It's the thought that counts

The way you visualise a new product could bring it to the market quicker, says Roger Trapp

WHEN the Irish computer peripherals arm of the Japanese electronic components company ALPS set about developing a new keyboard, it relied heavily on the lateral thinking ideas associated with Edward de Bono.

The Cork-based operation started by carrying out extensive market research, which looked at the needs of users ranging from professional touch typists to casual games players.

Not only did this reveal a potentially huge market, but it also indicated that many owners of laptop and notebook computers often hooked them up to a keyboard at home or in the office to improve working conditions.

Armed with this information, the company's creative thinking team - part of an initiative by managing director John O'Sull-ivan - went to work.

Within eight weeks, the team - including representatives from administration, engineering, marketing and manufacturing - had generated more than 100 ideas. And, after only four months, it had got to the final design stage for the Humedia (a play on "human" and "multimedia") keyboard.

It then took five months, with the aid of a consultancy, to design a product, including such innovative features as pre-programmed keys that aid access to such applications as the internet, a built-in wrist rest and games button positioned in the most appropriate places.

The company has been so impressed by the success of the keyboard, launched in August 1996, that it is applying the approach to the development of colour printers.

And it is not alone. In today's fiercely competitive business climate, there is such pressure to be not just innovative but also get to market as quickly as possible that executives are exploring techniques for envisioning new products and services to aid the development process.

Cambridge Consultants, a subsidiary of US technology consulting firm Arthur D Little, which assists organisations around the world with product development, uses "structured idea management".

It claims to have used the seven-stage process to particularly good effect when helping Dutch cheesemaker Frisco International create what is said to be a unique cheese pack.

The principle behind it is to put some rigour into the creative process as it moves from "brainstorming" through evaluation and selection of ideas, with the aim of making the development cycle more efficient.

But as Lucy Rowbotham, a senior consultant at CCL and one of those responsible for developing the concept, makes clear, it is just one technique used in product development.

"Sometimes when ideas are starting to take shape, you need to think through how it might be used. It can be quite difficult if it is something that has never existed before," she says.

While expertise at such techniques can sharpen up the product development process, there has to be a high degree of trust if an organisation is to be effective in this area, says a recent report by consultants from Coopers & Lybrand and the Innovation Research Centre at Henley Management College.

But that does not mean management should shy away from an area of business seen as messy and difficult. Arthur D Little is one of many organisations stressing that innovation not only must be managed, but can be effectively managed so as to maximise growth. And that is where developing increasingly potent envisioning techniques can be of such great use.

q This article is adapted from a report prepared for the Design Council. Copies of the report are available from the Design Council. A seminar is being planned for later in the spring.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea