When pop song lyrics and product development collide
We have a radio that sits next to the Dremel bits in the 520 Elliot prototyping shop and it may have come over on the Mayflower. The antenna is smashed, and it requires the dexterity of a watch builder to tune in a radio station. Despite its age, it always kept the shop rocking. About a year ago, the shop equipment was moved to the opposite side of the building and the 10 available stations was reduced to two. We had to retire the old girl and replaced her with a USB speaker and streaming radio. It was one of the least sad things that I have ever done. The music had to go on. It is the life blood of the shop, and helps keep spirits high during long nights cranking on prototypes.
Taste in music is as varied as preferences of pizza toppings. I am a 90s junkie, and shit gets real when Oasis or Stone Temple Pilots come on. Preferences aside, music lyrics are often asking us questions. Fifty Cent offered us a whole song full of questions in the track ’21 Questions’, but most of the time it is only a lyric or two. Some are self loathing (“Why does it always rain on me?” – Travis), some are almost deep (“Isn’t it ironic?” – Alanis Morissette), and some are insane (“Are we human or are we dancer?” – The Killers). However, some questions from pop song lyrics are accidentally insightful and relevant to product development.
Here are six questions from pop music that every inventor should ask themselves during the product development process.
“Will you still love me tomorrow?” – The Shirells
An idea for a new product can strike at any moment; in the shower, in the car, in a dream, after a few drinks with friends. Your brain goes crazy thinking how awesome the product it will be. Within minutes you have it named, picked out colors, and dreamed of all of the retailers that will be busting down your door with a purchase order. It is such a rush to get a product idea and it is easy to fast forward to cashing checks. However, it is a good idea to let the idea simmer overnight or even a couple of days. This will allow you to think clearly about the idea, and give it an honest assessment. If you still think it is a great idea once you have sobered up and slept on it, then it may be worth spending the time, energy, and money to pursue it.
“How am I supposed to live without you?” –Michael Bolton
When you have a great product idea, it is good to ask yourself if there is really a market need for the product. Can the public really not live without it? Does your product fill a gap in the marketplace? Does it have comparable performance to existing products, but can be made less expensively? Does it have superior performance to comparable products, and can be sold for a similar price? It is easy to fall in love with our own ideas. We want them to be great and for others to want to purchase them. However, they have a much greater chance of success in the marketplace if they fill a legitimate consumer need. A great way to judge the need of your product is to perform consumer outreach. A quick survey can validate the market need before you put any energy into developing the product, and it may reveal some insight to make your idea even better than the original concept.
“What you gon’ do with all that junk? All that junk inside your trunk?” – Black Eyed Peas
There are two ways an inventor can answer this question. At first it seems like an affront to the stereotypical inventor. It is a sort of urban legend that inventor works in a dirty garage filled with bins of components and devices that have been torn apart and Frankensteined into new inventions. However, if you find that your workspace is buried in clutter and you can never seem to find your tools, then you may want to take a time out from prototyping to reorganize your space so you can work more efficiently.
Alternatively, this question can be answered by considering your memories and experiences as the ‘trunk.’ Many great products are born from the intersection of components or ideas. So the real question is ‘How can you combine the products and experiences that you have and turn them into a product?’ Rummage through your closets, garages, and pantries and start mentally mashing things together. Look around and see if any of your life-hacks can be expanded into a product of its own. You may just find that your greatest invention is in a pile of junk you already have.
“Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?” – Avril Lavigne
The best products are often elegant in their simplicity. There are many reasons that it makes sense to design a product to be only as complex as it needs to be. Simpler products are less costly to manufacture, have fewer parts that can break, and are easier for a consumer to understand. Having a product with a lot of features may seem like it would be attractive to consumers, but so-called “Swiss Army Knife” products often confuse or alienate consumers.
At the end of each prototype that we make in the shop, we spend a lot of time evaluating the design and looking for ways to make the product simpler. Can we combine multiple parts into one? Are there features that are not useful that can be eliminated? Can we use a less expensive material and maintain performance? Can we change the design to make the tooling less complicated? This helps us to converge upon a design for a product that is high quality and low cost.
The Wine Shark started out with a complicated and costly inductive charging base, and was changed to an easier to deploy USB charger without a base.
“Should I stay or should I go?” – The Clash
The road from lightning bolt moment to having a product on store shelves is rarely smooth. There will be problems along the way, and mistakes are a guarantee. There will be many forks in the road, and the main question at each decision point is whether to keep working on the product or to quit. Often perseverance is key to get through these challenges. Finding the right material or a vendor that has the right machinery for production are problems that can often be solved with patience and elbow grease. However, if the first time you do a Google search for your product idea reveals 25 competitors that are already making the same thing, then it may be time to cut your losses and look for a new idea.
“What’s your name, little girl, what’s your name?”–Lynard Skynard
Every product needs a great name, but this often does not come easy. In the web-connected world, it is important to have a name with an available url, and one that is easily distinguishable from competitors. It is common to make up a nonsense word for a product or intentionally misspell it to avoid copyright infringement and take advantage of an available web domain. Think brands like Fiverr, Zima, and Verizon. There are firms that will happily charge a fee to help you brand your product, but there are also free ways for inventors to name products themselves. There are random word generation websites to help you mash words together, and Google translate can help you find the word for your product in Swahili. Getting some adult beverages and a group of friends together to help may the most fun. Once you have a name picked out, make sure that you do a domain search to see if a good url is available. Also do a general web search to make sure that there is no one in the same category with a similar name so you avoid potential consumer confusion as the product matures.