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May 23, 2009

Concept Development: Mile Wide or Mile Deep?

I do a lot of work helping to focus creative energy in the development of new product or package concepts.  Many argue that creative teams should not be initially constrained in scope by specific consumer insights or internal parameters.  They think that truly “disruptive” innovation (if that’s the goal) comes from giving designers free reign, with minimal inspiration.  And that the “mile wide / inch deep” approach is best for the first round of concept development.

I disagree, and so do many designers I’ve worked with.  Creative teams must have latitude, for sure.  Design direction must not be so specific that their only remaining task is to draw a concept already formulated in words.  But many designers will welcome a narrowing of focus and an emphasis on the specific performance the new product needs to deliver.  They find that the “meter wide / mile deep” approach is richer and more challenging.  And, it’s more likely to drive concepts that are better integrated, better thought out and better at addressing consumer expectations.

The challenge is to present creatives with a design direction that addresses the key emotional, perceptual and functional utilities that drive value for consumers.  These come out of sound consumer research that captures these utilities and breaks them down into performance expectations and gaps.  Then, “Innovation Platforms” can be tackled individually, with the creative team drilling down into each to generate concepts that address just that criteria.  The concepts that best deliver on key utilities can then be integrated into a series of more cohesive concepts that do it all well.

This contrasts with the frequent practice of allowing the creative team to generate fully-featured concepts at the get-go to address all expectations.  The failure here is that each concept can’t possibly offer the best solution to each utility.  So, they must be dissected and reassembled once the best solutions from each are identified.  This takes longer, but most importantly, it leads to sub-optimal concepts that fail to meet some critical expectations.  Or, the attempted maximization of one or two concepts the team prefers.

In my experience, it’s much more effective to dig deep on consumer expectations and match the best solutions than it is to try and pick out and re-assemble the best scattershot ideas.

1 Comment »

  1. So why do companies continue to ‘pick out and reassemble the best scattershot ideas’ rather than developing products and packages that are truly consumer driven? It’s a symptom of short term focus, rooted in the premise that it’s better to launch ‘something’ now than to launch ‘the best thing’ later.

    Comment by Lori Rothman — June 5, 2009 @ 11:47 am

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