“Get the best out of your organization’s brain trust”
Industrial design methodology can be applied to creating new products but it can also be used as framework for effective team collaboration. Industrial designers can help any product development and design team answer difficult questions. Below are the key approaches to facilitate effective collaboration between sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing and, of course, customers (roughly in chronological order).
At the outset of the project the team comes together to understand the scope and define the specific goals of the project. The project may be to develop a new product line or solve a particular challenge that the organization has. Proper alignment at the start of the project is critical to building the team and facilitating great team interaction.
Customer Research Together
One of the best ways to develop new ideas and define new product lines to understand your customer’s needs and desires more intimately. Get the project team out into the field and spend time with your customer. This is most effectively done when working with trained ethnographers who understand people and industrial designers who translate these needs into tangible outcomes.
Analyze Research Together
Because each team member has different expertise and experience it can be highly advantageous to leverage this brain power in translating project research into project direction. Proper facilitation of this process is important so that there is balanced input and it is most important to be mindful of the key project drivers. This facilitation process should be guided by a professional who can balance big picture strategy with the details that drive the project (often this is the design lead, but it could be someone else on the team).
Once the project requirements have been clearly articulated (as much as they can be at this stage) the team can come together to explore and generate possible solutions or concepts. “Concepting” with a team is often called brainstorming, but another term is charrette, which consists of an intense period of design activity). A charrette often has a main group divide into teams to develop ideas to solve a problem. Again with this process proper facilitation is very important to both get the best out of the team and drive the session towards a tangible outcome. Common traps at this stage include solutions that do not match the project brief or lack of tangible solutions altogether. Done effectively, the charrette both drives the project forward in terms of solution generation and builds team camaraderie.
A typical output of any team session is usually a very loose description of an idea. The design detailing team needs to both work independently and come together at critical points to detail the right approach and design the right solution. Often a new project involves many unknowns and at this stage developing more than one solution can be very effective.
Testing New Ideas
Assuming more than one approach has been taken in generating a new idea/product/solution they can then be tested. The team can give input but it is most effective to get these concepts in front of customers and learn about what the love, like, dislike, or simply don’t understand.
There may be disagreements as to the details of the final approach, but because the team has taken this journey together they are enrolled in getting this project to the finish line. Getting the team to work through trade-offs is very important here. There will be strong pressure to hit price points and manufacturing quality requirements. Compromises are made but effectively leveraging team expertise helps optimize a solution.
Now that the team has completed the project all of this embodied knowledge can help launch and sell product. The team can come together to help marketing perform their function of connecting the product to the customers. Some of the biggest challenges in working on new projects are moving the project forward and getting the best out of the organization’s brain trust. Applying an industrial design methodology can help this process along and build great connections within the team.
(This article was originally published in Design Product News, February 2011)