Product or service definition can sometimes be confused with the overall framing of the proposition, especially when the design motivation is strongly driven by an overall perception of an un-met need). or with the technology underpinning the product which is frequently the case with technology-enabled innovation.
The key to commercial success of course is to create a product that customers will use and pay for, irrespective of the overall problem that is being solved or the technology that makes it possible. Companies need to be clear about the precise approach used to guide the design of a product or service.
Broadly speaking, there are three different approaches to product and service design: approaches based on:
the ‘voice of the customer’ (including customer insights, focus groups and key user analysis);
synthesis-based approaches (which include outcome-driven innovation, the popular design thinking approach, and creative synthesis);
technology mapping (which can focus on functionality, applications, or value chains).
The first has a long history of application, and the third approach has become more popular with the advent of digital technologies. Synthesis-based approaches can have the biggest impacts but finding the right design skills is not easy: our educational systems are much better at teaching analytical skills than synthesis skills, especially in science and technology.
Irrespective of the approach adopted, companies need to be clear about the overall shape of their product not just look at functions, features, and benefits. This focus on shape is now becoming more important because companies need to decide which elements of the product are critical to its operation. The 9-layer product decomposition model provides a powerful way to understand product shape.
The Triple Chasm Model 9-layer framework provides a structured way to design the shape of a product or service based on the relevance of 9 different layers:
Base technologies, which can provide the basic building blocks
Application technologies, which can integrate different base technologies
Platforms, where base and application technologies can be integrated to deliver new functionality
Applications and Tools, which usually sit astride platforms or similar frameworks to deliver new functional capabilities
Data, which usually consists of content, for example text or video
Meta-data, which enables a ‘look-up table’ which provides a guide to the content underneath
Products, which provide integrated functionality based on the lower layers in the 9-layer model
Services, which typically build on the product layer
Customers: this layer is critical because it helps to understand how the shape may be conditioned by other types of customers and users.
Not all 9 layers are relevant for all products and services but understanding what actually matters is critical for successful product design.