How to improve product design

Everyone wants to boost innovation and creativity when designing products or processes. Yes, some people are naturally more creative than others, thus the truckload of self-help, "get in touch with your inner imagination" books on the market. Is it possible for engineers to increase creativity? Absolutely.


Everyone wants to boost innovation and creativity when designing products or processes. Yes, some people are naturally more creative than others, thus the truckload of self-help, 'get in touch with your inner imagination' books on the market. Is it possible for engineers to increase creativity? Absolutely. Integration of scientific, practical, and artistic knowledge is creative. That's why engineering's fun.

To improve products' and processes' designs, fuel creativity with a rich passion for design and innovation, suggest Richard Seymour and Dick Powell, cofounders of Seymourpowell, a 20-year-old London-based product-design consultancy, and co-stars of a British television show on product design. To do that:

  • Factor in cultural changes. Ideas come with rich knowledge, immersion in everything that's going on—society, people, technology, science, business, and economic trends;

  • Think differently by using ideas related to people, rather than things. Watch for ideas among the unexpected. Telephones, penicillin, and microwave ovens emerged en-route to another 'destination.' Step outside traditional processes to envision new categories of design;

  • Observe what people do over what they say—they might deceive themselves about what they think they want. Don't be stifled by constraints; and

  • Start early, seven or eight years ahead, look back to the present, then create stepping-stones to get to where you need to be.

Design can be a creative event. Seymour and Powell, who spoke recently at SolidWorks World, suggest assembling people with knowledge, research, ideas, and beliefs to 'roast' traditional thinking and develop a concept in a short time, perhaps 48 hours.

Then, avoid the agonizing death of an idea after its birth. To move effectively to implementation, suggests Walter Herbst, professor and director of the Managing Product Design program at Northwestern University, implement a structured process, identify opportunities through 'Gap Analysis,' conduct end-user-focused innovation research, and manage intellectual property for use as a corporate strategy. Herbst, founder of Herbst LaZar Bell, said to be the largest, privately held, U.S. product-design firm, observes, 'Everyone is talking about innovation today.'

No kidding. Innovative product and manufacturing design are topics of more than a dozen of the National Manufacturing Week sessions, March 20-23, near Chicago. For more from each source mentioned, read this column at March 2006.

Mark T. Hoske , Editor-in-Chief

Online Extra
Click here to read “ Product design gurus suggest ways to improve the processes .”

Managing Product Design and Development ” is a March 12-15 seminar at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Areas covered include the recommendations mentioned above, as well as examining psychological aspects of product design, and finding ways to be innovative and creative to think outside the traditional.

At National Manufacturing Week , March 20-23, more than a dozen conference sessions address these topics, with such titles as:

  • Automation: How to Compete in a Global Economy;

  • Challenging Component Design Paradigms;

  • Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement to Gain Competitive Advantage;

  • Design For Six-Sigma (DFSS) - An Introduction, the Practical Way;

  • Design of Experiments;

  • Getting Virtual Control: A New Paradigm for Industrial Automation and Control Engineering;

  • Improving Productivity Through The Entire Business Process Using Automation Where Applicable;

  • Integrating Lean & Six Sigma in Product Design;

  • Lean Design - What is it, How to Deploy it, and Customer Success Stories;

  • Strategies for 3D Assemblies: Extending Design Intent Beyond the Parts; and

  • Transforming Product Creation Systems.

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