Creating Innovative Products in Product Design
This article comes from a conversation with Design Engineer Rhydian Dobbin and provides a window into how we develop concept designs and how in order to create outside-the-box concepts you, in fact, have to step away from the product itself.
Concept development can encompass a broad array of activities from market research to early technical validation. Nonetheless, from “where do you start?” at the beginning to “how do you know which direction to take” at the end, this phase can be perceived as a somewhat intangible. This stage of development is often thought of simply as the ideas stage, but as Rhydian explains, there’s a lot that can be considered and learnt within concept development about what is possible within a given design. There are numerous ways in the concept phase to both push the boundaries and explore the feasibility of an idea. This allows you to analyse options for a product and reach smart decisions through a blend of both blue sky thinking and technical consideration.
It’s difficult to devise an innovative solution if your mind is fixated on the parameters of what you think a product should be, do or look like – especially as that will be based on what already exists. There are strategic ways to approach this which can include in-depth research into both analogous products and vertical markets. It’s most effective to ensure the scope of research remains open and unencumbered by preconceived ideas about the product. For this reason, Rhydian suggests that at this point, distancing yourself slightly from the end product is vital. By doing this, space can be opened up to think more creatively about the solution. It could be the case that a useful mechanism or technology exists; it may be used in a completely unrelated product or application, but still some knowledge can be transferred.
“Drawing inspiration from a diverse range of sources at the concept stage, including vertical markets and analogous products, allows us to take a step back from the problem and discover alternative approaches to solve it” – Rhydian Dobbin
Building this kind of lateral and vertical thinking into the concept stage is only valuable if insights are used in some way. This research can relatively quickly be translated into tangible results and validated concepts. It’s important to connect the dots: the activities in the concept stage serve a real purpose when blue sky thinking and structured research is combined with a practical angle. What this means is that idea generation and research is genuinely used to inform development and often, in our projects, we refer back to this research even in the later development stages. Conducting concept design in this way allows you to prioritise and test ideas based on evidence.
“This allows us to approach the concept stage of the project in an informed manner: fast ideation techniques, quick model making, even electro-mechanical mock-ups to test ideas early on. This all helps to prove out technicalities at the front end of the project” – Rhydian Dobbin.
The outcomes of this approach to concept development are what matter most. This approach means as designers we are actively trying to create novel solutions based on a breadth of different sources and insights. This strategy is so valuable because if technicalities alone are focussed on in the concept stage, the product could lack imagination and character. Equally, research alone with no view to validate potential ideas can result in the creation of unachievable concept designs or designs that are less likely to be able to be manufactured successfully. Hence, the concept phase should be a balancing act.
“By doing this, we can present novel solutions to the problem and unique concepts early on in the design process with a high level of confidence in their feasibility.” – Rhydian Dobbin
The concept research may illuminate that some ideas are more high-risk than others, but Rhydian makes the case for at least considering these ideas too. It’s important to consider the boundaries of what is possible and what is feasible, even if not taken forward in the present concept development, it might just influence future products and business goals. It also elevates the discussions around your product and what it could be. Rhydian shares that his goal is always to present at least one wildcard “wow”-provoking concept in the mix, something unexpected that makes you stop and question your product and it is through this approach that we are able to do this.
“We aim to offer a diverse range of concepts with a few curve balls thrown in. This helps to spark a conversation with the client about possible approaches to their project, helping us to define the direction of the project or business.” – Rhydian Dobbin