Strategic Thinking: 5 Key Product Idea Questions
At Mako, we work on a LOT of projects, over 150 a year. We receive even more calls about potential product ideas. In fact, our project strategy team fields hundreds of inquiries a quarter. We asked our project strategy team, what do successful product ideas have in common? They told us that spending a little time thinking strategically about your product idea can pay untold dividends throughout the development process. In particular, refining your idea through the lens of these five questions will help to bring focus, directions and clarity to your product.
What problem is your product idea solving?
Good engineers (and for that matter businesspeople) are problem solvers; great engineers are problem definers. Seem strange? Albert Einstein put it like this, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” The point is, by using your grey matter to define the problem your product idea is solving, you parse down the complexity and isolate the areas to focus on. It is this focus that will help you create the best prototype possible. It will save you time, money and resources. Not to mention, it is this same focus that will carry you successfully through the manufacturing and business phases.
How is your product idea different than competitors products?
In today’s global economy, your product idea should have a unique function or quality for it will be competing around the globe. In market terms, this is known as differentiation. In addition, by understanding what is different about your product, you will, by extension, begin to understand what market your product idea will be competing in. This is critical to the long-term success of a product. This is not to say that your product idea must have a completely different functionality than another product. After all, there are a lot of different automobiles on the market that do the same thing. Your product idea can, for example, be similar to other products but be produced less expensively. The different systems by which a product is made is also an example of differentiation. It is the differences in your product that you can use to leverage your product to success.
What environment will your product idea be used in?
An environment can be thought of as the real-time setting where a product idea will be used and relied upon. The environment can be the physical environment. For example, is the product going to be used outside? If so, does it need water-tight seals for wet conditions? The environment can also be places like the study or the kitchen. It can also be a social question. Is it used for formal occasions? Does it need to be aesthetically pleasing or is a utilitarian design more desirable? The question of environment will help you understand where and how your product will be used as you take it from idea to prototype.
What is your product made of?
Though it’s certainly important to think about what materials your product idea will be made of (plastic, metal, wood etc.) this question is not simply a question of materials. It also asks you to think about the components and mechanisms that make up your product. Are the components of your product going to be custom designed? Or, to keep costs down, can off-the-shelf (known as OEM parts) be used? Does your product idea have electronics? Will a simple microcontroller do, or does the product need a microprocessor? Does it need software? Also, the physical mechanisms should be considered. For example, if your product has a hinge, how long and robust will it need to be? Most certainly, not all these questions need or can be answered at the idea stage. Indeed, most likely your answers will change throughout design and development. But, by thinking about materials, components and mechanisms the – what it is made of – you are refining your idea and providing direction.
Where will your product be sold?
Unless your prototype is for academic purposes, chances are you will be looking to commercialize your product. Whether your goal is to have your product be picked up by a national retailer or you are planning to sell it on your website, having the end in mind at the beginning can help give further focus to your idea. Not to mention this thinking will place you well ahead when you enter the business phase.
The development of a product idea is an adventure. It is the journey of a thousand tiny steps. The intellectual exercise of strategic product thinking will bring focus, direction and clarity throughout the process and set you up for success.
Article Author: MAKO Design + Invent
MAKO Design + Invent is a full-service consumer product development firm servicing both high-growth corporate manufacturers and invention startups. With a 25-person team across 3 offices (Austin, England, Toronto), MAKO has complete in-house industrial design, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering design and prototyping services. To assist our start-up inventor clients, we also have a subsidiary branch called Mako Invent that, in addition to above, helps start-ups with patenting, strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories. For our corporate clients, MAKO Design develops world-class consumer electronics designs through our industrial, mechanical, and electrical design teams.
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