NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

A Confusing Alphabet of UIs

I’ve been helping someone look into a drastic redesign of the user interface of their product.  The hardware engineers had done their job in successfully defining a very cost effective flexible touch screen display but it became apparent that everyone was fixed in their perspective of the appearance and basic underlying function of the user interface.  The attention seemed to focus very quickly on usability and whilst I agree that the subject is very important I felt that there was a unique opportunity for a completely fresh approach.

To encourage more creative thinking I looked into the different schools of thought on user interfaces and that’s when I discovered a growing alphabet of UIs.

From AUI (Attentive) to ZUI (Zooming) there are more and more ways of thinking about how your user interface will work that have been given their own acronym – though I’m not sure how to pronounce IUI (Intelligent) so maybe that one at least is an abbreviation.  Of course there’s TUI (Touch) and KUI (Kinetic), but the one that seems to be rising in popularity (at least when it comes to use of the term) is NUI (Natural).  Unfortunately the term is being appropriated to categorise a wide variety of ideas – from simply doing away with the ‘chrome’ from traditional GUIs to gesture driven interaction (and whether those gestures are captured on a touch screen or by a camera with suitable image processing behind it) – and of course the usability aspect I wanted to temporarily ignore is a key part of what many consider to be a NUI.

With so many new ideas flying around it was a tough job to keep everyone’s feet on the ground but looking at even the most outlandish ideas helped in creating a shift in the scope of the suggestions for the new product.

But more than that, it certainly opened my eyes to what some people suggest will be as revolutionary as the arrival of GUIs in the 1980’s…

A Fresh Perspective on Portfolio Management from Inkling

Nathan Kontny from Inkling introduced a novel idea associated with Portfolio Management.

Portfolio Management ultimately depends on forecasts and predictions of development cost, sales volumes and revenue to provide a method of prioritising projects.  With a nod to James Surowiecki, Inkling have produced a tool that facilitates a more collaborative approach to refining those forecasts and predictions.  By answering some simple questions based on the original ‘guesses’, multiple users have an influence on adjusting the values for expected launch date, development cost, ROI etc.

An example portfolio has been set up (Inkling Portfolio Management Example) and you can try the system out with your on collection of projects (Inkling Portfolio Management Tool).

The idea is still at prototype stage and Nathan is looking at refining it – particularly the parameters that people will be asked to give their opinion on, but it looks very interesting even at this early stage…

Open Source Hardware

An ever increasing number of people are using open source software products – but how can the principles of open source apply to hardware?

Check out Arduino and BeagleBoard and the increasing number of peripheral boards being developed for these platforms.

Then take a look at the TouchBook product based on BeagleBoard.

I’m certainly interested to see how the concept develops – is it of purely academic interest and destined to languish in geek backwaters or is there a more interesting development and wider success on the horizon?

FabLab Manchester

I had the great pleasure of visiting FabLab Manchester today.  FabLab grew from an idea at MIT and is basically a small scale workshop with an array of computer controlled tools (laser cutters, milling machines, 3D printers).  It’s a creative workspace where people can make just about anything they can think of.

FabLab Manchester is the first of its kind in the UK and offers equipment and expertise for inventors and small companies to do product development and prototyping.

It’s a fantastic place and the people there have great ideas on how they can help people turn their ideas into products and hopefully stimulate more manufacturing industry in the UK.  Check it out, it will be worth the effort.

FabLab Manchester

New-Featuritis (’I think I’ll keep the beard’)

I can’t recommend Tom Fishburne enough.

Reprap and MakerBot

MakerBot Industries have developed and can supply (if you want to go on the waiting list) an incredibly cheap 3D printer.  The origins of the company and their product can be traced back to Bath University and a wildly exciting idea called The Reprap Project which focuses on producing a self replicating device (but has generated an ever cheaper 3D printer along the way).  All this has been achieved via the mechanical and electronic equivalent of open source software development.

I’m sure an open source design 3D printer that only costs ~£500 to build yourself can’t hope to compete with a commercially available machine that costs 40 times as much, but don’t forget that in the late 1970’s a laser printer cost at least £10,000…

Watch this space.