How to innovate – part two: the Dependency technique

Sunglasses that turn darker in the sun, a stove which glows red when hot and parking sensors that beep louder when an object gets closer. These are only a few examples of products that use dependency between characteristics. 

In this short blog series, I will share some of the most powerful thinking techniques to develop new products and services. In this second article: the Dependency technique. 

How to use the Dependency technique to generate new product ideas:

Step 1. List all variable characteristics

Write down all internal characteristics of your subject that may vary. These are things like size, type of material, colour, smell, volume etc.

Also, list all external characteristics. These are the elements outside of the product that may vary; things like the place, weather, temperature of the surroundings etc.


Imagine, you’d like to design a new type of candle. Internal characteristics of a candle are things like length, colour, smell, thickness, shape etc. External characteristics of a consumer candle could be the moment it is used, the location in the home and the occasion (romantic, festive, relaxing etc).

Step 2. Place the characteristics in a matrix

Create a matrix in which you combine the various characteristics. Combine internal characteristics both with other internal characteristics and with external ones.

Candle innovationStep 3. Create (or remove) dependencies between characteristics 

What would happen if these two characteristics would be dependent on each other? And what would happen if an existing relation between characteristics would be removed? Play around with possible relationships.

Some examples: 

– a candle that starts to smell differently when it shrinks

– a candle that changes colour when it shrinks

– a candle that smells stronger if it burns for a longer period of time.

Step 4. Visualise what this idea would look like

Visualise the new situation. Don’t worry about an idea seeming very strange. Most really innovative ideas seem ridiculous at first. Therefore it pays to ponder on an idea, regardless it’s apparent strangeness.

Consider both positive and negative relationships between characteristics. An increase in one characteristic can mean an increase in the other (e.g. heavier rainfall triggers the screen wipers to move faster), but the relation can also be inverted (with the space between a car and an object decreasing, the frequency of the parking sensor beeping increases).

Step 5. Identify possible user needs

Ask yourself; what could be benefits of this? Who would find this particularly useful? And in which situations would this be most helpful?

If these questions help you find value, you’re ready to proceed to the next step. If you, however, fail to see any benefits to your new idea, it means you should go back to step three and consider other dependencies that might be more useful.

Step 6. Develop your idea

How might you make this work? Can you implement this idea directly? Or does it need some work? Consider what is needed to put your idea into practice. If it seems unlikely to work, think about ways to simplify your idea.


Remember that you can only innovate by doing. Innovating is simply implementing new ideas. Use the steps of the Dependency-technique and make your ideas tangible as quickly as possible. Build simple prototypes and experiment to test your assumptions.

Below are some examples of innovative ideas that use dependencies in a creative way.

Some innovative examples: 

The amount of water pumped up = dependent on how long children play 

The size of the dance floor = dependent on the number of visitors
Toffler, one of Rotterdam’s nightclubs, is equipped with a dynamic DJ booth. The DJ can make the room bigger or smaller. A small attendance means the dance floor can be reduced. When there are lots of visitors, however, the room will be enlarged to create space to dance.

The colour of the wall paint = dependent on how much time elapsed 
Paint manufacturer Flexa has developed white wall paint that is light pink when you apply it. This way, you can see exactly which parts of the wall still need to be painted. After 60 minutes have passed, the pink colour miraculously turns a majestic white.


Don't miss out

Receive our biweekly email with our latest articles on business creativity.

We respect your privacy.
Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search

innovate by combining tasksSubtraction technique