MF: What input, from whom, and at what stage, do you take on board?
TC: That's a big question, because every stage of product development involves a highly collaborative process. For example, we're constantly conducting consumer focus groups and market research, collecting external inputs for early-stage concept validation right through testing of prototypes and early production units. Likewise, we try to involve our retail partners as early and as often as possible because we value their unique perspectives on their customers and product or market trends.
TC: We also recognise the importance of taking full advantage of the perspectives and expertise that we have in-house. Every day involves multiple cross-disciplinary meetings so that our Sales team can offer input to our copywriters, or so our User Research team can inform our Industrial Design team, or so Paul Griffin can help shape the work that our electrical engineers do. Beyond providing a system of checks and balances, these constant interactions help us to constantly "plus" our products – to create the level of innovation that has become synonymous with the Griffin brand.
JC: Since we like to own every piece of the design it's gratifying to see a product work through the system and come out, hopefully, better than the initial idea. We have extremely talented people at Griffin. We love gadgets and, in some ways, we're always trying to outdo or come up with more innovative products. The best feeling is when someone on the team improves upon your original idea. The talent at Griffin is amazing especially when they latch onto an idea and take it further, putting their own spin on it.
GC: During the idea-vetting process, we try to get all departments from design to marketing to sales to weigh in on the concept. Once the project gets a green light, we will work together inter-departmentally to share the information needed to bring the design to the next stage. We will often take a concept outside the company via our user research team (also an in-house discipline) by doing online panel surveys or focus groups. There are constant "design reviews" along the way to make sure we're still on target.
JF: Marketing is engaged early in the product's life to properly position it within the Griffin brand offering, and to ensure our global sales team has the tools needed to offer the great new product to our channel partners. Research is done along the way to test and prove market viability.
JF: A launch strategy is built around the product, which drives marketing activities during product development, life in retail and through the product's end of life.
WW: Who's got input? Everyone. What kind? Name it ... name, colour, positioning, taglines, the colour of fingernail polish on the hand model, all of it is subject to scrutiny before it sees the light of the open market.
WW: Marketing is an interesting beast because everybody is exposed to thousands of direct and indirect marketing messages and images every day. So everyone's got an idea of what works best for them.
WW: Where we earn our keep is balancing that input with what the consumer research tells us, what our own individual expertise tells us and what the consumer tells us. We have to remind ourselves that while we try and exist within a fairly democratic structure, ultimately only a single person or a small working group can sign off on a name or a launch plan.
WW: Too, Paul Griffin takes a close interest in how we name products, position them and sell them. It makes sense. His name is on the every product we create.
JG: After we had some decent AirCurve prototypes to work with, we showed it around the office and to Paul Griffin for his feedback.
MF: What tools and techniques do you use, and do they have their limitations?
TC: We're admitted techno-geeks, so we're always looking for the next cool tool to help us be more effective, efficient and focused. For example, the sooner we can get new products into the hands of our Sales team, the sooner they can show them to our retail partners and capture space on their shelves. However, if we wait until production units are coming off the line, we've already missed the boat. So in the past year we've made it a priority to equip our Sales team with other tools for selling our products earlier and earlier in the development process. From building an in-house rapid prototyping shop to working with our ID team to create 3D renderings and animations, we've benefited from a number of technologies that aren't directly related to our actual product development process.
On the business side of the equation, we're focusing a lot of attention on improving and streamlining how we do what we do so that we're not wasting valuable time and resources on non-productive ideas or activities. Though we use tools and processes to help us through those issues, we never want to lose sight of the fact that there's no substitute for good judgment. Making sure that the right people have the right information to make good decisions will always be more effective than blindly relying on a tool or a technology to make decisions for us.
GC: In the Industrial Design group, we use a mix of tools and methods to communicate the design both internally and externally. Tools range from a simple pen and paper for sketching to computer workstations for 3D CAD and animations. The point is not what tool is used, but what we are trying to communicate. Some projects require a full-scale foam model to show actual size and form, while other projects might only require simple 2D drawings to be understood. We do often use 3D renderings and 3D prints from our in-house prototyping machines to help us quickly visualise the product concept, test the fit of the components, and work out details in a quick manner.
WW: Marketing has always been about using whatever tool it takes to deliver the result. So we use everything from markers and whiteboards to online review and collaboration tools. What are the limitations? Not surprisingly, typically the technology gets in the way of the idea. We'll sometimes find ourselves debating the use of "happy" versus "glad" in an email promo via chat though we're within ten feet of each other.
JF: Within Griffin's Marketing group, we use a variety of tools and techniques to communicate a product's features and benefits to end-users as well as other functional groups at Griffin. We use sketching, mocks, industry-best design and presentation software, photography, video – essentially, whatever it takes to inform in the most approachable way, what makes our product different and better.
JC: We've found that there's nothing better than having a physical sample to test or to show. In such, Griffin has the staff for making samples of working prototype products. We've probably got most of the same tools as our contemporaries. The difference might be that we're not willing to try, and sometimes fail, at creating outrageous things. Many of the ideas we have may never see the light of day, but it's an important step in the process for us to dream aloud.
JG: For the AirCurve we read up on old-school phonograph-type air-horn amplifiers and did a lot of guesswork initially. After the design was put into a 3D file by one of the industrial designers we were able to tweak the curve of the horn to tune it and make it sound better.
MF: How much time is spent on the initial planning stages, the main development process, and the finishing and polishing stage? Do you wish you spent more time on one particular part, and what part do you enjoy most?
TC: We're big believers in dedicating a lot of time and effort to a product while it's still in its early, undefined, conceptual stage. Experience has shown that whatever investment we make in fleshing out an idea's merits, its requirements, its market potential and its strategic fit before we lift a pen to make the first sketch, is ultimately returned several-fold in terms of improving efficiency and avoiding wrong-turns later in the process. So if a product has an eight-month development cycle, it's not unusual for the first month or two to be dedicated almost entirely to early-stage exploration and proof-of-concept activities.
TC: That being said, it's difficult to define a "normal" development timeline, simply because Griffin produces such a broad range of products. What it takes to deliver a high-end leather case for an iPhone, for example, differs significantly in timing and process steps from what it takes to produce a new FM transmitter, a charging product or a docking cable. However, the one near-universal wish for any type of product is that we could have just a little more time to fine-tune the end result. But that's par for the course when you're a company full of creative perfectionists – we're never satisfied. The good news is that this is what drives us to always pursue the next, most exciting product.
WW: From a marketing perspective, things like naming and positioning in the early stages of the product's life are the best opportunity to shape how the product fits into Griffin's overall offering. Are we looking at something completely new? Or an extension of an established line? In either case, we work pretty closely with Industrial Design and Product Development to make sure that we capture the spirit and intent of the product, so when it launches it feels like a fresh, logical addition to our line-up.
WW: Creating the packaging and building out the launch plans are two elements that could always use more time, but that's balanced by retailers' reset dates, production timelines, inventory on hand, and all the other elements that keep Production, Product Development, Sales and Logistics up at night.
GC: Project timeframes are completely dependent on the type of project being done – some are faster than others. In a general sense, we move quickly at the beginning – trying quick iterations and concepts because the costs are lower (pen and paper for sketching is cheaper than cutting steel for tooling). If I could change one thing about the timing, I'd say I wish we had more time on the front end to explore more ideas. Often, the pressure of getting something to market – before the iPod changes again! – becomes a constraint that pushes us quickly from concepting to executing a design. I enjoy the "fuzzy front end" of the process – dreaming, experimenting, and trying a lot of options. We have to find creative ways to allow ourselves that "free form" time in the midst of the busyness of getting stuff made and shipped.
JC: We usually move pretty fast. From inception to initial design may only be a couple of weeks. For fast moving projects the teams lock into the concepts very quickly and we can be ready for manufacturing within a few months. We're constantly making improvements, packaging revisions throughout the life of a product.
JG: AirCurve: we didn't spend much time on it;maybe a couple of weeks total to get some good working prototypes. After that we had some production samples made up in different kinds of plastic to see if there were any sound differences. Waiting for these to be produced probably took the longest throughout the development process.