Monday, September 25, 2006

HCI/d and NPD - Acronyms Ahoy!

I'm currently doing an independent study with Dr. Thomas Hustad, a professor of Marketing in the Kelley School of Business. His extensive knowledge of the area has been extremely helpful in scoping a new area of research for me that occurs at the nexus of marketing, new product development(NPD), and overall business strategy, particularly as these things are increasingly facilitated on massive scales (or could be) via computer systems. For any hard-core HCI/d folks out there, i'd highly recommend taking at least a quick tour through the some of the NPD material that is out there. Essentially, the field of NPD covers the product life cycle from concept creation to launch, and even into later product-related activities which includesthings like customer relations management (CRM). For the HCI designer in practice, or for those of you headed into practice in the future, it is imperative to understand the hardcore business viewpoint on the business to product to consumer relationship.

What does an MBA-trained NPD person see when they look at a potential product? Where we as HCI/d professionals are trained in and tasked with understanding the user, the NPD professional (take for instance a product manager who is tasked with getting a quality product out the door) is trained in and tasked with understanding the financial, legal and logistical issues that make it possible (or not) to launch a quality product to these same users, but to still maintain legal compliance, company strategic objectives, product schedules and to still at the end of the day to return some money to the stockholders whose money is funding the entire endeavor.

For the HCI/d professional, it is important to understand the current NPD thinking for a few reasons:

1. In our current economy, unless you are designing a product only for your close circle of friends or for opensource distribution, product design is usually part of a larger, fairly standard business process. If we as HCI/d designers are not aware of this larger process, we risk designing amazing solutions that cannot make it to market where they can actually be a benefit to real users.

2. One of the struggles that has always faced NPD teams is innovation. Right now we are in a time of unprecedented online user participation. Wikis, Social Networking, Consumer Reviews, etc. etc. Since consumers are now becoming socialized to participate in an online context, HCI/d designers may be just the people to develop effective ways for lots of users to participate in product innovation. In the NPD literature, this has been written about in the last few years, but not done very well to this point. I'm currently reading Eric Von Hippel's book Democratizing Innovation - available for free online under a creative commons license, which takes a broad societal look at this idea. I think the HCI/d community can take a lead in this area if we step back a bit and think about the computer imaginative-(pdf download) idea that one very good way to bring thousands of people together to foster innovation may be through the Internet.

3. As HCI/d pracitioners, we can gain some valuable insights from the ways that business people get things done. There are always tradeoffs between idealism and pragmatism in any process. In my experience, excellent pragmatism is what makes good MBA grads into a great business leaders. This sort of pragmatism is absolutely necessary in business, since there is usually hard empirical accountability for one's actions. The excellent pragmatist is expert in efficiently considering many factors and making smart decisions that have positive outcomes.

4. As designers, we can bring new ideas - especially in the area of customer interactions - into this process that can perhaps foster breakthrough product developments, rather than just incremental ones. In an article entitled New Product Development as a Complex Adaptive System of Decisions this month's issue of the Journal of Product Innovation Management, Ian P. McCarthy, Christos Tsinopoulos, Peter Allen, and Christen Rose-Anderssen introduce a complex adaptive system that, in their words:

..develops and presents propositions that predict how the configuration and organization of NPD decision-making agents will influence the potential for three mutually dependent CAS phenomena: nonlinearity, selforganization, and emergence. (from the abstract)

it also

..takes into account considers individual NPD processes to be capable of switching or toggling between different behaviors—linear to chaotic—to produce corresponding
innovation outputs that range from incremental to radical in accord with market expectations. (also from the abstract)

I am still working through the article, but what the publication of this article represents is a willingness of the field of NPD - and perhaps an eagerness on its part - to find new ways of stepping out of its linear, deterministic roots and into more organic means to understand and to improve New Product Development. I have seen similar shifts in the thinking of business strategy experts, who are even looking back at some older ideas like Stafford Beer's Viable System Model. At the IU School of Informatics, recent collaborations between the Complex Systems and HCI/d folks have shown a great deal of promise in the design of music recommendation systems, analysis of social networking, identification of shortcomings in traditional HCI in predicting large-scale computer-facilitated emergent user interactions, and other areas. Perhaps NPD will be another place we can help.

I'm still in the early stages of understanding the codified field of NPD. More to come in the near future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Christian: How do you like HCI/d the program at IU? I'm considering the MS program and I'm looking for feedback from others who are schooling there.

Lang Elliott
NatureSound Studio