Creativity and Method – the cornerstones of successAuthor Timo Piirainen
When offering product and service solutions, many details need to be taken into consideration from customer needs and ideas to production and launch on the market. The core competence of product design and development needs to be supplemented by expertise in the strategic development of services and business operations. Motivated multi-industrial professional teams produce the best results. The will to create solutions that are sustainable and purposeful is of particular importance, while the time spent on and the risks associated with development must be minimised to create new space for new innovation. The innovative capacity of new products is what puts you ahead of your competitors.
Management and leadership of creativity and innovative capacity is the responsibility of business management, but every employee can play a part. Innovation can be defined as the organisation’s ability to build new features that improve competitiveness (products, production processes, business ideas, services, etc.). This requires specific working methods.
The innovative capacity of an organisation is built on three foundations: atmosphere (a working culture that encourages innovation), channels (innovation process, team, etc.) and guidance (innovation direction). Real innovation refers to a new product or service that revolutionises the market.
Creativity is a key factor in innovation and often the most crucial one. The core of innovation lies at the very beginning of the innovation process where numerous ideas must be generated. Selected ideas are turned into product development, strategies, new markets, production development and personal development.
Product features and usability are not created by themselves, but they need systematic action at the very first stages of product development. User-centred design provides product development with the means to build good product usability. As a result of good user-centred design, product development is more controlled. It results in end products that are more effective, pleasant and safer to use. At the same time, costs related to product launch and use are lowered. The further the product development progresses, the more expensive any product changes are as capital is tied to the product throughout the process. Usability is not just a topping that can be added to a finished product.
Product and user segmentation ensures that the visual appearance of the product is purposeful and well planned. The product appearance must communicate its purpose, method, environment and users in as much detail as possible. During a brainstorming session the idea is to come up with various design ideas and different technical solutions. As the process progresses, the most feasible ideas will be selected for further development.
The product concept or prototype already includes the new product’s technical features and dimensions in relation to the product’s appearance and usability. A well-designed product is more attractive, desirable and more functional in terms of technology and ergonomics. Product graphics comprise a significant part of the finished appearance. They strengthen the product image by furnishing the designed product with the company’s visual elements and brand. What is more, the purpose of product graphics is always to support and improve product usability.
Required: vision, strategy and diverse competence
A creative base can be expanded by a large group of experts. Experts in mechanics, production, innovation, usability and strategy, industrial design, graphic design, programming, animation and application development form a productive group. By setting up innovation teams and committing experts to solving various customer problems and meeting expectations, true innovation can be created. This competence serves to produce results that secure the success and competitiveness of industrial plants, products and services. The ultimate goal is to provide people with solutions that are sustainable and practical.
Strategic planning usually focuses on offering solutions for critical operational success factors so that they can be implemented using controlled long-term and efficient means. Strategic work is often allocated to products, technologies, innovation and design. It is necessary and important to respond to strategic questions when looking for the correct path towards initial development and innovation processes. The objective is to recognise opportunities for innovation or business operations.
The birth of innovation and working based on systems and solutions
Innovation can be, or should be, carried out systematically in companies. The phase preceding product development, i.e. FEI (Front End of Innovation), can be modelled and systemized to form an excellent basis for a successful product development project. Innovation starts from a problem, and above all, the recognition of customer needs, which together form the true starting point for innovation.
We can successfully approach a development challenge through systematic thinking. We should seek answers to the following questions. What are we dealing with? What is the correct question to ask? What do we need to develop? We try to understand the customer, the user and the problem. We should perform functional analyses and product specifications.
When analysing successful innovation projects, one usually finds an underlying and well-recognised customer need and a well-defined problem, from which the process was initiated. Once the problem has been identified, it should first be investigated, analysed and reshaped – in more ways than one.
There are many ways to reshape the problem. When developing a new version of an existing product, it is important to analyse the good features of the product, looking at what works and what should be retained in the new version. Often, product problems are well-known, but good features may be forgotten and hidden under the surface.
A few leading guidelines related to the product development project offer responses to the previous questions. These may include user-centred surveys and technological research.
User-centred research provides understanding of the product or service users’ world and any of their conscious and unconscious needs. Research methods offer a means to transfer an understanding of user needs, usability, ergonomics and design to the product or service.
Through technological research we can strengthen our understanding and increase know-how in order to analyse the functionality and performance of current products and production processes. Research serves to develop existing products and processes from a technological point of view, and to ensure that the objectives of ongoing development projects are met or even exceeded.
When developing a new product, it is useful to become familiar with similar products on the market and analyse their features as accurately as possible. Databases also offer many solution proposals and ideas that have never been put into practice. They may contain feasible ideas that should be analysed alongside our own ideas. This saves time and money compared to a situation where all problems are verified in connection with the development project.
The starting point for all product and service development solutions is a deep understanding of customer needs, demands and their related functionalities. In addition, we need to understand how we can produce added value for end customers through customer products and services. This means considering how we can allocate our resources to offer solutions that maximise this added value in the entire product and service network. By following these main principles, we can deliver various solutions for different business challenges.
Introducing a refined idea to the rest of the world
A refined idea must be systematically polished into a concrete product or service. The process starts from initial questions that define objectives and the operating environment and mirror our ideas and goals with respect to the target group. It requires a large group of experts to solve and plan a successful outcome.
By asking and answering the right questions one can achieve much. Who is the customer? What are the customer’s needs? What problem or need are we solving? How much is the customer ready to pay for the product or service? Where is the product or service available? Who are our competitors? What are the superior competitive factors of our product or service? Does our idea need protection? What kind of image should the product or service reflect?
If our resources run out, we should look for a reliable partner that can help us with the questions above. The partner may offer help in the productisation of ideas, products and services.
There are partners that are involved in product and service development from the very first ideas to the launch to the market. The advantage of such an arrangement is that the partners are able to react thoroughly to various development needs with the help of their numerous experts.
Everything is based on product planning competence. Technical and engineering challenges are no strangers when it comes to product development.
By investing in integrated product development, results can be achieved through the simultaneous performance of different competence areas and project stages. The integrated development model often plays a key role when refining an idea into a market product or service, while keeping risks and costs effectively under control.
The design of concrete products and services is supplemented by focussing on the first phases in the development process. And that is where we play our role investigating, innovating and conceptualising the most important content solutions in order to achieve successful products and services. We refine products into services when they require control, guidance, maintenance or marketing. Our expertise produces the most benefits when we can solve challenges related to products and their surrounding services.
The original text was published in our 1/2014 Top Engineer magazine
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