By Tim Nugent
Edited by Leslie Gordon

Suppose your team is tasked with designing a new computer mouse that has a soft touch to the hand. Crucial decisions up front can help designers downstream create innovative concepts that can result in a market first.

To start, marketing and engineering should work together to rank a product’s promotional and technical requirements. Marketing specs might come from asking such questions as, “What is our design for brand?” and “What features of the brand should be externalized in the new design?” Team members should put the answers in categories that might include “style,” “usability,” “performance,” and “environmental conditions.” Members are likely to find there are many categories that might be appropriate.

Next comes listing the categories alongside technical requirements and placing a score next to them. For example, say the mouse requires a simple plastic housing. Plastic housings for consumer electronics typically should pass a 6-ft drop-test onto concrete. Depending on the application, a score could fall anywhere between 1 and 5, with 1 meaning most important and 5 least important. For example, when it’s critical a mouse housing pass or exceed requirements of the drop-test, the appropriate score would be 1.

The required “soft touch” might come from various manufacturing techniques such as coating or overmolding. Manufacturing costs can also be itemized in the technical requirements list and associated with a score. A score of 5, then, might mean the smoothest touch is not needed. This would tell the team to keep tooling costs low and stick to a rubberized coating. On the other hand, a score of 1 or 2 would free the team to explore alternate overmolding options.

Recently, computer-accessory manufacturer Belkin probably used a similar scenario in the design of its new mouse. Most likely, the designers were happy in that overmolding added visual appeal because it covered the parting lines found in a typical mouse. Also, the soft material didn’t hinder use of the mouse buttons.

Then their train of thought might have gone something like this: “Overmolding could be used to make the mouse water resistant. A common consumer worry is bacteria, spread of disease, and cleanability. So what we actually have is a washable mouse. Moms would naturally love being able to keep a mouse clean after the kids use it.” The upshot: A good idea translated to an innovative product that targets homes with several family members including sticky-fingered kids using the same PC.

Tim Nugent is the Design Director at Pulse Global LLC in Santa Ana, Calif. (pulse-global.com). The firm focuses on industrial design for medical devices, industrial equipment, consumer electronics, and other products and has worked for everything including start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. Got a question about industrial design? You can reach Tim at tim.nugent@pulse-global.com.

The innovative idea for a washable mouse most likely came from an up-front ranking of design requirements.