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When it comes to product design in the 21st century, a new global competitive landscape requires a fresh approach to product innovation. Differing design outlooks from the East and West are being utilized as companies seek to innovate and find a competitive edge.
Among some of the most influential approaches include quality function deployment (QFD) and the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ).
Emerging from Japan’s Toyota in the early 1970s, QFD dealt with the complexities of large-scale manufacturing and is still used to transform subjective needs of customers into qualitative specifications for design excellence.
In recent years, however, shortcomings are being observed in QFD as competition intensifies and customer requirements become more fragmented. When designing for a global market, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know if users represent the actual market, or if there are larger interests that affect product growth and evolution at global scales.
Developed by Genrich Altshuller in 1946, TRIZ is based on extensive research spanning millions of patented inventions from many fields. The theory and practice defines generalized patterns in the nature of problem solving for inventive solutions.
Few Western companies have embraced TRIZ, yet it has long attracted many corporate adherents in China, Japan and South Korea, including Denso, Hyundai/Kia, Huawei, LG, Olympus, Pioneer, Samsung, and Sony.
More recently, the 2005 book titled “Blue Ocean Strategy”—authored by W Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne—took a fresh look at product design. The book identifies existing markets as “red oceans” and advocates the pursuit of “blue oceans”, which are new markets, products and technologies that did not previously exist or face little, if any, competition.
Nintendo's Wii has been held up as an example of a “blue ocean” product that expanded the definition of the video gaming market, providing a product distinct from Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox.


Companies are always in search of the “Next Big Thing”. Satisfying consumer desires or corporate requirements that no competitor is addressing can send a business sailing into that shimmering blue ocean.
Apple's trailblazing iPod and iPhone emerged from obscurity to enjoy a period of unchallenged growth and success. But eventually, what goes up, must come down. The later-periods of the iPhone’s product lifecycles are now of great concern in the once unstoppable smartphone market, where handsets are undergoing competitive saturation and changing purchasing habits.
While Apple's most recent numbers for iPhone sales set records, concerns persist that diminishing growth is possible for the iPhone and the iPad tablet, even with a product lifecycle that is refreshed every 12 months.
What steps must a product or service company take to maintain its competitive edge? Reinvention of existing products is a popular value proposition for many companies, representing a tactical decision with a promise of strategic benefits.
Competitive insights must be constantly watched and updated, not just by a handful of product planners, but by everyone responsible for the success and growth of a product line. Above all, successful innovators must not only anticipate the next big thing, they need to become it, or risk obsolescence.
Jim Belfiore is a certified innovation master and managing director, client innovation services, at IHS
Posted January 6, 2015


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