Product Design

1.1 Research and development

Research and development, innovation, new product development and product design are often used interchangeably, but they each have quite distinct meanings.

Research and Development (R&D) is the process of creating new knowledge about products or processes. R&D is defined in the Frascati Manual written for the OECD as (OECD, 1981 cited in Walsh et. al, 1992: 20)

"Research and experimental development, (R&D) comprise creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge... and the use of this stock of knowledge to materials, products, or processes systems and services, or ...improving substantially those already produced or installed"

1.2 Innovation

Technical or industrial innovation is used to describe a new breakthrough in a process or production technique or a novel product and it is used widely by economists. Innovation is defined by Walsh et. al. (1992: 16) as:

"The whole activity from invention (the discovery of a new device, product, process or system) to the point of first commercial or social use.."

Innovation, therefore can involve the exploitation of a new market opportunity, or on the other hand, the development and marketing of a technical invention; however it usually involves a combination of both since many inventions have no market demand and so do not constitute an innovation.

1.3 New product development

New product development is a term often used by the management and marketing department of firms. It describes the process of changing the form, components, materials, marketing or packaging of a product, and it differs from innovation in that it does not usually involve invention. It is defined by Walsh et. al (1992: 16) as:

"the process that transforms technical ideas or market needs and opportunities into a new product launched on to the market"

1.4 Design

A broad definition of design is given by Caldecote (1979) cited in Walsh et. al (1992: 18) as:

"The process of converting an idea into information from which a new product can be made"

The OECD (1982) cited in Walsh et. al. (1992: 18) defines design more precisely as:

"Design is the very core of innovation, the moment when a new object is imagined, devised and shaped in prototype form."

Different cultures perceive and see various roles for design. For instance the UK is seen as having a more analytical and marketing approach to design, whereas in Japan, design is more concerned with what 'could be'; therefore in Japan design is seen as being more of a creative process (Evans, 1986).

Design covers a broad spectrum of activities: architecture, fashion design, craft work, product design, graphics and typography.

1.5 Product design

Product design is often misunderstood as a concept. It is commonly seen, even by managers of companies, as the process of making products look aesthetically pleasing or stylish. Most product designers understand product design to mean much more than this. Product design is a multi-disciplinary process which usually involves market and technological research, concept design, prototype development, final product development and testing as well as post production refinement. Product Design is defined by Walsh et al (1992: 18) as:

"The activity in which ideas and needs are given physical form, initially as solution concepts and then as a specific configuration or arrangement of elements, materials and components"

Product design does not usually imply the utilisation of new technologies to create novel products. Typically, it entails the refinement or upgrading of existing designs, to improve functionality, performance or appeal. Another goal is to lower the cost of manufacture for competitive advantage. New technologies may be used in existing/established products, for example in using microprocessors to control and improve energy efficiency and water use in washing machines. Product Design can also involve adapting products for particular markets or environments.

Product design can be sub-divided into different types; mechanical component design, electronic design, aesthetic design, industrial design, engineering design and graphic design. While product design is carried out in almost all industries, it is not necessarily done in a systematic fashion by professional designers. In many instances design is carried out by a draughts person, production manager or toolperson. This would be typical of companies in developing countries and smaller companies in industrialised countries. This is what Gorb and Dumas term "Silent Design" (Gorb and Dumas, 1987). These silent designers may have no training in design. Design activity may consist of copying and adapting existing products or "Sketching on the back of a cigarette packet". (Walsh et. al. 1992: 22) Christopher Freeman identifies four kinds of design activity (Freeman, 1983: cited in Walsh et. al: 1992: 22):

  1. Experimental design: the design of prototypes and pilot plant leading to the preparation of production drawings for the commercial introduction of a new product or process
  2. Routine design engineering: the adaptation of existing technology to specific applications (typical of the design work done by many engineering firms when installing new plant or equipment)
  3. Fashion design: aesthetic and stylistic design of items ranging from textiles and shoes to chairs, car bodies and buildings (this kind of design may result in novel forms, shapes or decorations, but often involves no technical change at all)
  4. Design management: the planning and co-ordinating activity necessary to create, make or launch a new product on the market.

To summarise, there is considerable overlap between R&D, innovation, new product development and product design, however product design is much more widespread in industry than R&D (Walsh et al 1992:19). Pure research is usually carried in universities or for example, in agricultural research centres. Further R&D is carried out by some companies, typically in industries such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace. Innovation involves a new invention being matched with a market need. New product development is the term given to the process of bringing new or updated products to the market. Product design describes the creative process in researching markets, innovations and needs, then transforming ideas into products for particular markets.

Product Design, Innovation and Competitiveness

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