The development of new products is the process of taking an idea and making it a reality in the form of a solution (the product) for the corresponding market. Also known as NPD (New Product Development) this process takes different stages that will differ from one industry to another.
Some people say NPD has 5 stages, others 7 or 8, and perhaps even more. The truth is that, whatever approach you take, there is always an essential step, Concept Development.
What is Concept Development?
Concept development is the NPD stage that requires the designers to work the idea into an intended product or several alternatives with the intention to test them and assess their consumer-oriented value. In other words, it must take into account different aspects beyond functionality, including:
· Target audience
· Use cases
· Consumer perception of the product
· Market perception of the product
A good example of concept development is shared by Marketing Insider in their website, where they share the concept development of an electric car into 3 alternatives:
· Concept 1: An affordably priced mid-size car designed as a second family car to be used around town for visiting friends and doing shopping.
· Concept 2: A mid-priced sporty compact car appealing to young singles and couples for fun rides in their free time.
· Concept 3: A high-end midsize utility vehicle appealing to those who like the space SUVs provide but also want an economical car for everyday use in the city.
Now, to achieve all the above, innovation and problem-solving tools and methodologies are needed. And here is where TRIZ and Design Thinking play a vital role.
What is TRIZ?
TRIZ is an acronym that stands for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, and it is a methodology created by Genrich Altschuller who analyzed a patent database to realize that creative problem solving could be simpler than many would imagine. According to the methodology, there are inventive principles which are described as recognizable patterns to problem-solving.
In short, TRIZ is “a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature”.
What is Design Thinking?
At the beginning of the industrialized world, design was mainly focused on the technical aspects and features of the product. However, time would let us know that this approach often resulted in products that were not practical for the end user. Therefore, a change was needed, and it came in the form of Design Thinking.
Design Thinking can be defined as a creative problem-solving approach with a focus on the end user. In other words, it is a design approach that leads designers to focus their ideas and concepts on the people that will use them and how they will use them. It takes into account the impact of the product on people’s lives, whether they will want it or not, how they will feel when using the product, and it usually results in better products.
Integrating TRIZ and Design Thinking
In the concept development stage of the NPD process, the first step is defining the problem that the product will solve. Here, design thinking helps to make it a human-centered problem by using empathy. This is normally done through surveys and interviews to potential end users.
Then, the next step would be coming up with different possible solutions to the problem that has been defined. This is what design thinking calls the “Ideate” step. The problem here is that the approach of design thinking to this step is brainstorming to generate ideas from a multidisciplinary team.
While brainstorming might work sometimes, a better approach would be applying TRIZ in this step. This is because TRIZ is a perfect method to solve dilemmas because it is based in the premise that whatever problem is faced, somebody, somewhere, has already solved it, or at least a similar one. With TRIZ, creative problem solving involves finding that solution and adapting it to the problem in hand. From here, it only takes a prototype and some testing to validate the concept, which are the next steps in the design thinking concept development process.
Continuing with the electric car example, the problem could be defined after people sharing their need for personal transportation but concerned about the environmental impact of fossil fuels. The dilemma would be “I want a convenient car but I don’t want to use fossil fuels”. So, instead of brainstorming solutions, TRIZ would guide the designers to find a patent of an electric car to then work with it and make it better. For example, they could use longer-lasting batteries, or apply body design that would make the car lighter thus extending the autonomy with a lower power consumption.
Clearly, taking the best of both approaches leads to a more effective and efficient result.