In our fifth installment of the “How To…” series, we’ve tapped Edison Nation member Ryan Bricker to share his knowledge of product development.
Let’s start off simply…what is product (and brand) development?
Product or brand development for me as an inventor is carefully looking at an existing brand’s product line, customers, retailers and competition in order to develop new, innovative designs that complement their existing brand, and expand them into new thinking for new ideas.
How did you get started in this field?
My professional career includes 20 years in the urban design field where I work with multi-disciplinary architecture and engineering teams in designing everything from city master plans, signature bridges and transit stations. I recently designed the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery in our nation’s capital.
I have always been fascinated with industrial design and beautifully designed products that looked more like works of art than mere functional objects. A few years back, a friend of mine created a product and successfully launched the brand Corkcicle around an ingenious wine chilling product. They knew they needed to expand the product line beyond one great product. Over a lunch conversation I said, “let me design some new ideas for you around your brand.”
Though I had professionally been designing at a much larger architectural level, the idea of designing consumer products was a natural transition. Thinking about product design embodied everything I had already been doing architecturally as I looked at form, function, aesthetics and feasibility. I was surprised how quickly I was able to come up with new product ideas for them and found a new passion for design in solving very different types of problems than in my urban design career.
As an inventor yourself, do you find that taking a concept to a proof-of-concept stage and going beyond just explaining a concept impacts commercialization? How?
I think it completely depends on the strength of the concept and the vision of the audience trying to understand your idea.
Some ideas are very “functional” or “feel-oriented,” where a buyer or customer truly has to see it in action or actually feel how it fits or works. These concepts often really need the real life demonstration to sell the idea.
While many concepts can be visually intuitive and at some level need to be for a customer to want to buy it off the shelf or from an online image, having a well-developed proof-of-concept prototype with a compelling story will make a much quicker impact to those evaluating your concept.
That being said, I try and develop very high-end 3D renderings to sell the story of the product and get feedback before investing in what could be very substantial money to get a proof of concept. If there is interest, a company will often ask if you have a prototype or proof of concept, and then you can decide if the investment is warranted.
Have you ever worked in helping other inventors with their projects?
I have indeed helped various friends and a few referrals in evaluating their ideas and helping them in the next steps of design and development of their idea. I walk them through some of my processes and let them know the range of options from licensing to crowdfunding to venture commercialization.
When friends find out that I have successfully invented products they always have an idea they want to pass by me. The vast majority of ideas I hear are just entirely too niche. While I certainly develop niche ideas to focus on a market or reach an easy-to-find customer, developing an idea that is “ultra-niche” just won’t have a large enough customer base to support its commercialization.
What tools would an inventor starting out need to start dabbling with product development?
I have my own unique approach to developing innovation.
For example, when coming up with ideas for EN brand searches I do just a very quick review of the brand and their products. I just want an overall feel for the space and I don’t want to research or look at too many products or competitors in the space at first. This allows me to keep my mind open and not saturate my mind with all the existing products in that space that create the common paradigms. I then come up with as many ideas as I can and let my mind marinate on them as I jot down sketches and notes for days or weeks before I go into my research phase. Once I have many loose ideas I’ll spend time doing online or in-store research on the products, competition and brand research. This will often eliminate some of my ideas and spark new ideas or refinements.
As an inventor I am seeking to create something “new” and “different,” but understandable to the brand and customer.
The “tools” I use to communicate the concepts are borrowed from my architectural career with 3D modeling (Autodesk Fusion 360) and graphic software (Adobe Photoshop). I have a small 3D printer (NewMatter Mod-T) and a garage workshop that I can do rough prototyping if need be.
If you are starting out and you have no real Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) skills, you might start out with a program called Sketchup, which is a fairly basic, entry level 3D modeling program. And if learning software isn’t of interest, your best investment of time and resources may just be finding some freelance designers to help bring your vision to life both from a CAD level and graphic presentation aspect.
What is your most memorable project and why?
Well, my most memorable project has been my most successful, which is the Whiskey Wedge that I created for the brand Corkcicle.
It was one of those very simple ideas that was both beautiful and functional and had all the niche charisma to become an award-winning, best seller product. The most rewarding part is seeing people hashtag #whiskeywedge and post all kinds of great photos and stores on social media on how they love this new genius gift.
My most memorable failure was a toiletry product that I developed and pitched to Procter & Gamble. I used a series of personal relationships to finally get an audience with the President of Charmin brands and did what I thought was “lots of homework” on my idea. I had a great idea and a great presentation and eventually found out that there was an exact patent already issued years before on my design. I had spent thousands on filing a patent and spent many hours developing the product without spending the time to see if it already existed. I learned that lesson the hard way and now always try and spend lots of research to see if the idea already exists.
Any other details you’d like to share beyond the questions above?
Inventing is a crazy world!
The ideas you think could never work somehow do and the ideas you know are a home-run never gain traction. Inventing often gets described as “solving a problem,” but sometimes defining or illuminating the problem you didn’t know you had is the beginning of that great new idea.
Don’t give up, keep learning and keep striving for new solutions and new ideas and along the way keep reaching out to new people and resources to bring your ideas to fruition.
If I can offer any advice or encouragement feel free to connect with me in the EN community.
We’d like to sincerely thank Ryan for taking the time to share his experiences and hope this post enlightened, educated and inspired you!