Design Speak 101: Defining a Product Champion

The product development world, just like other industries, has its own language. One example of this ?product speak? is the term product champion. Many products (and most of the very successful products) are driven by the vision of one person, or a small group of people. We call these people ?product champions?.
Product champions drive new products to market through experience, use of available resources, drive, determination and vision. They have a vision for a product. They work with others around them to push that product out to the market. This new product can be an extension of existing products in a existing company. The vision may be bolder and push an existing company in a direction.

A good example of a new direction for an existing company is the Apple iPod. Apple is a computer company that struck out into the personal entertainment industry. The biggest leap is when a product champion has to build a new company around a new-to-world product. When that vision incorporates technology and design practices from two or more industries (what we call cross-pollination) the opportunity exists for a truly disruptive product. Disruptive products change the marketplace and can propel a manufacturer to a position of market leader.

Product developers categorize new products into four areas. The first category of product development deals with incremental advances. An example, is a company that makes 42-inch plasma televisions decides to create a 44-inch model. Generally, these products make incremental, or evolutionary, leaps forward in technology or design.

The next area is a class of products that are based on existing products, but make revolutionary leaps in the state of the technology or the design approach. These products can dramatically affect an entire industry and drive market share to new heights, or help a company establish a presence in a market space that they werent previously able to penetrate.

Me-too products are designed compete with existing products. These products may be new to company that manufactures them, but they are not new to the market. Me too products generally are designed as direct competitors. They are generally not very innovative in their design.

New-to-world products are exactly what the name implies. These products are often technologically innovative and higher risk. They do not exist in the current marketplace, or they use a technology or a design approach that is not currently available.

The Apple iPod was not a new-to-world product. An existing market space for MP3 players existed for several years before the iPod arrived on the scene. The designers of the iPod combined improvements in four key industries to make the iPod a massive success. Apple improved the state of the basic product by designing the click wheel interface. This interface was a significant improvement over the traditional interface provided by existing manufacturers such as Rio. These advancements were revolutionary in that industry.

Apple went farther by bundling the product with iTunes. iTunes was software product that leveraged Apples core competency with computers to deliver content over the internet. iTunes also made it simple and easy to update the iPods firmware. Previous MP3 players required more-than-average expertise to simply update the firmware. Apple changed the user expectations about how easy it should be to purchase and download music to the player. They also changed the industry by creating users that expected painless firmware updates through iTunes. While the iPod was not a new-to-world product, iTunes was a new-to-world product.

The product champions at Apple had the vision to create a well-integrated product that combined advancements from multiple industries including electronics, audio compression, internet technology, service, and software. The amazing part is that existing manufacturers in the MP3 player market space were concentrating on the player itself and the software to drive the player. At the time the internet was mainly be used a vehicle to move data, but not as an integrated part of the user experience. The product champions at Apple saw an opportunity to cross-pollinate between multiple industries and create a market dominating product.

The RTP Product Development Guild has core philosophy that the most disruptive products come from the cross-pollination of technology and design knowledge from two or more different industries.

Product champions do not necessarily have to have experience from within multiple industries. The key is to have a vision that integrates technologies and practices from multiple industries into a single product. Then you have an opportunity to create the next highly disruptive and highly successful product.

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