Invention Development Glossary
Let’s speak the same language. We may use some terms that you aren’t familiar with, or we may use them in ways that are different than how they are used in other industries. Please feel free to browse this glossary of invention development terms. Contact us if you have any questions about the entries here, or if there is another term you would like us to define.
Aesthetics is a philosophical concept which deals with the notion of beauty. Since beauty is ‘in the eye of the beholder’, it is not possible to quantify aesthetics. An object, song, or experience that one individual finds aesthetically pleasing, may be totally offensive to another individual. This is among the reasons why our society has so many different options in products, cuisine, music, and other sensory experiences.
Product aesthetics is a more specific subset of aesthetics. Products are often referred to as having specific aesthetic characteristics, such as a futuristic aesthetic, a feminine aesthetic, etc. Industrial Design seeks (among other things) to match an appropriate aesthetic with the target consumer. When developing a new invention, it is critically important to understand the aesthetic tastes of the target market.
An appearance prototype, or appearance model, is a physical representation of an invention or other object that closely simulates the look of a production product. An appearance prototype typically does not function the way a production product would. Instead, moving parts don’t actually move, and production materials are simulated with wood, foam, clay or other prototyping materials.
Appearance prototypes can be relatively simple, consisting of solid chunks of foam finished and painted to look like the real thing, or they can be more sophisticated, simulating weight, balance, and material properties. Usually, appearance prototypes are ‘for show’ and are not handled excessively. They are often paired with proof-of-concept prototypes early in product development programs.
Product QuickStart often provides our clients with appearance prototypes for use in trade shows, focus groups, and internal reviews. These prototypes are often critical components in the design decision-making process.
Brainsketching is a group creative method that uses sketching and drawing to generate a large breadth and quantity of ideas. An offshoot of brainstorming, a brainsketch exercise involves each person in the group sketching or doodling a concept solution to a particular problem. After a time, each person passes his or her sketch to the next person who then continues to build and grow the idea. After a while, all ideas are pulled together for evaluation and discussion. Brainsketching can even be done if participants are not physically in the same location: ideas can be sketched, then emailed back and forth as they are built upon by the group.
Brainsketching is just one of many techniques and tools that Product QuickStart team employs in our invention development process.
Computer-Aided Design(CAD) is the use of computer technology to design and engineer complex parts and mechnisms for use in products. CAD involves the use of modeling software that can develop 2D and/or 3D models or drawings of physical components. CAD can also be used to create assemblies of products that have many moving parts.
CAD is used to develop photo-realistic renderings by applying life-like material textures and colors to the various parts of the model. CAD models can be used to build prototypes of products. Once all of the details are designed and optimized, the optimized CAD is used to make the final manufactured product.
Be cautious. Many people know how to create CAD models, but only product development experts know how to create CAD models that can be readily used to manufacture or prototype new inventions.
Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) is the use of computer technology to conduct simulations and complex engineering analyses based on CAD geometry. CAE techniques such as finite element analysis can simulate such things as stress and strain, fluid dynamics, thermal expansion, and etcetera.
CAE analysis should be used with caution, and should never replace real-world testing.
A color study is an exercise in which a product, interface, room, etc. is shown in a variety of color scheme options. This is a comparative process, intended to enable the client or designer to select color schemes appropriate for the use of the product being created.
Within the realm of product design and invention development, color studies can be vitally important. The wrong color scheme can make a product seem awkward or out of place in its target market, while the right colors can increase sales.
At Product QuickStart, we often provide our clients with color studies in the form of product renderings or sketches. We also leverage our own knowledge of color theory, and our product development experience, to make color scheme recommendations based on the client’s goals.
Commoditization occurs when your product is fundamentally the same as everyone else’s and you are prone to easy knock-offs. If you are in the business of producing products for mass consumer appeal, you are constantly fighting the battle to avoid commoditization. Commoditization means that you will be fighting over price, price, price rather than over value.
Innovation and Design are often employed by leading companies do to avoid sliding into commoditization. Innovation and design help increase the perceived value of the product through the introduction of new features, materials, and technologies.
Product QuickStart works with our clients to define innovative categories, innovative features, and innovative design directions that help companies obtain more value for their products. This approach avoids commoditization and drives up margin.
Concept Development is the process of generating ideas and problem solutions, building on those ideas, merging ideas, and evolving ideas into more robust solutions.
At Product QuickStart, we begin concept development early in the invention developmetn process. Usually, ideas generated in brainstorm sessions form the starting point for or concept development process. Through our processes of ideation and sketching, these concepts become more robust product solutions, ready for presentation to the client.
A creative session is a meeting specifically for the purpose of exploring new creative territory within a chosen subject matter. Typically, a creative session will include many activities such as brainstorming, problem analysis and dissection, brainsketching, and reverse brainstorming.
At Product QuickStart, we often start projects by inviting the client to join us for a half-day or full-day creative session. We’ve found that this approach helps to jumpstart programs by getting all the requirements and opportunities on the table before the product design and development process begins
Design is the act of creating a plan for something. Within the realm of invention development, design is the process of converting a product need into plans for a manufacture-ready product. Design in this sense can be subdivided into a number of other fields including primarily industrial design and design engineering. Additional sub-categories include package design, interface design, design for manufacture, ergonomic design, and numerous other specialties.
For a product to be successful, the design of that product usually should include industrial design (which focuses on the user aspects of the product including form, aesthetics, consumer appeal, ergonomics, etc.) and design engineering (which focuses on the function and manufacturability aspects of the product).
At Product QuickStart, we pride ourselves on being a balanced team of industrial designers and engineers. Our process is to consider both elements of product design throughout the product development process.
A design firm is a consulting firm that specializes in design. Design firms can focus on a number of areas including graphic design, product design, and interface design. Within the field of product development, ‘design firm’ usually refers to a product design consultancy.
Product QuickStart is a product development firm, which means that we provide the services that a design firm provides, in addition to engineering, design for manufacture, and other product development services.
Designing for manufacture involves getting the design ready for mass production. It is in this stage of product development that the design is finalized, capturing the intent of the idea while optimizing manufacturing costs. Final things under consideration include wall thickness, drafts, assembly features, appropriate material and process selection.
Product QuickStart utilizes an approach that provides our clients a smooth transition from detail design to manufacturing release. We have feet on the ground in Asia to assist with manufacturing kickoffs and ensure that the documentation needed for optimal manufacturing costs are provided.
Design research refers to the intentional and specific practice of seeking to expand knowledge about a particular subject related to design. Depending on the particular project, it could include materials research, analysis of the target market and consumer groups, studies of analogous and competitive products, as well as broader and deeper fields of study such as color theory, anthropological research, cultural studies, etc. In short, design research could be considered the study or exploration of any subject matter, so long as the knowledge gained through that study influences the design process.
A typical product development program at Product QuickStart may include many aspects of design research including analogous and competitive product studies, market research, ethnography, target consumer research, and many other activities.
Ergonomic design refers to the specific practice of developing objects and spaces to be ergonomically appropriate for the user. The human form and natural motions of the human body are primary drivers of ergonomic design. Typical goals of ergonomic design include comfort, reducing the number of steps needed for different tasks, creating intuitive interfaces, and other factors that make using products a more pleasant experience.
Ergonomic design involves thorough study and analysis. Designs typically must be ergonomically appropriate for a wide range of individuals, not just a particular individual. This requires significant thought and versatility in design. Ergonomic design is based on study, measurements, and anthropomorphic science; it should not be confused with ergonomic styling, which is the act of developing a product that merely has the appearance of being ergonomically designed.
Ergonomics is the science of creating products, spaces, and experiences to fit the natural tendencies of the user, rather than forcing the user to conform to the created product, space or experience.
Ergonomics is often a critical component to successful product design. A consumer will often perceive a more comfortable product as having more value. Ergonomically appropriate products can help to build brand loyalty.
Product QuickStart’s designers and engineers are very sensitive to ergonomics, and we pay careful attention to the ergonomic needs of the inventions we develop.
Ethnography is a design research technique based on studying people’s behavior in everyday situations (such as in their home or office), rather than under controlled conditions (such as a conference room in a focus group testing center). Ethnography focuses on observing the subjects in their environments, instead of on questionnaires or set lists of topics. This approach allows you to uncover the true attitudes and behaviors of users, as opposed to merely gathering statistics.
The goal of this research method is to be able to step into the consumer’s shoes when designing the product that fits their needs. The understanding of the users helps us make the appropriate design decisions for your product.
At Product QuickStart, we employ several different methods of market research in our process to ensure the right product is developed, and that the features and benefits of the product meet the needs of the market.
Focus groups are a common tool used for market research. A focus group usually consists of a small group of people within the target market of the concept being tested. A facilitator guides the group through discussion or interaction with the concept. These events can be very valuable because of the outside opinions they provide, and because of the ability to use the session to evaluate the group’s emotional responses to the products or experiences being tested.
Focus groups can be used to compare a variety of concepts prior to production, for getting insight into the color scheme preferences of the target market, and for answering any number of other questions involving the target market’s response.
Product QuickStart supports its clients’ focus groups by providing appearance models, concept renderings, and other materials as needed. We can also connect our clients with focus group companies appropriate for their needs.
First coined by the American architect, Louis Sullivan, at the end of the nineteenth century, the phrase “form follows function” has become a mantra for many product designers. The basic meaning of the phrase is that the appearance, shape, and method of use of the object (the form) should naturally be derived from the intended purpose (function) of the object. Thus, a chair should look like, work like, and feel like something a person is to sit in.
Sadly, this phrase has been misquoted, abused, and misunderstood in many different ways. Some mistakenly believe that “form follows function” means one should engineer a product, then wrap a form around it; in the sense of this phrase, however, engineering is a part of ‘form’. The product should be both engineered and designed to fit the specific function it is intended to fulfill.
Front End Research is a collection of methods including observational research, opportunity analysis, and other techniques designed to get into the mind of the consumer. Front End Research occurs before the innovation and product development process. The purpose of this type of research is to identify which problems to solve.
Front End Research helps to focus innovation in the right direction, and it helps to remove some of the chance and risk associated with new product development.
A functional appearance model is a prototype that ‘looks like’ and ‘works like’ a production product. Though made from prototype materials, these models simulate actual finishes and colors as well as mechanisms. There are, however, occasional limitations to what can be achieved with prototypes so it is important to understand the potential differences between a functional appearance prototype and an actual manufactured product.
Functional appearance models are often used for trade shows and focus groups. Product QuickStart creates functional appearance models for products in a number of industries.
Ideation is the process of creating ideas. Within the realm of invention development, it often refers to the creative component of the design process, in which solutions are put forward, built upon, and used to spawn new solutions.
Ideation can involve many different techniques, and different people find more success with some techniques than with others. Typical methods of ideation include brainstorming, sketching, problem dissection and analysis, sketch modeling, and experimentation.
At Product QuickStart, we make extensive use of sketching, prototyping, brainstorming, and many other techniques in our ideation process.
The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) defines industrial design as “the professional service of creating and developing concepts and specifications that optimize the function, value and appearance of products and systems for the mutual benefit of both user and manufacturer.”
In other words, industrial design helps to bridge the gap between the needs of product users and the needs of product makers. It is the job of the industrial designer to interpret the consumers’ wants into a product design that can be engineered and produced.
Industrial designers must be able to innovate solutions to problems, and communicate those solutions through effective presentation. Typical communication techniques that the industrial designer uses to communicate concepts include sketching, illustrating, rendering, computer models, and physical prototypes.
Innovation is the art of making things better by using creativity. Product Innovation is the art of making products better. Companies can grow revenue through increased sales or through new products. Companies pursuing revenue growth through new products typically have product innovation processes in place to focus energy around market needs.
Clients work with Product QuickStart to help unlock their next big product innovation. At Product QuickStart, innovation is about team, environment, and process. Consistent innovation to meet market needs keeps products from becoming commoditized.
Market research involves systematically gathering, recording and analyzing information about end users, potential customers, competitors and the market as a whole. This research can be used to help create a business plan, launch a new product or service, fine tune existing products and services, and expand into new markets. Market research can be used to determine what percentage of any given demographic may be likely to purchase a certain product or service.
Market research falls into two categories: (1) Primary research; or (2) Secondary research. With primary research, one is directly involved with the collection of information and testing using methods like focus groups, surveys, field tests, interviews or observation, conducted or tailored specifically to the product in development. Secondary research involves gathering research compiled from other sources that may be applicable and relevant for your product in development.
The Dictionary.com definition of mechanical engineering is “the branch of engineering dealing with the design, construction, and use of machines.” This is a rather simplified explanation of a much broader subject than this glossary can fully cover. Specific to product development, mechanical engineering focuses strongly on the proper design and development of physical parts, mechanisms, assemblies, and systems.
For more information, please check out the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
A napkin sketch is a quick drawing of a product idea. Such a drawing is not very detailed and may have been hastily sketched on a napkin while describing the idea at dinner (hence the name). Though napkin sketches may not look like much, they can help preserve important ideas during the frenzy of ideation. These ideas can then be developed more robustly at a later time.
A provisional patent is a relatively low-cost intellectual property document. Provisional patents are not reviewed by the patent office, and are not made public. These filings allow for inventors to document their intended intellectual property in a somewhat less formal way, and to essentially hold a filing date. The inventor then has one full year before a full utility patent must be filed to keep the date.
Filing a provisional patent allows the inventor to legally label his or her invention as ‘patent pending’.
A design patent provides intellectual property protection for a specific shape or design of a product, not for the function of the product. Realistically, design patents provide very little actual protection or defense for products that are innovative or unique.
A utility patent provides a significant amount of intellectual property protection for inventors. The utility patent only protects those claims in the filing itself, so great care must be taken to ensure that the claims are broad enough to actually protect the inventor’s product space.
Utility patents can take many thousands of dollars and many months or years to be granted. In most cases, there will be several discussions or negotiations with the patent office before a patent is issued.
Be cautious. A patent simply grants the patent owner the right to take legal action against others who violate the patent. It can cost a significant amount of money to defend a patent in court.
A photo-realistic-rendering is a computer generated flatwork illustration of an object or scene. These renderings simulate lighting, materials, and environmental effects to create the illusion of reality.
Often, it is necessary to present product concepts in a realistic way before production has occurred. Photo-realistic renderings give designers the opportunity to simulate reality even for early concepts.
Product QuickStart makes extensive use of renderings to communicate design intent to our clients, and to support our clients as they make presentations to buyers and investors.
Primary research can be thought of as the creation of new knowledge through experiment or observation. Unlike secondary research, which is the collection of knowledge generated by others, primary research is often a hands on activity.
Compared to desk research, primary research can often be expensive and time-consuming. But, in some cases, the desired data can only be collected through direct observation or experimentation.
As example, observing the behavior of wild birds and recording what one sees would be primary research. Reading about the behavior of wild birds would be secondary research.
The process of converting product ideas or inventions into viable products is called Product Development. Successful Product Development requires a balance of soft requirements (how does it look and feel) with hard requirements (specifically, how a product works). The Product Development process often starts with identifying a market need or want. The list of needs is often converted into viable concepts that meet that market need. Concepts are converted into prototypes and renderings. An established company’s Product Development process often has key milestones or gates at each stage of Product Development.
At Product QuickStart, we practice a Product Development process that is focused on performing the appropriate amount of development for each phase of development.
A product development company or firm typically includes designers and engineers that can help you to brainstorm, design, prototype, and manufacture a product. Product development companies often work with a variety of manufacturers in a variety of industries. Startups, entrepreneurs, and established companies hire product development companies for innovation, resources, or speed.
For innovation, clients hire product development companies to gain a creative perspective to their product line. Clients also hire product development companies as a resource solution when they want to avoid hiring employees for a project that does not require support beyond the launch. Since product development companies are always launching new products, their processes typically result in faster more efficient launches.
Product QuickStart is a product development company with a passion for helping its clients grow their revenue through successful product innovation. Product QuickStart is different from other product development companies because it also includes manufacturing and supply chain innovation services.
Product illustrations are two-dimensional ‘flatwork’ representations of products. Typically, they show a product’s outward appearance and basic functionality. A product illustration can take many forms, including everything from simple sketches to sophisticated computer-generated renderings.
Product QuickStart uses product illustrations during our design process to visually communicate the ideas expressed by our clients. These product illustrations are used to convey both form and function of the product, and can be used in many ways from increasing stakeholder excitement to testing market acceptance in focus groups.
Product semantics is a field of thought based on the idea that a product’s form should readily communicate the function of the product. Thus, a product with good product semantics would typically not require the user to read a manual to comprehend its intended use.
To observe the principles of product semantics, a chair should look like it is meant to be sit on, a fork should look like it is meant to pierce food and deliver it to the mouth, and a cup should look like something a person drinks from.
Product semantics has also been extended in some cases to include the application of personality attributes to products. For instance, the Volkswagon Beetle has been described as a ‘happy product’.
Within the field of product design, product sketching represents an efficient way to communicate product ideas quickly and clearly. Since many concepts are difficult to convey with words alone, sketching offers a visual method for describing concepts.
A product sketch also acts a thinking methodology for many designers. Since many designers are more visually oriented, sketching offers them a way to create and develop their thoughts on paper.
Product QuickStart uses sketching extensively throughout the product development process, as a method to develop and communicate everything from early concepts to final details.
Product styling is a component of product design focused on the outward appearance of a product. Sometimes, product styling is confused with product design; but, product styling does not include ergonomic development, manufacturability concerns, usability design, and other key components of product design.
‘Knock Off’ products are often developed through product styling alone, with many of the more core design elements copied from market leading products.
Proof of concept prototypes live up to their name – they serve the primary purpose of proving that a concept is valid. Such prototypes can be used to evaluate simple concepts such as handle shapes, part size, and feature placement. More sophisticated proof of concept prototypes can be used to evaluate the viability of much more complex mechanical or electrical systems.
Proof of concept prototypes generally do not look like a finished product. In most cases they are constructed with low cost, readily available materials. Despite their relatively low cost, POCs are a very valuable part of many product development processes.
Prototypes are often limited in their ability to replicate manufactured products. Such limitations can be a result of limited prototyping budget, selected prototyping processes, or the general lack of availability of prototype quantities of certain materials or components.
Prototype exceptions are a list of planned differences between the intended prototype and the final manufactured product.
Quote Level Engineering provides enough detail on the new product that manufacturers can begin bidding. This level of product development includes initial CAD drawings, part volume, overall size, the number of parts, and probable materials. The changes made to the design after this point should not change the price of the quote drastically.
One big advantage of getting quotes and selecting a manufacturer at this point is to ensure a seamless delivery time-line.
Secondary research, or desk research, involves the collection and review of data collected by others. In many cases, sufficient primary research into a given subject area has been conducted and documented to allow a researcher to utilize only secondary research methods.
Since it involves INTERNET searches, book reviews, and similar activities, instead of experimentation and observation, secondary research is usually less costly and less time-consuming that primary research.
Technology development involves the creation of new technology platforms, materials, and other fundamental foundational product elements. As opposed to product development, which focuses on the creation of specific technology applications, technology development may or may not have specific commercialization goals. Alternatively, a technology development program may result in numerous commercialization pathways that span multiple industries and many product lines.
It should be noted that there is a distinct difference between technology development and product development. Product Development involves the process of developing practical commercial applications for technologies or ideas.
Virtual prototypes offer a low cost alternative to physical prototypes. Through the use of photo realistic renderings and animations it is often possible to communicate a new invention’s function, appearance, and ‘wow factor’. These virtual prototypes can be used to simulate any number of real world scenarios, and are often very valuable communication tools.
While physical prototypes are almost always needed at some point in the invention development process, virtual prototypes can be useful during early stages, when funds for full prototyping may be unavailable.