NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

Customer Empowerment

In an earlier post (Collaborative Tools – Customer Involvement) I explored how the latest collaborative tools like SharePoint and SamePage are beginning to emphasise the value of customer involvement in new product development.  A recently published paper in the Journal of Product Innovation Management (Customer Empowerment in New Product Development) details some research on the same concept.

Illustrated with examples from Threadless and Muji (but they could also have included Yamaha with their EZ-AG Guitar) the authors describe the difference between ‘creation’ and ’selection’ empowerment and present the results of some research that shows a positive quantified impact from such close customer involvement.

Not every company can invite its customers to submit designs and let them vote which one will be used (like Threadless do with their T-Shirts) but it does seem to be worth spending a bit of time thinking about how you can tap into the creativity and decision making of your customer base…


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…

Media Centre Controller

I recently bought a small PC to hook up to the TV in my living room.  All my music collection and family photos have been transferred and being able to access all of these plus online content like Spotify, iPlayer and LoveFilm from the comfort of my armchair on a large ‘monitor’ is very enjoyable.

However, the user experience is let down somewhat by the options for the physical controller.  Inevitably something more than a pointer and some transport controls is required.  As far as I can see, text entry is an unavoidable requirement and balancing a wireless keyboard and mouse on your lap does nothing to enrich the user experience.  There are a few products emerging that are trying to address the need, but I’m wondering if something more revolutionary is required before the Media Centre (or indeed any internet enabled TV) becomes a more widely accepted product.





A genuine opportunity for some innovative thinking to drive a product development that satisfies a real need?..

The Innovation Strategy Landscape

In my previous post on Innovation Strategy I alluded to the importance of understanding the organisations attitude to risk and the types of innovation.  This diagram paints a picture of that innovation landscape.

Innovation Strategy Landscape

When setting out your innovation strategy it is important to consider the points on this landscape you want to include in the future business direction and the amount of resource you will dedicate to each of your chosen areas.  The green areas are relatively risk free and can be realised with your existing resources.  The orange areas require some development of capabilities.  The red areas are the most risky and venture into true diversification territory.

Innovation Strategy

Since ‘Innovation’ is seen as the engine for business growth, there is a multitude of concepts, thoughts and initiatives that companies are encouraged to explore in their quest to be more innovative.

The term ‘innovation strategy’ crops up frequently – I even find myself using it from time to time.  But what is meant by the term?

I see a strategy as something long term that lasts for a number of years.  Since the timescales involved with innovation driven activites (like new product development or radical process re-engineering) are often quite long, a stable unchanging target is required, one that is not overly dependent on the success of specific projects.   All too often I’m presented with an innovation strategy that is really a list of new products that the company wants to launch over the next 12 months.

So what kinds of stable goals should be included in your innovation strategy?  Companies like Hewlett Packard and GE have used a measure of the percentage of their sales that were from ‘new’ products.  Some focus on measures of new market penetration or improved processes.  Others review the performance of the idea generation and funnelling activities (though care must be taken to ensure some measure of quality of the ideas is included).

Obviously the innovation strategy needs to be closely aligned to overall business goals and must also consider the organisations attitude to risk to determine the ‘types’ of innovation that will be involved…

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?

Powerline Communications – A New Dawn?

Powerline communication devices just never realised their potential.  Wi-Fi very quickly became so ubiquitous the technology never stood a chance.  However there are a few developments that have hinted at a new dawn.

IEEE are working on a standard for powerline communications up to 100Mbit/s

There is a greater demand for higher communication speeds and/or multiple dedicated networks around the home as streaming audio and video applications become more widespread

Marvell Semiconductor, the highly innovative provider of integrated silicon solutions have acquired DS2 a Spanish developer of chips for powerline communications

‘Now is the time to drive innovation in this space’ said the VP of product development.

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