We Help You Solve Problems—Not Produce Products

By September 18, 2020Market Research, Process

We Help You Solve Problems—Not Produce Products

There’s a couple different ways to look at what we do at SPARK. From the logistical, manufacturing perspective: we develop physical products. But from a business/marketing/end-user perspective, what we do is help you develop better solutions to problems you’ve discovered.

Remember, people buy solutions; not products.

To clarify, here’s a quick story about failure as a learning process:

An almost-brilliant solution

Years ago, just before the rise of smartphones, SPARK helped a client develop a product solution to a new problem they’d discovered. Phones were becoming more fragile and more ubiquitous. Meaning dropping them was more likely and more catastrophic. They wanted to help people keep a firmer grip while operating a phone one-handed.

It was great! We used the LinQ in the office, around the shop, and at the park. It nestled neatly between two fingers letting you type faster—and less precariously—with one thumb; basically anywhere that made sense.

But the LinQ was stymied by one fatal flaw: people don’t always carry their phones in their hand. The protrusion—though perfect for one-handed phone use—didn’t fit easily into a pants pocket.

Not long after that, the PopSocket™ hit the market and cornered it. Who’s to say whether we’d have stumbled upon a telescoping version or something different, if we’d considered the problem more holistically in its context.

Instead we pushed through a product idea that was brought to us, making the best damn one possible—within that mindframe. The problem was, we were asking, “How do we make this idea manufacturable?

But we should have been asking the broader question: “How do we make phones easier to hold for daily use?

It’s a subtle line between failure and success, but the one essential truth is: Products have to work in the real world for real people.

Nowadays when a client comes to us with a solution, we take time to step back and ask what problem is being solved. We spend a lot more effort piecing through every aspect of the problem and how it relates to daily life. We trust the experts, but we’ve also learned how important it is to take a product out of the theoretical before phasing it to production.

Because products have context. They have to be carried, stored, misused, repaired, etc. Just because it performs one function flawlessly, doesn’t mean it will be a success. Your end-user is not flawless, and they probably don’t have patience for a product that can’t keep up with their lifestyle.

Spend time poking holes in every idea

We get it: your idea is your baby. No one wants to hear about the flaws in something they care for deeply. Especially with the amount of time entrepreneurs invest in developing and refining their ideas.

But as an entrepreneur, your job isn’t coming up with products—it’s solving problems. The closer you come to solving a problem, the more a potential customer will envision how the product fits into their life. If the problem it solves is clear enough… the product will sell itself.

At SPARK we’re not research scientists, but we borrow some of their work ethic. Scientific discoveries are first subject to peer review—which means all the top experts trying to poke holes in the results—to make sure that only the best, most thorough studies make it through to public consumption.

The same is true of our product development process. We want to catch any snags and problems before they’re scaled up to production. So we work together through various stages, thinking about different use-cases and what could go wrong—and how well we can solve the original problem without creating any new ones.

A very macro view of what that experience might look like:
1. You schedule a conversation with SPARK to discuss your idea
2. We talk about the problem you’re trying to solve
3. SPARK brainstorms & critiques various ideas
4. We fill you in on our observations, research, interviews, etc
5. SPARK draws up sketches or quick CAD models to illustrate concepts
6. Frequently we’ll cobble together a prototype to contextualize an idea
7. Together we’ll discuss form & function, viability, materials & costs, etc
8. SPARK begins to formalize designs & specs
9. As we work through mechanical details, you might see 3D-printed parts or other models, as we try to discover more problems
10. Lifesize prototype (optional, but highly recommended) for finding lifesize problems

And then if the dress rehearsal goes well and everyone’s satisfied, we can phase a product into production.

Every project is unique though. That’s why we don’t use a boilerplate proposal for product development. Instead, our system of picking apart every angle of the problem you’re solving is what ensures we come up with the most viable product for you to bring to market.

If we’re not the experts, we’ll ask the experts. We’ll be skeptical of ideas even if we love them. We pull ourselves & our egos out of the process—to let creative problem-solving work its magic. In the end you may sign off on something that looks very different from what you first envisioned—but it will get at the heart of your idea, so you can go on to tell the story of why everyone needs your new product for a better life.

Don’t be the mad-scientist inventor

Unless you’re Rick Sanchez C-137, chances are you’ll benefit from approaching your idea from multiple different perspectives, from expert to consumer.

If you think of yourself as a problem-solver rather than a product-pusher, you’ll be maximally positioned to revise and polish your idea with us, and undercut any potential problems. Meaning you’ll make more people happy…and turn more profit as a result.

To illustrate the danger: We had another client come to us with a legitimate problem. A physician of some renown, he was concerned with people hurting their necks by hunching over their phones all the time. It’s easy to see how that could be a widespread issue in coming decades.

The issue was that he came to us with a specific solution already in mind. One that didn’t consider the rest of context surrounding the problem. His concept was an elbow support that would hook onto a user’s belt to keep their phone arm elevated and their head more upright.

Brilliant, right?

Can’t you picture yourself walking around with a telescoping elbow cup stuck on your waistband?

Neither could we.

But he was dead-set on his idea, refusing to consider other possibilities. So we worked with him to make his solution—putting in hours of design work, testing prototypes and materials, presenting and discussing flaws and concerns.

At each step we suggested exploring alternate approaches—but he wouldn’t budge.

“The chick magnet,” as we waggish engineers dubbed it, never materialized—and to this day you can see people everywhere you look, walking around with necks crooked downward; straining their cervical vertebrae, perhaps constricting their airways…because blind devotion to a singular idea meant the problem never got solved.

The point of all this

What we’re trying to say is, product development is a creative joy when it’s allowed the freedom to do its work. We’ll have a lot of fun together coming up with solutions that you can sell if we’re speaking the same language of evolution and open-minded problem-solving. And the return on investment can be staggering.

The best way forward, really, is to have a conversation about your idea. That’s how it all begins. What’s next is up to you.

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