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April 24, 2013

The 4 “I”s of Better Concept Screening

Very often, product and package development teams use concept boards to represent the ideas they would like to test with consumers.  Typically, sketches or renderings illustrate a range of configurations with embedded features or imagery.  Often, utility overlaps.  And it’s difficult for consumers to understand the concept intent.  Or react with credibility due to the interaction effect.  So the moderator spends a lot of time describing the key elements of each concept and how they are different.  That mucks things up.  There’s a better way, and it starts with what I call the Four “I”s of concept screening.  They are “Improvise”, “Improve”, “Iterate” and “Integrate”.

IMPROVISE:  Think about concept stimuli in a new way.  A stack of concept boards can’t focus consumers on what really matters–to them or you.  Basically, concept boards ask consumers to pick one favorite out of a finite set.  Best of the worst?  More importantly:  What are the most desirable attributes?  How well do the stimuli represent and deliver on them?  So “improvise” a stimulus set that uses a combination of sketches, found objects and Consumer Promise statements in a coherent way.  Consumer Promises articulate a range of potential problems and solutions, with positioning overlays.  Which one resonates best?  Found objects can represent working utility without prototyping.  And preliminary sketches can offer unique attribute executions that deliver on the desired utility and promise.  It sounds messy.  But it’s really very structured.  But best of all, it gives the consumer a number of vantage points to consider when evaluating your best ideas.  That adds focus, reduces confusion and provides deeper feedback.

IMPROVE:  A good stimulus set motivates consumers to help you further explore and refine.  Found objects and preliminary sketches do this well, because they aren’t all buttoned up like renderings and prototypes.  They say to consumers “we haven’t figured it out yet, and we’d like you to help us”.  So they identify a critical role for consumers and invite them to get involved.  And they avoid the “best of the worst” syndrome.  As you reveal the Consumer Promises and the found objects and sketched work that best delivers on them, have a designer on hand to capture the conversation in fresh sketches.  Which ideas support the best Promise?  Which undermine it?  Why?  How could the ideas do a better job?  Give consumers ownership by not presenting “answers”.  Consider your stimuli a bunch of open questions.  Then watch what happens.

ITERATE:  This one is simple.  Just keep doing it.  Over and over.  Capture the conversation in fresh sketches.  Review them with consumers.  Ask them which best serves the core Promise.  What changes could make it and lesser Promises stronger?  And remember, showing consumers ideas in multiple forms and occasions throughout the session helps confirm and lend consistency to what you’re hearing.  At the end, a tagging exercise like the one pictured above can be useful if done properly.  But make sure everyone has the chance to tell their story about why.  And make sure you can build consensus around the strongest Promise and the utility/imagery that best delivers it.  Iteration sounds boring.  But it’s not.  It’s the best way to get closer to an optimized solution.

INTEGRATE:  Push ideas together.  But do it with discipline and caution.  Capture the best attributes and executions across the various stimulus forms.  Then combine them in orderly, coherent ways.  Consumers will readily say “I’d combine this one with that one.”  Or “let’s take the shape of that one and the closure of this one”.  That’s not good enough.  Consumers are quick to take your concepts literally and often want it all.  You need to carefully tease out what features, aesthetics and imagery are working well for them, and why.  Test them for why a given attribute should be included and whether it’s really high priority.    Then go off and redefine the concepts–perhaps overnight to show the next day.  Just because consumers take your ideas literally doesn’t mean you should interpret their feedback as such.  In fact, “Interpret” could be another “I”.  But I think you get the idea.  It’s less about “I want that”, and more about “I want to DO that”.

So, the next time you’re fixing to develop and test some concepts, remember the Four “I”s.  They should keep you from falling back on a stack of concept boards and the standard issue “vote and validate” practice.

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