Fuzzy Front End: A Critical, But Often Neglected Part of Product Design

The term “fuzzy front” end is used by product design professionals to denote the product definition stage of the project. This important stage in product development is often neglected. In this podcast well talk about what the “fuzzy front end” is and why it is important.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild.

RTP Guild Proclaims October as RTP Product Development Month

by Tom Vass, Vice-President, RTP Product Development Guild

The RTP regional economy has a unique set of economic strengths in technology innovation. The basic platform for all the strengths comes from the population of scientists and engineers who live in the region. Raleigh tops America for PhDs per capita for a metro city.

The RTP is geographically the largest research park in the world and is home to more than 130 R&D companies, employing nearly 40,000 workers. The RTP is home to IBM, GSK, Cisco Systems, DuPont and Sony Ericsson.

The high number of PhDs, and the location of large high tech corporations sets the stage for technology commercialization in distinct product areas. Our focus at the Guild is on product development because that leads to new venture creation which leads to new markets.

New markets are essential for wealth creation because persistence in the status quo distribution from current markets of wealth tends to lead to economic stasis. We suspect there is a mutually reinforcing relationship between wealth creation and new product creation, meaning that the more of one leads to the more of the other.

However, this relationship is perfectly symmetrical, which means that the longer the status quo of current markets remains constant the longer the existing distribution of wealth will stay the same. The result will be lower rates of innovation and new product development.

New products do not get created without a lot of effort, and our basic business model addresses how to help entrepreneurs commercialize their ideas. Our approach to new product development is different than the existing players in the region.

We focus attention on independent entrepreneurs who are not affiliated with the tech transfer programs at the local universities. We also target small engineering and manufacturing firms, and spin-offs from the R&D efforts of the larger corporations. We suspect that many of the 40,000 workers in the RTP have great ideas that could turn into great products if they follow the business development model of the RTP Product Development Guild.

During the month of October, we are going to target product development in the 4 areas we think will be most beneficial to regional economic growth. Each product area shares a common technological platform in both design and production, even though the end market users of the products are different.

On each Wednesday evening of October, we will host an educational seminar at our facilities in Morrisville, N. C., to introduce our model to budding entrepreneurs in each product area.

Our selection of product areas are:

1. October 10. Consumer technology products for the mass retail market.

2. October 17. Health monitoring and home health care products.

3. October 24. Sports and recreational equipment.

4. October 31. Homeland defense products.

We will charge a small admission fee, and our seating is limited to the first 20 entrepreneurs who register to attend. We are soliciting the participation of individuals and small companies who are curious about our business model of advice for commercializing technology.

We think that participants will gain benefits from meeting each other, and listening to how others are going about the process of commercializing their product ideas. If the RTP Guild model seems attractive, then the next step would be to apply as a project candidate for one of the Guilds product development teams.

While commercializing technology is a great objective, we think that the bigger goal for each entrepreneur is to win the Guilds prestigious annual award for the RTPs Most Disruptive Product Technology, presented in March of each year. But, you cant win the prize unless you get in the game.

Registration for the October events is at: www.rtpproductguild.com

Local Product Design Community, Changes at Home

by Montie Roland, President – Montie Design

Product design in the RTP area is nothing new. Entities that vary in size from the smallest startup to the largest multi-national companies are engaged in a daily business of product development. These companies dont practice the art and science of product development in a vacuum. They rely on an infrastructure of local vendors that provide a variety of services and products.

Since moving into our new office space where we added an embedded machine shop, and becoming a part of the RTP Product Development Guild, the Montie Design business model has changed dramatically. The biggest change is how much tighter we have integrated with the product design community around us. Our firm has relied on the services of other vendors for years, so in itself this is nothing new.

The new offices opened in June of 2007. Approximately one month later, we were joined in the office by Brandon Lisk and 101Machine. The office space included a shop and office area big enough for both companies. The rationale for having them in the same space allows both companies to offer more vertically integrated services. Consulting firms operate with remote (across town) vendors every day, but being in the same building allows a greater level of cooperation and coordination, thus relieving pressure from clients to have an in-house machine shop.

What I didnt expect was how it would change the Montie Design business model. Once 101Machine was up and running, clients began expecting that Montie Design would do several things. The first was to handle the prototype builds directly. Previously we would design the product and create the documentation. Then we would recommend a machine shop and get a quote. The client would then take that quote and issue a purchase order directly to the machine shop (or other vendor). Now clients expect us to manage the prototype build and handle the billing so they just have to create one purchase order. This arrangement makes it more convenient for the client and gives us a higher level of control over the process. However, it also added a new layer of administration that we have accommodated for. As a result, we have begun issuing purchase orders to vendors and tracking them. This was a big change for a small, but growing, company. It was a welcome change because it has allowed us to offer a broader range of services that arent directly tied to the number of billable hours. It also requires tighter financial controls because of the larger, and more complex, cash flow requirements.

Not all prototype parts and pieces can be economically produced by a single machine shop. An example was a group of physically large parts that were beyond the normal capabilities of 101Machine. Barnes Machine, in Apex, was able to very cost effectively produce these parts in a very tight time frame. This was a case where we were able to produce a set of prototype parts in an off-site location as a service to our client. JMC Machine is another example of an off-site vendor (also located in Apex). We have worked with Glenn Berry and Howard Nystrom for over a decade to produce parts for customers.

We also work closely with ADR Hydrocut to create complex, flat parts. ADR Hydrocut has two water jet cutting machines. The water jet process uses an extremely thin column (fifteen times the thickness of a human hair) of water mixed with an abrasive to cut complex shapes out of sheets of just about any material. Their business model relies on quick turnarounds of parts. This means that you can usually order a part and receive it within five to ten working days. One of the advantages of our current office location is the close proximity to ADR Hydrocut. This proximity and close working relationship with the owners, Al Ely and Ron Harris, allows us to work hand-in-hand with them, which is critical on projects with tight time restrictions.

The value of the relationship with JMC Machine and ADR Hydrocut has gone far beyond any one project, or one customer for that matter. The personal relationships with the owners of these companies have lasted for over a decade. These are people that I call friends. As it is always critical to not confuse friendship with what is best for the firm, or the customer, I find it wonderful to be able to work with a group of friends whom you can trust.

So how does all of this tie into the subject of a design community? Much of our success as a design firm is related to the availability and performance of the vendors that support us. Without the vendors behind us, we could not serve our customers at the level to which they have become accustomed. Adding a level of vertical integration has allowed us to expand our services, but at the same time has highlighted our need for quality relationships with reliable vendors. Relationships such as these help form the backbone of the product design infrastructure that is such a vital part of product design successes in the Research Triangle Park area.

Grand Opening / Pig Pickin’ / Product Design Vendor Street Faire

Hey All,

I just wanted to let you know that our Grand Opening and Expo is coming soon. Please take an afternoon out to enjoy good food, tour our new facility, and meet local product design/prototyping vendors. The event is free.

See you there.



Event: Grand Opening / Pig Pickin / Vendor Day for:

Montie Design

101 Machine

Better Business Advice

RTP Product Design Guild

Date: Saturday, 4 Aug 07

Time: 3:00 until 6:30

Location: 400 Dominion Dr., Suite 101, Morrisville, NC 27560

Description: Join us in celebrating the co-location of:

RTP Product Design Guild
Montie Design
Good Business Advice

Stroll through the various outdoor vendor booths including:

Montie Design – product design
101Machine – prototype machining
Good Business Advice – business ansurance and financial mgmt
RTP Product Design Guild – community-based design
Pioneer Strategies – public relations
Fineline Prototyping – rapid prototyping service bureau
ADR Hydrocut – waterjet cutting house
Applied Technologies – product design

Bring your family and join us for an afternoon of fun! Please dont hesitate to send any questions to: montie@montie.com

Register (free) at: http://productdesignguild.eventbrite.com/

Next Carolinas PDMA Chapter Event with Bob Luddy

Morning Fellow Product Designers,

I thought this event might interest many of you.



Event: New Product Development in the Entrepreneurial Enterprise

Date: 14 Jun 07

Time: 6-8:30pm

  • Networking & Registration 6 – 6:45 pm
  • Presentation and Q&A 6:45 8:00 pm
  • Pizza and drinks will be served

Location: MCNC auditorium in RTP, NC

Speaker: Bob Luddy, President, CaptiveAire and founder, Franklin Park Industrial Center

Co-Hosted by: CED

New Product Development in the Entrepreneurial Enterprise

Unless your business changes, your business will die. Changing means developing new products. But what new products? Why one product over another? Where do you begin?

Learn what inspired Robert Luddy, lifelong entrepreneur and president of Raleigh-based CaptiveAire Systems – the nations well-respected manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation equipment. Luddy founded CaptiveAire in 1976 on $1,300 capital. Today, CaptiveAire employs 650 people in four plants and 57 offices in the U.S. and Canada. It is continually voted ?Best In Class? by industry dealers and consultants, according to Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazine. INC. magazine has repeatedly named CaptiveAire one of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the nation. In North Carolina, CaptiveAire is among the 100 largest private companies (Business North Carolina magazine), and it is the 10th fastest growing private company in the Raleigh Triangle (Triangle Business Journal).

Learn and discuss with Bob:

  • How you can revolutionize your industry.
  • Keys to competitive success.
  • How to navigate the challenge of offering increasingly higher-quality products at the lowest cost.
  • Bob will cover these and many other topics, including responding quickly to market demand. Please join us to exchange points of view, build relationships with your peers and as gain insights from our speaker:

    Robert Luddy is a lifelong entrepreneur. At the age of 20, while attending LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Bob opened a fiberglass manufacturing business and worked at night. In 1967, Bob sold his company and was drafted into the military. In 1976, Bob settled in Raleigh, and with $1,300 capital, he opened Atlantic Fire Systems in a one-room facility. Recognizing the demand for high-quality kitchen ventilation equipment, Bob purchased a sheet metal shop in 1981 and transformed it into CaptiveAire Systems, Inc. CaptiveAire is now the nations largest manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems, with sales reaching $180 million in 2006. In addition to CaptiveAire, Bob Luddy drives other economic development in the area. Bob founded and developed the Franklin Park Industrial Center, which has drawn over 15 entrepreneurial businesses and hundreds of jobs to Franklin and Wake counties.

    Questions? Send an e-mail to montie@montie.com

    Encouraging Innovation in South Carolina

    Organizations in South Carolina are working hard to encourage innovation. If you visit the South Carolinas Council on Competitiveness you can read about the “New Ideas for a New Carolina 2007” contest.

    “Tell us your big idea. We want ideas for business that stoke your fire, blow your mind, show your get-up-and-take-charge of-my-dream spirit. Your idea could bring new jobs, new energy, new talents, new life, and new wealth to South Carolina. Help us declare independence from mediocrity. Help us encourage innovators and celebrate the courageous. Help us create a NEW Carolina. New Ideas for A New Carolina South Carolinas Business Idea Competition. So what are you waiting for?”

    Does this really encourage innovation in South Carolina? It definitely adds to the popular interest level for innovation. As I read closer, I realized that the prize wasnt for the best new product. The contest is for the best new business idea.

    Having a contest for the best business idea (instead of new product) is definitely a good approach. However, I am concerned that this really doesnt strengthen business in South Carolina. The contest helps out individuals who are selected as winners to get publicity for their business concept. It also elevates the concept that product / business development is good for South Carolina.

    My suggestion is to provide training before the contest. Teach people how to develop business and product concepts. Then follow up with how to start the business and find funding. Classes in managing the development of a product would also be helpful. Teaching the basics of iterative product design would help a greater number of entrepreneurs and product developers than the contest itself. Assign a volunteer mentor to each entrant for two years. Maybe start with two thousand entries. Offer classes for two years. Then highlight the businesses that have made the most progress (you pick the metric). I will admit that it sounds dangerously close to a reality show. It would be wonderful to see contests like this result in thousands of new businesses launching new products. That would significantly impact the regional economy for decades.

    Enabling a passion for introducing new products takes education, mentoring and support from a local design community. As I get to the end of this dialog, I find myself wondering how our chapter (Carolinas chapter) is doing at accomplishing this goal in North and South Carolina. I dont have to wonder long, because our chapter isnt inspiring thousands of new products or new businesses. Is it because North and South Carolina is a bad place for new businesses and products? Is it because we are an inactive chapter? The answer to both is “no”. We have an active chapter in a thriving business community. What can our chapter to do be a product development leader in the Carolinas? Is that too big of a mandate for a local chapter? I dont think so, now we just have to figure out how to do it and have the determination to make it happen.

    If you have any suggestions or comments, please dont hesitate to send me an e-mail at montie@montie.com or leave a comment below.

    Montie Roland
    President, Carolinas Chapter of the PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas)
    President – Montie Design (www.montie.com)
    Home of the NC Product Design Directory

    Upcoming PDMA Event in Cary on 18 Apr — Systematic Innovation


    I thought this might interest many of you. The event is taught by the Brand Manager of Lenovo. You can sign up at http://pdma2.eventbrite.com. More information about the event is available at www.pdma.org/carolinas. Detailed information about the event follows.



    We take networking seriously and innovation is a lot of fun, so what could be better than combining the two?

    Join us for an evening of networking and innovation. The evening will begin with beer, pizza, and business card exchange, then we will get an introduction to Systematic Innovation, and then we will split into teams and have some fun innovating some products. Those who have most fun will even win a prize!

    About Systematic Innovation (SI): some call it innovation by templates and there is some truth to that even though on the surface the notions of templates and creativity appear to be an oxymoron. However, when you think about it, we may subconsciously use learned templates in our creative thinking anyway. SI techniques attempt to come up with such templates and they can be quite effective tools in stimulating creative thinking that result in innovative solutions. A most visible SI technique is TRIZ, a technique used by companies such as Ford, Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly, 3M, and Samsung.

    This session will be led by Stacey Baer from Lenovo and Shimon Shmueli from Touch360.
    See bios below.

    Who Should Attend Product managers, engineers, designers, and marketing managers.


    Wednesday, April 18, 2007



    Stacey Baer, Ph.D., Lenovo

    Currently the corporate Brand Manager of the international PC manufacturer Lenovo, Staceys primary responsibilities are to manage the Lenovo and ThinkPad brands. Her responsibilities also include branding strategies, product & brand naming, and trademark management.

    Stacey received a BA in Psychology in 1986 from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, and then went on to get a Masters of Science (1989) and Doctoral degree (1996) in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Kentucky.

    Stacey was hired by the PC division of IBM in 1992 as the lead Human Factors engineer for IBMs PC brands. Her product responsibilities over the next few years included the PS/2, Aptiva and then the ThinkPad brands.

    In 1998, Stacey became the first Customer Experience Strategist for the IBM company. She had world-wide responsibility for defining end-to-end customer experience strategies, first for all ThinkPad products and then later for all the PC Divisions customer-facing device brands.

    In 2003, Stacey received an Executive MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. She became the WW Brand Manager of IBMs PC Division, and then the Corporate Brand Manager for Lenovo after the PC Division was sold to Lenovo in 2005.


    Shimon Shmueli, Touch360

    Shimon is the founder of Touch360 where he leads product development, innovation and design, and technology and business strategies.

    Before founding Touch360, Shimon was with IBM, where he held various leadership positions, among them as worldwide marketing segment manager for PC products, worldwide product manager for the ThinkPad line of consumer notebooks and accessories, and leading the development of new mobile platforms.

    Shimon was a co-founder and CTO at KeyNetica, a company that pioneered the use of the USB Flash Drive as a mobile platform. He also served as a marketing and business strategy consultant and as adjunct professor at George Mason University where he taught graduate marketing classes.

    Shimon holds an engineering degree from the Technion in Israel; an MSEE/CS degree from Polytechnic in New York; and an MBA from Wake Forest University. Always a student, he is currently pursuing graduate studies in industrial design at North Carolina State University.

    Shimon has been a speaker and mentor in various forums, including Taiwan Design Center, Johns Hopkins University, and Virginia Tech School of Architecture & Design. He is a professional member of IDSA, IEEE, HFES, DMI, and PDMA.

    PDMA Event on 22 Feb in RTP, NC on Intellectual Property

    Intellectual Property – The Top 10 Things You Need to be Aware of When Developing and Bringing a New Product to Market

    The Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development and Management Association invites you to kick off its 2007 professional program and tackle the important issue of intellectual property with Tracy-Gene Durkin, Director of renowned Washington-DC IP law firm Sterne Kessler Goldstein Fox.

    Using case studies, Tracy will highlight the problems that arise when intellectual property issues are not considered in advance and fully integrated in the product development process. She will cover topics including joint development, protecting product configuration, and protecting IP internally, critical dates to keep in mind in the patent process, and proper documentation of invention dates, among others.

    We will have in-house perspective as well from a Durham-based organization that helps pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

    Please join us to exchange points of views and build relationships with your peers as well as gain insights from our speaker:

    Tracy-Gene G. Durkin, is a director in and heads the Mechanical Patent and Trademark Group of Sterne Kessler Goldstein Fox. She has over twenty years of experience obtaining and enforcing worldwide intellectual property rights, including utility and design patents, trademarks and copyrights. Ms. Durkins client counseling experience includes helping clear new products and trademarks for use in the marketplace, selecting appropriate IP protection, and enforcing such protection through mediation, litigation and licensing. Ms. Durkin has spoken internationally on topics such as design patents, IP audits, mediation, IP protection on the Internet, and trademark co-branding and licensing for non profit organizations. She is Chair of the Industrial Design Committee for the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) and a member of the Industrial Designs Committee of the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

    Who Should Attend

    Product managers, engineers, designers, and business managers. This event qualifies as 2 Professional Development Hours toward PDMAs NPDP recertification.

    Date Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

    Time Networking & Registration 6-6:45 pm; Presentation and Q&A 6:45 8:00 pm; Pizza and drinks.

    Location MNMC Auditorium, 3021 Cornwallis Rd, Research Triangle Park (Durham), NC 27709.

    Fees $20 members, $35 non-members, $10 students and volunteers. $10 additional for walk-in. Cash or check only. Fees include handouts.

    Registration Online at http://pdma.eventbrite.com

    Follow Up to “Camping as a Product”

    Hiking on Mount Mitchell

    View from the Gap Trail on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina


    This podcast is in response to some of the e-mails that I received about the earlier podcast about “Camping From The Viewpoint Of A Product Designer. Both of the audio segments below address learning points from the discourse on camping as a product. The audio was recorded in two different days. My plan was to make one long podcast. However, the two different recordings took two different directions, so I decided to make two podcasts from them. If you havent listened to the earlier podcast on camping, you might want to do that before diving into these.

    Have a great Monday!

    Montie Roland

    President – Montie Design (www.montie.com)
    President, Carolinas Chapter of the PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas)
    Home of the NC Product Design Directory

    Balancing Vision and Process

    Process may be king in our industry, but vision is the treasury behind the throne room. Product developers can find detailed processes in books, or even from internal ISO procedures. Executing that process is one of the difficult parts of managing product development.

    Vision, is almost a dirty word at times. Vision can blind you. Vision can guide you. Vision can lead you to the most successful product your organization has ever had.

    Balancing vision and process is extremely important for long term success. The attached podcast (17 minutes, 9 seconds in length) discusses this issue. Comments and suggestions are always welcome. You can leave them here, or send an email to montie@montie.com.

    Have a Great Day!

    Montie Roland

    President – Montie Design (www.montie.com)
    President, Carolinas Chapter of the PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas)
    Home of the NC Product Design Directory

    Three Consumer Trends


    I received an e-mail last night from a fellow product developer. He is Taiwan giving a talk about “Design for Experience” and designing electronics for the American consumer market. He posed the following question:

    Can you identify, from your own intuition or knowledge, top 2-3 customer behavior or cultural trends that affect the US consumer when buying electronic products? Just as an example, are Americans becoming less brand-loyal because they have more comparison data available to them?

    Responding to his e-mail resulted in the following thoughts about trends and the American consumer:

    Dissatisfaction with Overly Complex Products

    These are products that arent well designed. They have difficult interfaces; probably where some engineer demanded a whole bunch of extra features at the expense of usability. They may also be products where the designers and engineers didnt have a vision for an easy-to-use product, i.e. they didnt design for experience.

    ABC News reported that “complexity causes 50% of product returns”. They went on to say:

    The average consumer in the United States will struggle for 20 minutes to get a device working, before giving up, the study found.

    Product developers, brought in to witness the struggles of average consumers, were astounded by the havoc they created.

    She also gave new products to a group of managers from consumer electronics company Philips, asking them to use them over the weekend. The managers returned frustrated because they could not get the devices to work properly.

    Most of the flaws found their origin in the first phase of the design process: product definition, Den Ouden found.

    The entire article can be read at:


    When this happens, products get returned (which is horribly expense to the manufacturer and the reseller). When a customer returns a difficult to use product, it is likely they will try a less expense model (with less features / complexity).

    New is Better Mentality

    This a potential trap is a trap for product designers and manufacturers. If you are a manufacturer and you assume that your product will have a usable lifetime of two years, then you will have some percentage of products that just plain wear out before then. This leads customers to believe that it was a crappy product and they may look for another manufacturers product when they replace the item. This is a trend that I believe is hurting Apple in the MP3 market. This is a very competitive market where word about their product failures (not many, but enough) has given them a black eye at the time when some people (new is better folks) are considering upgrading their players. Apple has a great product, but their product failures (less than 2% of products) are widely known. These failures are often an excuse for teenagers who want to move to the “new is better” (i.e. the Zune).

    Culture of the Online Review is Here

    There a now many websites that allow consumers to review the products that they purchase. However, this open environment can be a double-edged sword. Apple actually allows product reviews and discussions on the www.apple.com website. If you dont embrace your user group, then it is likely that some ambitious webmaster will (and you lose the ability to do it on your own in a meaningful way). The internet is here, online reviews are here to stay. Here are some ways that you can make the most of the opportunities:

    A) Allow negative remarks

    Every so often, Clark Howard (a radio personality at www.clarkhoward.com) reads some of the negative remarks from his forums on the radio. Many of his listeners are extremely loyal. This type of transparent behavior, on his part, only substantiates the philosophy of customer service and company tranparency (when it comes to customers) that he preaches.

    B) Respond to criticism with product improvements

    If you make design changes (of the next round of products) based on on-line feedback, then tell your online users what you did. Thank them for the input. A note from a company president on the relevant forum, thanking someone for their feedback just created customers for life and probably evangelical ones at that.

    C) Dont blow off your online reviewers as “kooks”

    Granted there is always some “dissatifed at life individual” whom no one can please, but other online reviewers pick up on that an discount most of those opinions. Look for two things in the online reviews.
    Identify real issues that the users face in operating your product. Most importantly look for work arounds that users develop for product definciencies. Customer work arounds are your customers doing your creative work for you. Evaluate each customer work around very carefully. They are a potential gold mine of product improvements. Some work arounds may lead to you design new accessories (which represent the potential for follow on income and extended product sales life). Other work arounds may lead you to significant, or minor, product design changes.

    D) Never, no never, lash out at online reviewers

    The truth is the truth no matter who states it, or how it is stated. Many people get rude and overly critical when posting online. They say things they would never say in person. Look for the truth, understanding that most online reviews will be negative.

    E) Understand lurking

    Only of a small percentage of online viewers will ever actually post in the forums. This is called lurking. Lurking is where you look, but never post. If you are doing well 1-3% of your visitors will post. Any percentage higher than 3% should be considered as a huge success. Low lurking percentage means that you have a highly involved user community.

    F) Be bold and consistent over the long run!

    Lets say a customer is complaining the product needs some easily added feature (easily added if you are designing from scratch). Maybe you could even implement this feature with a change in firmware. Once you make the firmware change you have to test, distribute etc. Making this change requires resources that you are currently using on the next generation product. If you make this change, you potentially slow down the release of the next generation of product.

    To make it worse, in a meeting a couple of years ago, someone suggested this feature. However, it was deemed more important to spend time on other features. So now you are faced with a decision. Do I slow down the new product to implement a “customer relations” change, or do I just keep going and forget about the potential improvement. If you go on with the new product, getting to market quickly is important. However, adding the feature to the current represents a potential win amoung the user / customer base.

    It is much easier to sell to an existing customer than find new ones. Jay Conrad Levinson talks about this in the book “Guerilla Marketing”. You can find out where to purchase the book at www.gmarketing.com. As we all know, because of the customer, marketing and product design are intimately related. Why have to spend all the money to find new customers, when the existing customers are already there. Promoting on-line reviews can help sell the next round of products as well as sell products today. Promoting this type of activity helps marketing and sales, but should be driven by the product managers and designers for maximum value (i.e. return of investment).
    If you implement the new feature in the current product, then do it quickly. This type of response is appreciated by the person suggesting the improvement. In these days of “customer diservice” other readers will be amazed at how responsive the manufacturer is to their opinons and suggestions. Maybe your programmers would appreciate the opportunity to directly impact customers by being responsive to customer feedback. Maybe this responsiveness is part of a company-wide attitude of excellence.

    Communicate the addition of th new feature to the customer(s) who suggested it. Maybe make him, or her, a celebrity amoung the other users. Maybe put him in the next commercial. Maybe let him send out a mailer, or e-mail, (under your supervision) to all of the registered users.

    This type of boldness isnt tolerated in many companies, so you may not be able to pull this off in your organization. Many users would be thrilled with smaller gestures (less risky) from the manufacturer. Assigning a product manager the collateral duty of just responding to customer comments could make a huge difference in how your product is perceived in the broader market. This is especially true with the rise in popularity, and credibility, of the blogosphere. At the same time, that product manager has his finger on the pulse of a portion of the user community. That can translate to design wins on future products.

    Whatever you do, make sure that you do it consistently and continue the user relations campaign for an extended period of time. Starting a user relations campaign up and suddenly going silent may do more damage than doing nothing. You can read more about public relations consistentcy on Frank Williams (Pioneer Strategies) blog at
    http://www.pioneerstrategies.com/newsltr_oct04.htm and http://www.pioneerstrategies.com/newsltr_may04.htm.

    Consistentcy, longevity, and a passion to be an advocate for the customer are the keys to making the most of these opportunities.

    As always, you comments and suggestions are welcome. Please dont hesitate to leave a comment here, or send an e-mail to montie@montie.com.

    Best Regards,
    Montie Roland
    President – Montie Design (www.montie.com)
    President, Carolinas Chapter of the PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas)
    Home of the NC Product Design Directory

    Providing Customer Value Every Day

    Yesterday, Dec 1st, I had the opportunity of attending a quarterly leadship forum sponsored by Pioneer Strategies in Raleigh, NC. The speaker, Bob Luddy, is a regional business success story. Some of what I took away from the conference is in the podcast below.

    Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. You can post your comments here, or send an e-mail to montie@montie.com.

    Best Regards,
    Montie Roland
    President, Montie Design
    President, Carolinas Chapter PDMA

    Wii vs. PlayStation3 – What We Can Learn from the Game Console War

    The last four weeks have contained much dinner time discussion about my step-son ditching the Xbox 360 (all of six weeks old, which he bought with money that he earned) to buy the new, cool PlayStation3. You may be asking what does this have to do with product design management. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are competing over the console space. A game console is a thinly-disguised computer that hooks up to your TV to play games. When I was growing up the console space was brand new and was dominated by Atari. Later generations of game consoles boiled down to a console war between Nintendo and Sega. Sega lost. The latest consoles are the Sony Playstation3 (Sony), Xbox 360 (Microsoft), and the Wii (Nintendo).

    The Sony Playstation3 has cutting-edge graphics and physics powered by the IBM cell processor. The XBox 360 is a year old now and doesnt quite have the graphics horsepower that the Playstation has. However, it does have a very successful on-line component called Xbox Live. The Sony costs from $500-600. The Xbox costs from $400-500. The Wii costs from $200-300 and doesnt have the graphics (or physics) horsepower of either of its competitors.

    The Wii does have a very innovative controller that was designed to make game play easier. Both the Playstation3 and the XBox controllers are button farms. They can be difficult to use. The other Wii advantage is its emphasis on ease-of-play. The system was designed to make game play easy. Making it easier makes it more attractive to a wider audience, and not just hard-core gamers. Nintendos plan is to design a better experience for a broader audience.

    My step-son (age 16) test played the Wii last night. When he got home, he was raving about how great the Wii was. When I asked how it could be that great he said; “I like the way it played”. This goes back to exactly what Shimon (www.Touch360.com) has been saying about designing for experience: http://www.montie.com/PDMA/2006_sept_event.

    The Wii, it doesnt have the sheer computing power of the PlayStation 3, but it does have a well-designed experience. We, as product designers and managers, should strive for similar forms of design excellence. It isnt always about additional features and more performance. Elegance can be difficult to achieve, but the result is usually worth the effort especially if you are the end user.

    As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

    Montie Roland
    President – Montie Design (ww.montie.com)
    President – Carolinas PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas)

    What made the Joint PDMA/TEC/ASME Event Interesting? (Revised on 3 Jan 07)

    Last month, we had the opportunity to put three groups together to host a joint consultants roundtable. These groups are:

    • Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development & Management Association (www.pdma.org/carolinas)
    • Carolinas Section of the ASME (http://sections.asme.org/carolina/)
    • Triangle Engineering Consultants (www.tecgroup.org)

    After a short networking session, we listened to a short keynote talk from Charles Lord (Triangle Advanced Design and Automation — http://www.tadatraining.com) about the subject of integrating consultants into your design process. The presentation, in power point format, is available at All_I_need_is.ppt.

    Ongoing Discussion at the Consultants Roundtable

    The roundtable discussion include eight consultants and a regional economist (Tom Vass). The discussion was titled “Integrating Consultants into A Well-Run Design Process”. To my surprise, and contray to the efforts of the moderator [me], the discussion kept straying onto the topic of how can consultants work with inventors and early-stage startups.

    The result of this discussion was Tom Vasss October 26th blog posting on the Design blogs at blog.Montie.com. Several of the attendees and consultants made suggestions of resources for these types of situations. Bill Sullivan (Carolinas PDMA Chapter member) highlighted the following resources:

    From the University of Illinois:

    Illinois incubator (Theyve upgraded their facilities!)

    Illinois Business Consulting (IBC)

    From UNC there is an organization that supports Entrepreneurship, but it doesnt seem to have an incubator. Interestingly, its sponsored in part by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, who is a big supporter of the University of Illinois program and the IBC. I was a Kauffman fellow when I was at U of I. Also, as mentioned on Thursday, UNC has the STAR program for student consulting.

    Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative (UNC)

    STAR – Student Teams Achieving Results (UNC)

    NC State has their technology incubator, but doesnt seem to have a student business consulting organization.

    NC State Technology Incubator

    Duke has an organization that supports Entrepreneurship, but like UNC it doesnt look like they have an incubator. They do have a student consulting organization that specifically mentions its commitment to pro bono consulting to local businesses that dont have the resources to get paid consulting.

    Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization (CERC) – Duke

    Fuqua Student Consulting Program (Duke/Fuqua)

    Creed Huddleston (Vice President of Omnisys Corp — www.omnisyscorp.com) suggested these:

    Another organization that is focused on developing entrepreneurship nationwide is the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation out of Kansas City. Their website is full of useful information on all aspects of business operations and development.


    One of the things we discussed last night was having an “opportunity fair” type of event on an annual basis. It looks like CED is putting on just such an event in Wilmington in December, with registration discounts prior to 11/3:

    Opportunity 2006 Conference:

    Here are some useful CED (Council for Entrepreneurial Development) links that describe how CED can help and the programs they offer. One item that attracted my attention based on last nights discussion is their Entrepreneurs Only Workshop series, which are lunch-time meetings that give current and budding entrepreneurs useful knowledge on the whole start-up process. Ive also included the Business Stages page since that breaks out their programs by their applicability to a particular phase in the business life cycle.

    CED home page:

    Programs and events:

    Entrepreneurs Only Workshop:

    Business Stages:

    MIT On-line Courses


    Fred Buggie (Strategic Innovations International, Inc. — www.StrategicInnovations.com) suggested:

    Every State I know of has an organization charged with the responsibility of inducing large companies to locate operations in their State. Those organizations normally are called “Industrial Development Authorities,” or “Indl Devt. Agencies,” but in the case of the Carolinas, they call themselves something different (so please extend my apologies to Tom Brown for the bum info. I gave him during your meeting). Each of these agencies has as their primary mission the attraction of new industry, so as to increase employment, and taxes paid, in the State; but as their secondary priority they are, to a lesser extent, interested in supporting the growth and prosperity of small companies already located in the State … for the same 2 reasons.

    South Carolina

    South Carolina Department of Commerce, directed by Chuck Bundy 803/737-0400.
    They have done a terrific job over the years, especially in attracting large employers to locate in the Greenville/Spartanburg area.

    Charlotte Regional Partnership

    Director: Kenny McDonald 704/347-8942
    City of Charlotte, NC cooperates with The SC Dept. of Commerce, and York County SC Economic Development Department, right across the State boundary line. The latter is managed by Mark Ferris (803/802-4300) with the City of Charlotte, NC Small Business Development Program

    This is an organization sponsored by the North Carolina Department. of Commerce, responsible for supporting small businesses in the 10 NC counties around Charlotte. 704/336-2473.

    North Carolina Department of Commerce, Raleigh, NC

    The Business & Industry Division is run by Gene Byrd 919/733-4151

    Tony McCullough (GRT Electronics — www.grtelectronics.com) added:

    NC Small Business and Technology Development Center

    http://www.sbtdc.org/technology/funding_sources.asp (Funding Sources List)

    http://www.sbtdc.org/technology/sbir.asp (SBIR Information)

    Thanks to the folks that contributed to the info above and to making the meeting a success! Working with early-stage startups, and individual inventors, remains a challenge for design firms and consultants. The triangle area benefits economically from these entities, some of which grow into much bigger entities. Supporting the development of new businessess should be a priority that we all share, especially since we all benefit from their success.

    Have a great day!

    Montie Roland

    President – Carolinas PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas)
    President – Montie Design (www.montie.com)

    Be sure to check out the NC Product Design Directory!


    Camping from the Viewpoint of a Product Designer

    Camping is an activity that transcends the standard social and economic assumptions. Camping is an extremely popular activity that attacts hundreds of thousands of participants each year. We come to see and experience locations and activities like:

    Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains
    Hiking on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

    Hiking on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina

    Sliding Down a Gigantic Rocks into 56 Degree Water at Sliding Rock

    The modern camping trip is a buffet of products designed to help improve the camping experience. We bring, use and make icons, and artifacts, like:

    The Venerable Coleman Camping Stove

    Everyone Loves a Campfire Followed by SMores

    When the Tents Leak, The Pop-Up Shelters Come Out

    PVC Helps this Camper Accommodate for Missing Product Features

    The podcast (below) discusses the camping experience and how we could redesign that experience to make camping more universally acceptable. Hopefully this exercise will give you ideas on how-to evaluate the experience associated with your products. Evaluating the experience associated with an existing product can be an excellent way to define new product experiences. These experience models lead to developing new, or derivative, products that make these new experiences possible.

    As always, your comments, and suggestions, are welcome. Please send them to me at montie@montie.com. Have a great day!

    Montie Roland