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From Concept To Consumer

By Phil Baker

*A Book Review*

by Michael C. Gray

© 2009 by Michael C. Gray

What is the process of developing a product idea and eventually getting it into production and into the marketplace? Phil Baker tells the story of this process, especially for high-technology consumer products, in this fascinating book.

Phil is uniquely qualified to tell this story. He is currently a product development consultant and has worked in product design in many settings, including designing the SX-70 camera for Polaroid, working on the Newton Personal Digital Assistant and the Powerbook for Apple Computer and as a founder of Think Outside developing the Stowaway Keyboard – the most popular PDA accessory ever sold, and many other products. He also currently writes a technology column for the San Diego Daily Transcript.

In explaining the product development and design process, Phil emphasizes that it should be a team effort with many disciplines involved. Marketing must be involved to avoid developing a product that nobody will buy. Design engineers must assure that it will be easy for customers to use. Manufacturing specialists, usually from "outsource" partners, must assure that the product is designed so that it can be straightforward to manufacture and assemble. Accounting and finance specialists must be involved to assure there are adequate funds to finance the product development and to estimate the cost of manufacturing the product and determine (with marketing) whether it can be sold at a profit. Ongoing cross-discipline communication is essential.

Phil points out that getting patents is important, but their value is limited, especially in the world of high technology. By the time the patent is awarded, the product will probably be obsolete. Competitors will rapidly develop competing products anyway. It may be prohibitively expensive to litigate patent violation claims. Your best defense is to continue to rapidly develop the next generation of products.

Although customer advisory boards are helpful for feedback on product improvements, these boards may not be as useful for truly new products because the participants may not understand how the product will be used. For truly innovative products, it's helpful to consult with individuals with a lot of experience in introducing such products who have developed a "sixth sense" about what will appeal to the marketplace.

Phil also explains the advantages of manufacturing most products in China. China has developed an extraordinary infrastructure to manufacture products for businesses in other countries, especially the United States, including a national mandate of education of Chinese students to speak, read and write English. Engineers from Chinese manufacturing subcontractors work closely with their American customers to assure the "manufacturability" of products and that high-quality goods are produced. According to Phil, it's now hard for manufacturing companies anywhere else to compete with their Chinese counterparts.

If your company develops high-technology consumer products or you want to better understand the process of product development, I highly recommend that your read this book.

Buy it on Amazon: From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas Into Money.

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