New Product Design from Old Product Models

product designs beginner's mind

Beginner’s mind

There’s an ancient secret that fuels the spark behind disruptive product design. The Buddhists call it ‘beginner’s mind,’ the ability to see something as though you have never seen it before. No preconceptions, no judgments, no memories. Look at the world through brand new eyes and you will see it in a whole new way.

For example, look at a tape dispenser and pretend that you’ve never seen one. That’s what Derk Reilink must have done to come up with his new method for dispensing a roll of adhesive tape, one strip at a time. (OK, we all know it’s Scotch tape, but I don’t think we’re allowed to call it that.)

Reilink took a minimalist approach and created a donut-like object no bigger than a roll of tape. The ClickTape has all of the function of the traditional tape dispenser, but it takes up less space. It also invites everybody who stops by your desk to pick it up:

Cool. Where’d ya get this?

product design clicktape dispenser

Clicktape Dispenser

The difference between Reilink and so many other people who have good ideas is that he has follow-through. He had the idea, designed a prototype—using 3D printing—and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a go-to-market strategy. (A far cry from most people who tell you they have a great idea, then tell you they can’t tell you what it is, then TELL you the idea anyway, and finally, tell you not to tell anyone so no one steals it.)

Another neat idea that transforms an age-old instrument is DrumLites. Dreamed up by two buddies in a college dorm, DrumLites were featured in the Super Bowl XLVIII half-time show.

Who could’ve imagined lighting up a drum from the inside?

Jeff Sevaldson and Joey Nesbitt. That’s who. And now they’re selling DrumLites so anyone can turn his or her drum set into a disco. Be sure to watch the video. All it does is light up drums, but it’s pretty mesmerizing. We’re starting to wonder if sitting around college dorms brainstorming blockbuster product designs is replacing the frat party.

The next best thing in product design — is there money in it?

New ideas are expensive to take from the brainstorming stage to market. Before investing too much time and too many dollars, it’s a good idea to test the market to see if someone else thinks your product design is as good as you think it is. And most people will be happy to offer you their opinions. There are a lot of people who want better products, but don’t want to fool around with having to design them. (That would be, like, almost everybody in the world.)

Take a look at this wish list, full of products and services that people would like to see somebody redesign. If you’re an inventor-type and you are having a dry spell, perhaps you can work with one of these gaps in the market. But then again, people are often quick to say what they want, and not quite-so-quick to shell out money for it. That may be a result of what the Buddhists call monkey mind, but that’s a topic for another day.

Sometimes, a new product design is so disruptive that nobody even knows they’re missing something until the product comes out. Take the ipod, for example. Or the Segway. Or a Nerf ball. Creators of these types of product designs are usually the kind of people who always see possibility in places where most people can’t see a thing.

Custom product design is all about you.

Custom Product Design — All About Me

The confluence of easy Internet access, standard file sharing protocols, and a tech savvy general population is putting pressure on product designers to offer user-friendly, custom product design options when they bring products to market. As consumers, we have become accustomed to shopping experiences that suit us. Online stores and mall kiosks bombard us with hats, cell-phone covers, books, coffee mugs and puzzles that have our names on them and sport pictures of our toothless little ones. Or BFF’s. Or Kitty. Whomever we care to look at.

All we need to do is upload a photo and push a few buttons.

Easy for us to say. The provider of these experiences has to jump through a lot of hoops so we can affix our own stories to things in a matter of minutes. And often-times, the more ‘intuitive’ it is for the consumer to crank out the perfect tchotchke, the harder it is for product designers to make it easy.

Custom Product Design — It’s Complicated

Innovative companies are to be commended for each customized experience they bring to the consumer. It’s pretty complicated behind-the-scenes, but that doesn’t keep product designers from working hard to dream up new ways for consumers to put their own handprint on a product.

Zazzle is one such service provider who is delighting its customers with custom product design features. Take a look at the Zazzle mission statement:

“Our mission is simple: ‘To Enable Every Custom, On-Demand Product in the World On Our Platform.’ In other words, Zazzle, The Make Engine™, is creating both the tools and the marketplace for anything you can imagine – customized. Simple concept, but very hard to do! (Might want to trust us on that.) The good news: we’re getting closer to this reality every single day. And we’re having a blast doing it.”

That’s a pretty aggressive mission statement, but Zazzle is already creating quite the user experience by offering custom product design features for people to personalize for themselves or to sell in their online stores. That’s right—you can create a store called “All Things Tyrannosaurus Rex” and sell only paraphernalia with a singular prehistoric creature on every item.

Custom Product Design — Big Companies are Getting On Board

Custom product design nike shoes

A nod to custom product design

And here’s another one. Nike just applied for a patent on a particular invention that will allow users to create their own designs on Nike products. The patent application (submitted December 13, 2013) sums it up well:

“Various aspects of this invention relate to systems and methods for designing (e.g., customization of) consumer products, such as articles of footwear, by users of computing devices. Various users may participate in an on-line or other computer communicative session to create and buy customized products.”

Not to be outdone, Adidas will be offering their own version of the “It’s SO you” sneaker. They are working on a system that will allow people to upload instagram pictures on their shoe ‘uppers.’ You can easily imagine the consumer salivating over that one.

And did you know that you can put whatever you want on an m&m? (As long as it fits.) Imagine teeny tiny faces of a bride and groom on the chocolate candy that melts in your mouth.

Or, instead, imagine what YOU would put on an m&m, which is all that really matters. Right?

Mary Follin Lehrmitt Associates Marketing

What are some of your favorite customizable products? Tell us!

Inspired Product Design

iconic product design

Iconic product design

Product design often strikes like a lightning bolt. In the middle of the night—or a tennis match, or filling up a gas tank—a designer can simply be struck with a crazy new idea. And before you know it, people are lining up to buy a widget or a service that they didn’t even known they needed.

Where Product Design Begins

Innovative product design often has a great story behind it. Take, for example, the C-1, which is the brainchild of Danny Kim, founder of Lit Motors. The C-1 is kind of like a motorcycle with a ‘shell’ or a ‘bubble’ around it. The inspiration for this vehicle came to Kim when he was almost crushed by a chassis while he was underneath a bio-diesel Land Rover. The C-1 was Kim’s response to what he feels is a massive waste in the car industry.

Steve Jobs created the Macintosh computer with beauty in mind—inspired largely by Trappist Monk, Robert Palladino, who was Jobs’ calligraphy professor at Reed College. “Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country,” Jobs said in his Stanford 2005 graduation speech. “Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand-calligraphed…I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.”

Jobs’ visceral response to these pen and ink letters inspired him to think in a new way about creating a technology product, which is often designed more for function than beauty.

Take a look at the everyday products in this infographic. We’re so used to them, we hardly appreciate their unique product design anymore. But did we really need a slinky? Or a Frisbee? (OK. Maybe we did need those flip-flops.)

From Wallcoverings to Surface Skins

We understand inspired product design here at Lehrmitt Design Studios. We’ve been designing wallcoverings for almost two decades, and ideas can strike at any time.

Everywhere we look, we see design.

For us, creating textured surfaces on wallcoverings inspired a natural leap to creating textured surfaces on other things. And we figured that if we could use 3D printing to create peaks and valleys, rivers and leaves on wallcoverings, why not do that with other products, too?

textured product surfaces

Chocolate surface design

It occurred to us that the technique we had developed to create esthetic designs on wallcoverings could also work on other types of surfaces. Like cell phone covers, make-up compacts, game consoles—even chocolates.

It turns out we were right. After a lot of false starts, we developed a technique for wrapping consumer products with tactile, textured surfaces. The process of getting there wasn’t quick, but the payoff is that we have perfected a way to convert 2D textured surface designs into 3D files—and wrap them around different types of products.

And thus, Surface Skins™ were born.

The process is interesting to see onscreen. The skin is literally wrapped around the product. (Think shrink-wrap.) Onscreen, you get a clear picture of what it will look like when it prints, which opens up new ways to develop unique products with textured surface designs — like alligator, carved granite or lace.

Do we need tactile, textured surfaces on stuff? We think so. As designers, we know that good product design is often about making the world we live in a more beautiful place to be, which counts for a lot.

Mary Follin -Lehrmitt Associates Marketing

Leave a comment. Tell us about your inspired designs.

Design-thinking: How a Good Product is Created

Design-thinking and new products

Designing new products

Typically, forward-looking companies engage in design-thinking when innovating products and services. Rather than the old school way of developing ideas (we’re the experts and we know what you want), design-thinking begins with a concept that is malleable and open to multiple iterations as it moves through the process of ideation to commercialization.

Coming up with the idea

The first step in design-thinking is agreeing that a certain problem needs to be solved, or that a particular gap in the market needs to be filled. We’ve all watched companies who have (on occasion) failed to do that. Did we need a new coke? Were we looking to a toothpaste company (Colgate) to stock our freezers with frozen dinners? Was it a good idea for Harley Davidson to try and get into the perfume business? (Maybe consumers had a hard time picturing anything other than a bouquet of leather and exhaust fumes.)

Here is an interesting example of a product design that solves a non-problem:

Pencils that use the lead down to the end

Sometimes, new technology platforms create opportunities to solve previously unsolvable problems—which is often what drives the technology in the first place. 3D printing technology is a good example of this. Designers needed new ways to experiment with product design, and faster ways to prototype new ideas. 3D printing—which is a rapidly advancing technology—enables designers to increase efficiencies in the design stage by allowing them to quickly develop ideas beyond a 2D sketch. Imagine brainstorming product designs with this 3D pen!

Design-thinking and 3D printing

3D printing prototypes

What’s critical during the ideation stage is to create an environment where all of the smart people you’ve put on a project have free reign to come up with really bad ideas—so that the winning ones can emerge.

Good ideas start popping like popcorn, and the unpopped kernels make their way to the bottom of the bag. We know this because we are experimenting all the time with new ideas. And sometimes we need to kiss a lot of frogs to get what we’re looking for. But that’s just how it works.

Design-thinking all the way to market

After the best ideas have been agreed upon, design-thinking continues. At this point, the team needs to:

• Keep brainstorming the ideas to make them better
• Create options, so that there really is a clear winner
• Solicit customer input, giving them multiple ways to think about your idea
• Develop a prototype

There is a degree of objectivity to design-thinking that needs to be maintained. Be open to input from the team, potential customers and even the idea itself, which may be presenting red flags or new options as you work your way through development.

The key here is to let the team, the market and the product all have a say. Too often, a product has an internal stakeholder that is so vested in bringing the product to market that a bad one gets pushed through. The creative environment necessarily needs to be an unself-conscious one, thereby opening up the kind of synergetic channels that truly yield workable (and exciting!) solutions.

Mary Follin Lehrmitt Associates Marketing

Leave a comment: How does your company brainstorm new product ideas?





Product Differentiation: Setting Yourself Apart

Consumers want choices

Consumers want choices

When it comes to product differentiation, consumers are driving the need to make products stand out. We want choices. LOTS of them. And if a store doesn’t have what we want, we’ll complain, pick through what they do have and end up buying somewhere else.

If your product doesn’t capture our attention, we’ll buy one that does.

Our Internet experience is tailored to what we like, our custom-built homes are all about us and our cars have the options we want. We set this kind of standard for all the products we buy. Increasingly, product developers are working hard to make their products customizable so that everybody can have what they want.

Impossible to do, but as consumers, we demand it anyway.

And if we think your product reflects who we are and what we need, we’ll attribute that positive customer experience to you.

Product differentiation: 3 ways to stand out

Meeting the demands of the typical consumer isn’t easy. Companies are always looking for new ways to stand out from a crowd of products that are vying for the buying public’s attention.

Product differentiation can take a variety of forms:

1) The delivery. Innovative companies are coming up with new ways of bringing products and services to you. Cupcakes from a truck? Handwritten notes via the Internet? Packages delivered by drones?

2) The market. The target market might be tightly-defined for a particular service or product line. High-end cars, luxury cruises and multi-million dollar homes are positioned as exclusive—and more desirable than the rest.

3) The product. The product itself could have a variety of features or functions that other products don’t have or can’t do.

Usually differentiation will be an amalgam of these three, since focusing only on one area of uniqueness invites other companies to more easily copy you.

Unless what you’ve done is new. So new that no one else knows how to do it yet. This is one of the most exciting ways to differentiate your product.

Get there first.

Product differentiation: ahead of the curve

When a company’s innovation team dreams up (or acquires) a new-to-the-market concept, there is typically a short window in which to monetize it. Early adopters will catch up, so capturing market share early is critical.

New-to-the-market concept

New-to-the-market concept

At Lehrmitt Design Studios, we know about this because we’ve developed a concept that hasn’t yet been presented to the world at large. Surface Skins™ is a way for product developers to put tactile, textured surfaces on products—at a really low cost. Until now, this kind of surface design was reserved for high-end, custom products.

Now everybody can have it.

We like to think of this service as one that is differentiated in several ways. For starters, Surface Skins provides a new technique for manufacturers to create aesthetic product surfaces.The ability to choose designs and quickly print them on a 3D printer allows for rapid prototyping and the opportunity to try a variety of surface designs at a low cost.

But secondly, Surface Skins provides consumers with choices. Common, everyday products (like cell phone covers, light switch plates and game controllers) can have any number of cool surfaces, so  choosy consumers (that’s us!) can pick the one that tells the world just how special we are.


Mary Follin, Lehrmitt Design Studios

Leave a comment. How does your company differentiate your product?