Familiar Invention Design: Why Familiar Ideas are Often Great Ideas

Why New But Familiar Invention Design Ideas are Often Great Ideas

Here’s a great way to wrap your head around testing the viability of an invention design. Ask yourself, how familiar does a product feel? It might seem counterintuitive at first because you may think to yourself that a product needs to be significantly different from its predecessors if has any chance to survive on the market right? Well, that’s not always the case. In fact, you might find more success if you focus on creating a familiar invention design.

MP3 player.

The MP3 Player

Let’s go back to a time before the convenience of Spotify or Apple Music. Not too long ago, we used CD players to listen to all of our music on the go. These CD players seem like paperweights now but were actually quite portable back in the day. However, we had to purchase full albums, even if we were only interested in a few tracks, and had to burn songs on a fresh CD if we wanted to create a custom playlist. Barbaric, I know. The dominant leader in this space was Sony, known for its Walkman portable music player brand.

Then came along MP3 players, a familiar invention design that solved the problem of having to switch out CDs to listen to your favourite songs or a playlist that was over 20-30 songs long. Many companies kept their products familiar enough to the CD player. A couple of buttons to skip, shuffle, repeat, play, pause and select a track, but with the added benefit of uploading songs directly from your computer to the flash drive on the MP3 player. Sony, on the other hand, did not.

Because unlike the other MP3 player brands, Sony also owns a music distribution company, Sony Music.

And they were extra worried about piracy.

Sony Walkman

Unfamiliar Territory

Indeed, the advent of MP3 players gave rise to rampant piracy across almost every media-related industry. Napster, Kazaa and Limewire were well-known hubs to illegally download music, movies and even gigabytes worth of video games. Thus, Sony struggled with the idea of creating a portable mp3 player without hurting their Sony Music sales despite their domination of the industry. They put the needs of the company first over the user experience.

In fact, some of their earliest solutions did not feel like a familiar invention design. Their products did not even support MP3 file formats and could only play ATRAC files – Sony’s proprietary music format. MP3 files had to be converted to ATRAC files before they could be played on Sony devices. And if you wanted to transfer your music from your computer to your device, you had to use Sony’s sluggish OpenMG/SonicStage software.

Now, what if you wanted to listen to your ATRAC files on your computer while you’re doing work or homework? Well, you really couldn’t. Because desktop music software like Winamp did not support ATRAC files. That meant you had to store and keep track of an MP3 and ATRAC file of the same song if you wanted to listen to it on both your computer and Sony device. All of these things were absolutely unfamiliar to the regular MP3 user. Needless to say, the popularity of the Walkman brand tanked dramatically.

They never really recovered after their dismal entry into the world of CD-less music devices. The final nail in the coffin for the Sony Walkman? The Apple iPod, of course.

Familiar Invention Design: ChaiEasy

ChaiEasy | A Great Example of Familiar Yet New Invention Design

Now that we’ve seen a case about what happens when consumers reject a product because it’s too unfamiliar, let’s shift gears and check out an example of a product that takes user experience into consideration to create a familiar invention design. That product is our client’s ChaiEasy.

Authentic chai tea can be messy and time-consuming to brew. The ChaiEasy solves this problem by allowing the user to make a fresh cup of chai with a single button press without any mess. It’s a very simple solution because it’s a familiar one. Most of us are accustomed to coffee pod-style Keurig or Nespresso machines. Fill a reservoir with water, load a pod and press a button or two, and out comes piping hot coffee, free of coffee grounds or filters to clean. 

ChaiEasy uses this familiar process but applies it to chai tea! In place of coffee pods are chai pods. Just like a Keurig or Nespresso, simply pour water into the reservoir for the tea, load the tea pod, pour milk into the cup and lock it onto the machine. There’s no need to monitor the boiling milk and check if it’s overflowing, and there’s no filtering of the tea leaves either.

So far, the reception for this familiar invention design has been phenomenal. They wowed the judges on Dragons’ Den, Canada’s version of Shark Tank. They surpassed their Kickstarter crowdfunding goal. And they also smashed their Frontundr crowdfunding investment goal by over 100 percent!

So when you’re thinking about your invention, remember being familiar is not a bad idea.

About: MAKO Design + Invent is the original firm providing world-class consumer product development services tailored to startups, small manufacturers, and inventors. Simply put, we are the leading one-stop-shop for developing your physical product from idea to store shelves, all in a high-quality, cost-effective, and timely manner. We operate as one powerhouse 30-person product design team spread across 4 offices to serve you (Austin, Miami, San Francisco, & Toronto). We have full-stack in-house industrial designmechanical engineeringelectrical engineeringpatent referralprototyping, and manufacturing services. To assist our startup and inventor clients, in addition to above, we help with business strategy, product strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories. Also, our founder Kevin Mako hosts The Product Startup Podcast, the industry's leading hardware podcast. Check it out for tips, interviews, and best practices for hardware startups, inventors, and product developers. Click HERE to learn more about MAKO Design + Invent!


  1. Mike Wong

    November 30, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    I have several invention ideas. Are you willing to take them from ideas to market…let’s discuss..ok.

    • Mako Design

      November 30, 2021 at 12:36 pm

      Hi Mike, it’s exciting that you have some ideas in mind! If you would like to discuss your project needs with our Product Strategy Team, you can reach out to us directly at https://www.makodesign.com/contact/ to set up a free product consultation. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!


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