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  • Jim Belfiore

Design & Innovation Methods

There are many design and innovation methodologies one can consider for use during a product's initial design and overall lifecycle. Mastery of even a single innovation methodology can add substantial value to an engineering organization's team, its communities of practice, and ultimately unlock hidden value in a company's intellectual property portfolio. Any innovation or design methodology has its own strengths and weaknesses.


This short list describes of some of the more popular innovation methods in use at many product design firms and process manufacturing organizations.


  • Axiomatic design – This systems-level design methodology transforms customer needs into design parameters, functional requirements and process variables via matrix analyses. The two axioms at the center of the methodology are: 1. Maintain the independence of the functional requirements. 2. Minimize the information content of the design.

  • De Bono – Named for the author of “Six Thinking Hats,” Edward de Bono. The De Bono method espouses the idea of parallel thinking, and asks the practioner to imagine that six thinking hats with different colors. Each hat represents different considerations: Managing, information, emotions, discernment (or logic), optimistic response and creativity.

  • Kansei – Developed by Dr. Mitsuo Namagachi of Hiroshima University, the methodology studies a customer’s emotional responses to a product or service, with the aim of producing the intended feeling in other customers. The methodology is also known as affective or emotional engineering.

  • Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) – In product design, NLP techniques are thought to help engineers enter into states of excellence where they will overcome their own "psychological inertia". The NLP methodology has roots in the human potential movement of the 1970s and posits that behavior based on experiences (the “programming”) can be identified and changed.

  • Quality function deployment (QFD) – Developed by Dr. Yoji Akao in 1966, QFD emphasizes incorporating customer needs (“the voice of the customer”) into engineering characteristics (and the resulting test methods) for a product or service. QFD has some relation to management by objectives (also known as management by results), which has been used by Hewlett-Packard and other companies with some revisions.

  • Six Sigma – This methodology for process improvement was originally developed at Motorola in the 1980's and embraced by General Electric under former CEO Jack Welch. The goal of a Six Sigma process is to insure manufactured products are statistically 99.99966 percent defect-free. Six Sigma incorporates quality management and statistical methods.

  • Theory of Constraints (TOC) – Eli Goldratt theorized that all systems have constraints, the reduction of which will improve the productivity of an organization. TOC features five focusing steps for increasing throughput and identifies typical constraints for an organization, such as equipment, personnel, and policies.

  • TRIZ – Created in 1946 by Soviet engineer Genrich Altshuller, TRIZ is a collection of systematic approaches for analyzing product challenges, and offers algorithmic tools to discover inventive solutions which maximize “ideality”. The name is an abbreviation of the Russian name “Teoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadatch”, and translates as “the theory of inventive problem solving.

  • Value Engineering – General Electric initiated the Value Engineering method during the Second World War, when producing airplanes, tanks and weaponry was constrained by available components, raw materials, and skilled personnel. The methodology is a systematic method for determining the value of a product or service, expressing value as a ratio of function, problems and cost.

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