IDEO for product design is like Starbucks for coffee. Other great product development firms exist and can be hired. Many predate IDEO. But IDEO has created a brand and quality level that is recognized throughout the world. It offers a premium product at a premium price. It keeps innovating, offering new skills and services for its clients. Pittsburgh, home to two of the authors, has several Starbucks coffeehouses. But there are also a suite of other excellent choices, local brands that have followed Starbucks’ lead but created their own personality and product offerings. Many services of these coffeehouses are good, just as good as Starbucks (if, at times, not better), or offer an interesting variation. But none of them offers the range of goods or consistency in experience that one finds in Starbucks throughout the world. Many of them are less expensive than Starbucks.
The same is true for product design firms. IDEO is the spearhead of a movement that is sweeping the best companies and product consulting and strategy branding companies. Many talented product development firms throughout the world and in every local community offer creative and complete services, even if they don’t have the visibility of IDEO. For many companies, local product development firms can provide services that otherwise are not afforded through inhouse support. Many of the larger firms can provide insights and results that establish a strong brand presence in any market.
Not all companies can afford to hire IDEO, but all companies can afford many local specialty firms that can similarly provide high – quality services that meet the needs of a growing organization. What is important is to recognize that, whether grown in-house or purchased externally through consultants, these capabilities are critical to the success of innovation-driven companies. Recall the problem that the company discussed earlier in this chapter had with its lack of communication with its consultants. Whether innovation is sought inhouse or externally, a company must understand the tools of innovation to succeed.
so, what are some of the various product-related consultants? What can they do for your firm? An ad agency controls all channels of communication, including print, Web, and television. It also coordinates communication design services. You might want to hire a brand development company that specializes in branding. It focuses on a company’s identity and branding message and overlaps with advertising companies on the services they provide. Branding firms focus more on identity, whereas advertising firms focus on the distribution of your message. There are product development firms that vary from turnkey consultants who can do every phase for you, such as IDEO and Product Insight (discussed next), to specialists who are engineering-focused or industrial design-focused. These services vary significantly. Engineering firms tend to be highly specialized by area, such as heat transfer or structures, diagnostics, and manufacturing. Industrial design firms vary by type of product and scope of service. some industrial design consulting firms specialize in medical products, and others in toys, and some other firms focus on consumer products, computers, and digital equipment. Still other firms just specialize in point-of-purchase or even trade show booth design. The trend for most consulting firms is to try to offer a greater range of design services. Many industrial design and engineering groups are merging and offer full product development services. The biggest product development firms also provide research, packaging, and point-of-purchase design. Many other firms offer communication and graphic design services. These companies can design logos and identities, but at a different scale and cost than branding companies. some firms just specialize in Web design.