protoTYPING: Ideation Methods for Everyone

You cannot bring a product to market without first having an idea as to what you are going to create. While many invention ideas originate from a eureka or ?BING!? moment, sometimes the process needs to move forward more quickly. The way the Edison Nation design team likes to get ideas is through an exercise called ideation.

Ideation is a method of focused brainstorming that generates a lot of ideas and helps steer product features. Ideations can be done to find the core functionality of a product, the mechanisms to make it work, or the styling elements of the product. There are four main types of ideations that are done at Edison Nation. Each type is important to bringing a product to life and can be preformed by professional product development experts, DIY tinkerers or even those with little-to-no inventing experience.

Blue sky ideation

The first type of ideation I will cover is called blue sky ideation. Blue sky ideation typically occurs in the early stages of product development when there are very few boundaries on what the product could be. This stage is when we try to come to grips with a products? core functionality or feature set and also hypothesize what technologies can be used to achieve it. There are rarely any specific design details during this stage such as the layout of components or what the surface texture might be.

The best way that we have found to conduct blue sky ideation is to get a small group together with some markers and Post it notes. We start with a warm-up session, because just like the muscles in your arms and legs, the idea muscle works better with a warm-up. In our warm-up session we try to answer a question to a completely different problem like “What could you do if you had a car with a working engine, but no wheels?” or “What could you do with 100 golf balls besides play golf?” The members of the team write or sketch ideas rapid fire style on their Post-Its and put them on a wall. After a few minutes of this, we go into the proper ideation.

Sometimes we are trying to solve a very broad question like “How do we improve on a can opener?” and other times we have a specific set of functional tasks we need answers for like “How can the can opener grip the can?” In either case, the result is a board full of ideas. In most cases we see clear trends emerge and this helps us choose promising directions so we can more efficiently design and prototype.

Ideation techniques

A typical blue sky ideation session in the Edison Nation office.

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Technical ideation

Technical ideation is where we start to figure out what technologies would be appropriate to achieve the goal of the product. This is where the ideas mature are grounded in reality. The first step of technical ideation is to go out into the world and look for existing products that have similar technology to what is trying to be designed. They do not have to be in the same product category; just have elements that could be transferrable to the current project. We scour the Internet, as well as brick and mortar retailers for inspiration. Once this is done, we order a cross section of the products that seem promising.

Once we get the products back to the shop, the real fun begins. We do functional testing on each item to see how they perform. The industrial designers usually join in the process to see the aesthetics, how the user interacts with the product and design of the touch points. Once we have all of the data from the performance and aesthetics, we disassemble each of the products. This allows us to see all the internal components so we can understand the mechanisms, materials and electronics necessary to achieve the functionality. This gives us ideas for how to adapt mechanisms and electronics for the current project and gives us a good box of parts to use to make prototypes.

prototyping ideation

Disassembly of a hair straightener as part of the technical ideation for the Collar Perfect product.

 

Styling ideation

Once we have an idea about what technologies and components will go into the product, it is the industrial designer?s task to take these elements and make them aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. The engineering team helps to give them the main components and roughly how big they are. This gives the industrial designer a rough idea of the size of the product. Then they go out into the world to do more ideation. They look at other products in the same category and look for design trends to isolate what shapes and colors work for the space. They also look at trends in divergent product categories to see if any design elements can be used to make a better design. For example, they may look at automotive body styles when designing a household-cleaning product.

Sometimes a product needs to be designed to fit a specific brand for a licensing partnership. In this case, an industrial design will study the current product line, brand standard guidelines as well as the design elements of their logo and figure out how to make a product that is harmonious and representative of the brand.

After the research phase of the styling ideation follows a lot of sketching. Each of our designers has a Wacom Cintiq tablet to do sketching directly into Photoshop. The result is a large body of sketches that convey the style elements of the product that will fit the technology that the product needs.

product ideation sketch

Wine Shark styling ideation sketch.

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Beta ideation

Beta ideation is technically not a formal phase, but a moniker for the ideation work that happens periodically as the product steps through prototyping and towards the final design. After the styling ideation, a design sketch gets handed off to an engineer to do the mechanical design in CAD. During the CAD Drawings, the designers will be brought in to look at the CAD models to assess how well we have recreated the surfaces that were imagined in the sketches and to critique placement and size of touch points like buttons. They may also suggest changes to the locations of screw holes or battery slots to make the product look better. They will also take the CAD files and create photo realistic renders to make sure that the colors and textures are harmonious. The result of the beta ideation is a design for a product that is iconic, looks great, functions correctly, and can be manufactured at a reasonable cost.

invention ideation

Renderings of the Steam Sponge from Everyday Edisons Season 4 showing subtle design changes as the product was able to be scaled down and made sleeker through beta ideation.

 

There are many ways to conceive a product idea. You can go for a walk, sit under an apple tree, or let your subconscious work it out while you sleep. When the process needs a boost, we use ideation to lead us to creative and unique solutions. We use it to come up with core product functionality, the specifics of the mechanism to go into the innovation, the style and the micro designs that make a product look great and easy and inexpensive to manufacture.


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?Have you ever thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if?”?

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