characteristics, it will become difficult for the client to control all the alternatives. This situation can nowadays be made easier by varying the product description on the screen in the research situation according to the wishes expressed by the client. -- On other possibilities for presenting product designs, see Presenting the Draft and Prototype.
August 3, 2007.
Comments to the author:
Original location: http://www2.uiah.fi/projects/metodi