Sustainable Design: Growbooks

Defining My Consumer Needs and Product Metrics

I’ve been flipping through my Product Design and Development textbook written by Karl Ulrich, recently. I’ve been wanting to further define my product’s specifications and so I decided to try out a few of this textbook’s recommendations by using an excel table that lists various consumer needs with varying importance. This is what I came up with so far (see picture above).

The idea is that this table will provide the vehicle I need to begin defining my product’s specifications. It’s important to note that my specifications are going to outline what my product has to do in measurable detail. It’s not going to tell me how to do it, just what I’m going to attempt to achieve. And at the very beginning, my customer needs are going to be very generalized because they can. I’m using this as an outline of what’s to come, but I am putting a level of importance on these needs. For instance, these growbooks will provide educational stories, provide a creative means to grow a plant and most importantly, follow a sustainable lifecycle that will allow it to return to the biological waste stream at its end of life–in our case, composting. And you can see in these needs (however generalized they are) that our importance levels are maxed out (5 being the highest level of importance). These are the needs that we cannot compromise on. Whereas if you explore a few of the other need statements such as: “It shall be affordable for consumers,” or, “It shall be durable for a quantity of time,” these can be compromised on in order to achieve another need of a higher importance. Furthermore it’s important to notice that these needs do not have values attached. Both affordable and durable are subjective in this context–which sets up to start defining these parameters.


Product Metrics

So at this point in time, Ulrich recommends making a needs-metrics matrix. And this matrix outlines the relationship between our customer needs and our metrics.  Furthermore it outlines what values need to be obtained, their corresponding units, the importance level of these metrics and the dependent customer requirements. So for instance, what is the mass of my book going to be? Well why is that important? For one, the book needs to be shipped so the heavier it is, the more I and the customer pays for shipping–so an increase in cost. Also, the book needs to be relatively light from an ergonomics perspective for both children and adults. So there are a couple of things we’ve already touched on for this single metric. I believe I’ve outlined most of the metrics, but more can always be added at another time.

With my product metrics and my and consumer needs, I can use my metrics document as a means to compare the competition to my product, which will help define my product specifications. This is important to see if the market is saturated and if you can find a way to differentiate the product from the competition. Maybe you want to improve on a certain metric that makes your product more preferable then the leading competition. Or there could be features your product has (additional metrics) that other product don’t and so this exercise may not really help in defining those values. In either case, these tables are extremely valuable in setting you up to define your product specs. Before I begin adding values to these specifications, I’m going to do some competition and market research. I know I’ve really downplayed the importance of market research in my previous posts, but I’m going to try it out because it’s an important skill set I could acquire and it could also save me time and money from making a product that people just might not be interested in. Therefore I hope that in my next posts I can show a bit of the methods that Ulrich uses to compare the competition against my own product as well as how to find if there is even demand for this product. Stay tuned for more stuff. Thanks!


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