Do’s of Product Innovation

By: Karl R. LaPan, President and CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

For the next several blogs, I am going to highlight some do’s and don’ts on various types of innovation including product, process, brand, and customer experience innovation. For this first post, I am going to discuss some tips on product innovation. When most people think of innovation, products immediately come to mind. Think about driver-less cars, iPads (338 million sold and counting since launching the original in 2010) or a new type of soda.

A product is only as good as its design. Many products start with a great idea or solution. But by the time they launch, they fall short–not because of good intentions–but because they lack great product design, or they fail because the customer’s needs are not well understood, or perhaps, the product targets the wrong market or is introduced at the wrong price point.

Here are a few tried and true do’s to help you avoid this fate and introduce a great product to the market.

    1. Do keep it simple. User-centered design is critical!

The possibilities in product design are truly endless. But often what separates good design from mediocre is more about what is left out rather than what is included. The best products on the market are clean, intuitive and solve a real-world (and validated!) consumer problem.

While it may be tempting to implement every cool feature in the development process, it’s most advantageous to keep only those features that truly improve your product. Recently, I purchased a Neat scanner to save time in preparing expense reports and to store documentation online. The product took hours to get it to work because it wasn’t intuitive, and it lacked clear directions on how to enable the software. Even after use, it has done a poor job of reading receipts– wrong date, not picking up the tip and poor image quality. Despite the great marketing, the product is really lacking.

    1. Do collaborate and deliver WOW!

The most successful startups have proven that the best ideas come from working together in a team (letting just one person design your product limits you to one set of preferences and a singular point of view) or using rapid software delivery methods like agile and scrum. Don’t fall into that trap of believing you can be Steve Jobs. While he was often a focus group of one, he was a genius. Most of the rest of us are just not that good! Great design does factor in simplicity, wow and unmet consumer/customer needs.

Over Thanksgiving, we went to Disney. I am a big Disney fan. I downloaded the My Disney Experience app on my smartphone to enhance our trip and experience. The app had the wrong number of days of our Park Hopper pass, often had incorrect tracking of our available Fast passes and didn’t synchronize our dining reservations or Fast Passes across all of our family members using the app. This was meant to be a wow experience, but it wasn’t. Every business needs to figure out how to be a ‘purple cow’ [Amazon book] – both remarkable and memorable. The same is true of product innovations.

    1. Do design for your audience.

This relates to my point above. It’s easy to get trapped in our own bubble and see product features as natural or even necessary. But ultimately you are ignoring a very important audience—the end user. What better way to get in tune with your market by doing a targeted test through a beta launch or involving them early through focus groups and human-centered interaction design efforts? You’ll get a much better idea of how your audience is using your product and avoid having to invest in significant redesigns after the fact, which can cost you unnecessary time and money.

    1. Do stay true to your company’s core competencies.

As I mentioned above, not every feature under the sun will serve your end user. Stay true to the goals of what your product will do to address a need. Innovate in areas where you have expertise, insights, and capabilities. Core competencies are rare, special and hard to imitate. These hard to build and hard to extend capabilities distinguish your business in the marketplace. Product innovation should leverage institutional learning across the organization and provide the basis for competitive advantage in product innovation.

Want to learn more about all of this Ux world – The NIIC is opening its new EBM Gaming and Experience Lab in early January 2017. Come learn more about usability, user experience and gamification for healthcare and other industries. Interact with some cool stuff – HTC’s Vives, Microsoft’s HoloLens and other fun VR products to fully experience virtual and augmented realities in order to create great products and experiences! Keep an eye on our website home page calendar for the Open House event. This Lab was made possible through the generosity of one of our long-standing partners – the English-Bonter-Mitchell (EBM) Foundation.

Help build our collective understanding of product innovation. If you have successfully launched a product, what other truths about design and innovation have you come to embrace?


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