NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development


What does someone with a passion for innovation and new product development do in their downtime?

Generally the same as everyone else.

But it’s also about finding enjoyable sources of inspiration – here’s a selection of my usual places to look.

Make – a US ‘hobbyist’ magazine about making things

Wired – well into it’s second year of the UK edition

Radiolab – Public Radio programme available as a podcast

and most recently The Foods That Make Billions – A fantastic BBC programme about the development and marketing of very profitable food products (on the iPlayer but not for long)

I’m new to Twitter (@gpcooke) but it seems to be a good source of ideas, thoughts, activities and events to do with innovation and new products.  Less formal than LinkedIn – more intelligent than Facebook…

If anyone wants to point me elsewhere please do…

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…

Where Do Ideas Come From? – Revisited

A few months ago I posted my thoughts on creating an innovation framework that supports the generation of ideas (Where Do Ideas Come From?)

In a similar vein I have to share this fantastic video from Cognitive Media to promote Steven Jonhnson’s latest book.

X Prize and Beyond

The X Prize is an exciting idea inspired by the Orteig Prize awarded by wealthy hotel owner Raymond Orteig to Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for successfully flying non-stop from New York to Paris.

X Prizes are awarded to privately financed teams who achieve a defined revolutionary goal.

- Ansari – launching a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks

- Archon Genomics – sequencing 100 human genomes in 10 days

- Progressive Insurance Automotive – 100 mpg (equivalent) vehicle capable of being manufactured for the mass market

- Google Lunar – launching, landing, moving and transmitting pictures from a robot on the moon

Big goals, big prizes ($10 million +) and indeed the expenditure to win the prize far outweighs the monetary value of winning (but that’s not necessarily the point).

It’s a great model – there is growing evidence of it being used at a lower level to mobilise and direct an open source type development  (see TunedIT and Challenge Post).

More interestingly how can it be scaled down to a national, regional or even company wide level?

Atlassian – FedEx Days

In April 2005, the successful software company Atlassian held their first FedEx Day.  A tailored response to the problem of fostering innovation and creativity with more than a nod to Google’s 20% playtime.

For one day, the team were expected to brainstorm and develop new ideas that were somehow associated with the Atlassian product range.  Groups working on specific ideas formed organically  The expectation was that by the end of the day the engineers would present something they had delivered in that day (hence the Fedex title).

Over the years and the subsequent 13 Fedex Days, the concept has developed to start at lunchtime on Thursday and end at 4pm on Friday.  The days have become a source of fantastic ideas and enthusiasm amongst the teams (with more than a bit of competition).

How could you develop a similar initiative in your organisation?  I think the key attributes of the Atlassian FedEx day are the finite time with an expectation of delivery and the competition amongst the groups.  Take those as your starting point and see where your ideas take you.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

As part of my work measuring the innovation capability of a wide range of companies and organisations, the subject of generating ideas always provokes interesting debate.

Many people point to their best ideas which have been the most fruitful and claim that they came about in a flash of inspiration or were the result of a chance comment made by someone outside of the working environment.  The conclusion often drawn is that you can’t generate good ideas through a process.

I’d agree that there are a number of examples that support this theory, but deeper exploration of the source of these apparently chance ideas suggests other factors at play which can be positively influenced by creating a strong innovation framework within the organisation.  The occurrence of good quality ‘chance’ ideas can be made to be more frequent.

An organisation that captures all ideas from the widest range of sources (staff, suppliers, customers, ad-hoc searching and formal research), makes them visible across the business and effectively filters them will naturally generate a stronger culture of innovation which will make everyone involved in the process think more creatively about the problems and opportunities they face.