Product Design

Product ideas such as computer compatibility are self-evident. Success in innovation often hinges on the design, development, and execution of these ideas. In the case of the IBM 360, it was the monumental challenge of re-engineering computer system architecture that led to the establishment of new standards in computing.

In new product development (NPD), once the ideas and concepts have been generated and screened, it is time for R&D to design and craft the new products. Through a blend of art, science, and technology, they transform these concepts into tangible products.

This chapter imparts an in-depth understanding of product design techniques and processes, such as sensory research, the Kano model, conjoint analysis, and the house of quality. By exploring these topics, you will gain insights into how ideas are transformed from conceptualization to the final tangible product.

Design Specifications

The product development process starts with translating consumer requirements into measurable and controllable engineering and manufacturing parameters. This often creates some tension between marketing and R&D, as marketers convey consumer needs while engineers require technical specifications to create the new product. A set of methods called the quality function deployment (QFD) help to bridge this divide by translating the need descriptions into technical specifications.

The house of quality is a prominent QFD technique that brings together in a “house” configuration the attributes that consumers need and the engineering characteristics that will influence those attributes. Utilizing an inter-relationship matrix to relate the consumer attributes to the engineering characteristics, the technique is able to translate a product concept into the technical specifications for a prototype. It also improves cross-department communication by serving as “a kind of conceptual map that provides the means for inter-functional planning and communication” (Hauser and Clausing, 1988).


A key issue in product design is the trade-off between quality and cost: Are consumers willing to pay for the optimum combination of features that gratify their needs? Are they prepared to pay the additional cost for an improvement in performance?

Designers are also confronted with the challenge of negatively correlated characteristics. For instance, taste versus low calories, taste versus nutrition, power versus safety, ubiquitous versus exclusive, quality versus price and so on.

Sometimes a creative solution can satisfy multiple needs. Most of the time, however, a trade-off is called for. To make an informed decision, the designer needs to know the combination of price and features that target consumers finds most desirable.

Conjoint analysis, a technique developed by Paul Green at the Wharton School, answers these questions. It is a predictive technique used to determine customers’ preferences for the different features, including price, that make up a product or service.

Conjoint analysis works well for consumer durables and has also been used for FMCG products. Yet sometimes it may become challenging to convey tastes, as in food products, or fragrances, in a conjoint analysis. Sensory research and consumer product testing offer an alternative methodology where preference ratings by consumers are modelled to determine the importance of each attribute.

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