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April 19, 2011

Attribute-Oriented Innovation: Preference Over Process

And, of course, a new KMG cartoon!

Clients tell me that their typical innovation process starts with need identification to drive new concepts.  Likely, these early stage concepts mix and match features in an attempt to meet all requirements in various ways.  Features overlap across concepts, and variables such as form and utility aren’t standardized.  So, as the next step in the process, consumer feedback is flawed, if not invalid.  I call this the “Create and Evaluate” approach.

Sure, there’s the chance that one concept will “nail it”, but it can’t possibly be optimized.  And asking consumers to pick their favorite of the bunch is an exercise in relative, not absolute performance–if it is not simply validating the team’s preconceptions.  Even if we ask consumers why they prefer one concept over another, we can’t really know what independent characteristics drive preference and value in this process.  We can choose an attractive concept, but we can’t optimize a solution.

I’ve created an approach to the design process that I call  Attribute-Oriented Innovation.  It basically turns the process outlined above inside-out.  It allows us to use research to clearly identify the most desired attributes and then build the optimized concept.  But first, what’s an attribute?  Simply put, it is a physical characteristic–either functional, perceptual or emotional in impact–that has utility for consumers.  How does AOI work?

  • Early occasion-based or need-state-driven research is used to identify the functional, perceptual and emotional gaps that present opportunities for design.  These key insights drive an explicit design strategy.
  • An early design exploration then  surfaces a wide range of product or package attributes that are conceived as independent “concepts”.   But they are not concepts in the traditional sense.  They are the building blocks.
  • These attribute building blocks are then assembled in a set of rational concepts that can be effectively screened with consumers.  Classic research principles govern how attributes are arrayed and variables are held constant.
  • Concept screening tools (see Consumer Lab) identify the strongest set of attributes, their preferred executions and a set of preliminary “optimized” product or package configurations.
  • Only then can true concept generation and development take place.  The result is a tight range of fully integrated and optimized concepts that incorporate the most desired attributes.
  • Final concept evaluation identifies the best execution for development.

The point:  AOI ensures that concepts deliver on the most valued requirements in discrete ways.  So they are easy for the team to evaluate, match to criteria and screen with consumers.  And the chosen solution is sure to not only perform as it should, but do it in the best possible way.  And that’s how it wins over the standard “Create and Evaluate” paradigm.

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