For some of us, the answer to this question may seem fairly obvious, but for others, it can be difficult to see the value of research or even taking the time to dive into it properly. Your ideas come from your own creative brain…why should you spend time looking at what other people are doing? Or maybe you researched a little bit and decided you’ve seen enough. How much more could there possibly be, after all? We spoke with Tim Craig, Inventionland’s Vice President of Design & Development, to help us answer this question.
Research Is Universally Important
According to Craig, the importance of research isn’t just for inventors. “Research, to me, is the best place to start with anything you’re doing in life,” he said. “You want to know what you’re getting yourself into before you start thinking you’re on the right track. Research can be done quickly and easily, but really diving in and doing thorough research can be pretty taxing. It can be easy to find things sometimes because everybody’s looking for them, but there can be other times when you’re trying to find something specific and it’s never been there before so you can’t find much on the topic. I can’t express how much research helps to move the creative process along.”
So, for anyone who sets their sights on any project in any field- research is your best friend. It may be taxing and tedious, but (as Craig stated) you need to know if you’re on the right track. But for inventors specifically, where do you start?
Types of Research
For the most part, experts like Craig focus on two main types of research: product research and patent research. Product research involves looking for similar products or ideas that are on the market or in concept form. Patent research requires digging through patents to see if anyone has already registered a similar or identical product.
According to Craig, one of the hardest parts of product research is pushing yourself: “It’s a scary step because you feel like you have this idea that no one has ever had. So you go in very timid because you don’t want to find the idea, you want to be the one that claims it exists. So there’s a little bit of that where you have to do your due diligence and at least attempt to find a similar product that either solves the problem you’re trying to solve or is exactly like your product.”
If you’re ever feeling timid or hesitant to find a similar product…don’t. It may end up actually making your invention stronger: “You can bring me any product that exists and I can find some unique feature about it,” Craig said. “So doing research on your products and finding similar things isn’t a way to hinder you, it’s a way to make something better. Don’t just think you have the best idea either, you can always find ways to improve upon it. And when you do see similar products on the market, it also tells you there’s a market for it and people want this thing which is a good thing.”
If you ever find that you need to actually expand on your invention idea, one of Craig’s personal favorite research tools is a site you’re most likely already well-versed in. “These days one of my best tools of research is the good old YouTube,” he said. “(With) so many things on YouTube, you just type in whatever you want (how to, what is…) and there’s somebody explaining to you their point of view on the subject. YouTube is one powerful tool to just understand what other people have done and you can pick up right where they left off and/or get ideas from where they are and make your own conclusions from there.”
Patent research is equally important because the patent process is extremely complicated and can be expensive, too. There are a lot of specifics that go into it, so you must do your research to help you avoid problems later on. According to Craig, patent research works best after your invention has been created and finalized: “We [recommend] patenting your idea after the process as opposed to the beginning because you never know, throughout the process, what your product is going to turn into…We’re mostly looking for similar concepts that have been patented. Once we get those in, the design staff reviews them and looks at the claims and sees whether you may or may not be infringing upon a patent.”
Another important facet of an inventor’s research is market research. This requires looking at the possible market for your product and comparing your product to that of competitors. It also allows you to begin to gauge your audience and get ideas on how to market your product later on.
Knowing your audience is important for several reasons. “Market research is important just to understand how many units you’re going to need to get manufactured and distributed,” Tim explained. “If you know you’re catering toward every person over the age of 20, then you know you’re going to have to invest a lot of money to tooling costs and production costs. And there’s a huge distribution channel to get through and push all these products. Marketing your product is pretty much the next hardest thing to creating the product because, once you create the product, you have to get it found. Knowing how many people are going to find you and what people are going to find you is all important. It’s also something we do in our design work because we’re trying to market towards [certain people]. So we use market research to understand what we should be doing in terms of packaging, ergonomics, and design. Understanding your market lets you understand how big or small your idea is, and either is good.”
Not only does this type of research allow you to know the size of your market, but it also helps you begin to understand the competition and figure out how best to differentiate your invention from any similar models. What makes your invention better than ones that have preceded it? Or, as Tim puts it, “What is our point of difference? And that’s what you dwell on. Whether it’s cheaper, whether it’s easier to manufacture, whether it ships in a better container or if it has a unique feature that outdoes the other one.”
Different experts vary on their point of view as far as competition goes. Some recommend you model yourself after Apple and just push forward without looking back at what anyone else is doing. Others, like Tim, recommend working hard to set yourself apart. And, in Tim’s experience, there’s one sure fire way to do that, “In the world we live in, the price usually trumps all. Just because you’ve got a better feature, if the competitor is cheaper, they’re going with the competitor. Sometimes we see great products die on the line just because of cost. It’s sad to see some of those that didn’t make it, but understanding the cost of your product is another big thing in research.”
According to Craig, the sad truth is that companies are less likely to invest in new products that are more expensive to manufacture. It’s simply easier to take a risk on an unknown product when the price tag is lower. Therefore, when you’re prototyping your invention and researching product design, it’s in your best interest to try to design your product in the most cost-effective way possible.
Rather than focusing on creating this super high-quality expensive product, try to create one that would be affordable for manufacturers to pick up. There’s always time for the more expensive model later. “Wait until you’ve got ten years of sales or three years of sales or five years of sales [experience]. Enter the market in your path of least resistance, and then put your bells and whistles on. Knock yourself off [the market] with your improvements before you allow someone to knock you off. Start with the base model, then make your iPad pro, Gold, XL, XS model.”
Now, we could give you a long-winded summary of the importance of research and how seriously crucial it is while wagging our metaphorical fingers in your general direction. However, we think Tim puts it best: “You can’t ever do enough research. Because tomorrow is a new day and whatever you researched yesterday is already over.” Well said, Tim.