30 Sep

What is Freespace in the Product Development Process?

Freespace - first phase in product development process

What is Freespace?

It’s the first phase in our product development process and it’s where unmet needs are identified and product ideas begin to surface for future exploration and development. Freespace is a word we came up with to describe the wide open, exploration of unmet needs and end user problems.

This is how we briefly describe Freespace on our website:

“Using primary/secondary research and a preliminary business case, we analyze the market needs and potential with our client to identify the challenges and opportunities ahead”.

Let’s unpack this description and dive a little deeper into how we work in early phase exploration of unmet needs?

Many of our clients inquire about our research methodologies. Broadly stated, research can be organized around qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Research is a simple word with countless meanings. To us, research includes a number of activities ultimately focused on the end-user of the product. We spend a lot of time in the field with end-users to identify unmet needs and begin to develop a problem statement. This includes field-work to observe behaviors, one-on-one interviews, secondary, or on-line and a wide range of proven methodologies. Our work is qualitative and intuitive.

We do not sling ‘big data’.

Although there is a time and place for data, our approach to research is based on design thinking and experiences gained with people who will use the products. We work as an extension of the client team to identify hidden insights and every day problems for their end users. Design research, in our experience, is the art and science of asking the right questions and listening to end-users to begin to understand key wants and needs for solutions. In market and out of market benchmarking of products, materials and processes helps us ‘connect the dots’ across diverse markets and products to develop ideas for further exploration.

Storytelling is key to describing insights.

The right questions are key to any research initiative. We ask the right questions and then listen, observe activities and capture our findings in notes and sketches. Simply stated, we develop stories around unmet needs in the market place and identify problems for every day users of our products and the business case or opportunity for the intended solution. Storyboards are developed to tell the story of our findings, insights and recommendations.

We partner with our clients to help construct the initial business case for the product. This work is developed based on our findings and concurrent quantitative market research, usually provided by the client marketing team. We also have relationships with market research experts who are available when there are gaps in our internal team.The throughput of all of this teamwork is a better understanding of the market opportunity, rough pricing and cost estimates, capital investment required for tooling, projected margins and an estimated timeline for return on investment (ROI). We also identify and lay out the challenges ahead for the idea.

Our work helps inform and guide the key decision to invest or hold off on the identified opportunity. Our clients, after all, are in business to grow, profit and reinvest in their business.

Coming out of Freespace, we are better prepared to develop a detailed and thorough design brief working with our clients. This key document guides our activities as we develop ideas into concepts, prototypes, and a finally, a manufacture-able solution.

In summary, we work as an extension of the client team using a range of research tools and methodologies to explore and describe unmet needs, problems and business opportunities.

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