How to use a checklist-technique to improve a product

When trying to develop a new product or service, it might be good to look at products and services that already exist. A checklist-technique can help you think of ways to improve what is already there.

In an earlier post, Jeroen described how the classic checklist-technique SCAMPER can help you think of possible improvements to a product or service. You simply check what you can substitute, combine, adapt, magnify, minify, put to other uses, eliminate, reverse or rearrange.

SCAMPER is not the only checklist-technique you can use, however. There are similar techniques that are equally helpful if you are trying to improve an existing product.

A very simple, yet effective, technique to help you list improvements to a product that already exists is ‘ACT NOW’. An acronym that acts as a playful reminder that whatever wonderful improvements you think of, it’s paramount that you act on them (for instance, by creating a quick prototype).

This is how this checklist-technique works:


The ‘ACT NOW’ technique consists of 6 basic steps. Go through them one by one and list as many improvements as possible for each step. Don’t worry about your ideas being wacky or seemingly impossible. Focus on quantity for now.

1. Add something
Say you want to redesign the good ol’ toothbrush. In this first step, you’ll think of things to add to the ordinary toothbrush. What can you add? Are there features that could improve the product? List as many things to add as you can. Maybe you can add a little radio in the toothbrush to make the whole brushing experience more enjoyable. Or how about a built-in timer to make sure you brush your teeth for the recommended time. And why not include floss in the toothbrush itself?

2. Change colour
Think about the different colours your product comes in. Can you think of other colours that might please your customers? In the case of the toothbrush, maybe a shiny golden one will appeal to a certain type of customer. And why should toothbrushes always be brightly coloured? Maybe some people prefer a dull grey edition. Of course, you could also go the other way: making it even more bright could lead you to think about an exciting glow-in-the-dark toothbrush.

3. Try new materials
What other materials could you use for your product? Perhaps you can create an environmentally friendly toothbrush by making it from bamboo instead of plastic. Maybe a glass toothbrush could make a classy bathroom accessory. And why not use something like titanium to create an indestructible product?

4. New design
Can you redesign the current model of your product? By changing the design you could, of course, change the look-and-feel. The style. But thinking about other ways to design your product could also lead to new applications. You could, for instance, take care of a common annoyance: the last bit of toothpaste that is near impossible to get out of the tube. A tube squeezing toothbrush could make a lot of people happy. Or why not focus on the travelling customer: a folding toothbrush takes up less precious space.

5. Odd shapes
Can you change the shape of your product? This question is similar to the previous one, but where ‘new design’ focusses on a change in style or application, ‘odd shapes’ challenges you to think about different shapes and how they could be useful. How would people use a toothbrush that is shaped like an orb? Could a brush in the shape of a starfish be useful? How about a flat one? Thinking about odd shapes could lead you to a tumbler shaped toothbrush, that will always stay upright. And if you dare to stretch your mind even further, you might contemplate a man-shaped brush. Sounds ridiculous? Perhaps a toothbrush shaped like an action figure could convince your child to brush…

6. Winning sizes
Can you change the size of your product? Could it be useful to make your product bigger or smaller?
As people tend to bring their own toothbrush when travelling, making it smaller is probably the first thing you think about. Perhaps you could design a travel toothbrush that is much smaller than the regular type. But even a big bulky toothbrush could be valuable, as IDEO’s Tom Kelley explains in the video below.

As you can see, the six simple questions this checklist technique offers help you to explore the possibilities of improvement. You’ll probably find yourself thinking about changes that you would normally never even had considered.

How can this simple checklist-technique help you improve YOUR product?


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