Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Creativity and Constraints

This week's guest blog is from Scott Harmon, Z Corp VP of Business Development.

Creativity and Constraints.

These two go together like oil and water, or here in Boston, Yankees and Red Sox. They are the great paradox of design and engineering. Constantly at war with each other. Battling for supremacy. When constraints win out, designs and products are dull and uninspiring. When creativity wins out, designs and the final products are novel and catch the notice of customers, but budgets are wrecked, timelines are blown and no one seems to notice.

Inside this conflict is where innovation lives. Innovation is when companies deliver products that exceed customer expectations, and do it on time and under budget. Failure on either attribute is still failure.

So the question is, how do you wrestle these two beasts to the ground? How do you deliver a design and final product that your customer wants, and do it faster and less expensively than ever before? It shouldn’t come as a big shock that a 3D printer company would say “prototype more,” and we do. But the new frontier of prototyping is less about completing the job faster at less cost, and more about creativity. How do you make sure that the final product that you are delivering is the product your customer wants?

The answer is obvious, but relatively few companies actually do it. How about showing your customer the product long before it’s a product? How about creating with them?

When I was a product manager, I was always frustrated by how we showed new product ideas to consumers. We would brainstorm some ideas and have an artist draw them up on a sheet of paper. The images would have explanations for various features and such. Then we would show it to groups of consumers and discuss it. I’m sure you have all been there. It was maddening. You’d get really helpful feedback like “That’s not possible.” or “Would it come in yellow?” The boss was not happy to see the bill for a focus group with those kinds of results.

These days you can put a physical prototype in front of the focus group for less than the cost of the focus group. You can get a real response from your customers about what works for them and what does not from a prototype with the color and feel of an actual product. If you want to make sure you customers love your products, give them the product long before it is actually a product.