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Consumer centric innovation – Part VI – conceptualization

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Concepts and Prototypes

Conceptualization happens right after the ideation phase. Innovation professionals, typically consisting of designers (industrial and/or graphic), and model makers, usually go into bootcamp in a dedicated project room. The task on hand is to transform ideas into concepts.

At the project room, isolated from the daily grind and firefighting, the team works in immersion for two to four weeks to bring the first wave of concepts to fruition. These concepts may consist of a number of sketches, renderings, and physical models.

Depending on the level of refinement, the models are referred to as low- or high-resolution models. The higher the resolution, the more realistic the package model/prototype will be, in many cases even recreating functionality. In extreme cases, prototypes may even be made on tooling that closely resembles production tooling, to give prototypes full functionality, like breakable tamper evidence.

Models of increasing resolution and fidelity are needed as the project leaves behind the initial concept screening, and approaches the final consumer assessment. Selecting the most promising candidate or candidates for the industrialization phase requires progressively higher prototype resolution. While still in the reiterative innovation process, changes to the design are simple and inexpensive to make. Once the project moves into the stage-gate industrialization phase, costs of modifications to the design increase logarithmically.

Consumer Testing

What consumers say, what they do, and what they say they do, are three very different things. This paradigm forces the researchers to investigate those three elements separately by using appropriate research techniques. Reiterating cycles of usability testing and in-depth interviews serve this purpose.

Package Usability

The usability test aims to uncover design faults and to quantify efficiency and effectiveness of use, and the related satisfaction. The test is based on a structured testing protocol where the user is asked to perform a number of tasks comprising of all parts of the product lifecycle.

In a package usability assessment, the consumer is asked to open and close the package. Remove/replace the content, store and eventually dispose of it. The context of use is a critical factor for the correct evaluation of product usability. Interaction scenarios need to be carefully built, simulating, for example, typical ethnography of a in-home breakfast, or a commute to work.

The in-depth interview is a very popular qualitative research technique and offers a complementary perspective to the usability test. The moderator collects feedback on the product experience through a series of open-ended questions. Usually the outcome is a list of insights derived from the usability interaction. These insights provide evidence of problems or need for features to bring into the next concept refinement loop.

Conclusions

At the end of the first round of testing sessions, the innovation professionals have enough information to refine the tested concepts. Then, the second wave of concepts are prototyped, and once again are subjected to vigorous consumer testing.

Conceptualization and testing are reiterated again, as necessary, up till when the project team concludes that a desired level of refinement has been reached. At that time, the project moves to the next phase.

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Next article: Consumer centric innovation – Part VII – screening

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