By Vicki Matranga, Design Programs Coordinator
Learn how to develop and launch the right products for the right customer—with the right methods!
The four days of the 2014 International Home + Housewares Show will be packed with events as well as educational sessions. In these final weeks before the Show, we preview presentations that will take place in the Innovation Theater in the Lakeside Center.
Today we are speaking Ken Harris, a co-founder and the CEO of Fred Sparks, an award-winning product design consulting group located in St. Louis, Mo. that specializes in product design strategy, innovation, and sustainability. Ken is also adjunct faculty and an advisor to Saint Louis University’s Parks College of Engineering. Ken’s research and design experience includes working with start-ups to Fortune 50 companies. He has provided training workshops to corporate innovation teams and has presented at multiple universities and professional trade conferences. In addition to his role at Fred Sparks, Ken is an Engineer Branched Officer in the Army Reserves and was a founding member and first chairman of the Industrial Designers Society of America St. Louis Chapter.
“Why is That Stranger in My House?” Ethnographic Research Techniques for Developing Successful New Products
Tuesday, March 18, 10:30 – 11:20 a.m.
Innovation Theater, Lakeside Center, E350
Ken, what is the most exciting or rewarding part of your job? What inspires your passion in your work?
People…building new relationships and enriching ongoing ones. Answering the question, “Why?”
In the past few years, what has changed most in your business? How has your company met these challenges in the way you work?
We’ve transitioned from being innovation providers to innovation partners for our clients. In the past we were often brought in to execute a component of our client partners’ innovation programs that had been determined by their internal strategy makers. But now we’re asked to help add perspective to larger strategic macro initiatives before helping to facilitate the micro innovation initiatives.
Tell us what you will be speaking about and how and this topic is important for Show audiences.
I’ll be speaking on the topic of ethnographic research… and how to put together a program for it the right way to get to good, and actionable, information.
Ken, designers adding ethnographic research to their tool kit is a relatively new development. For those unfamiliar with the term, could you describe what this means?
Ethnographic research emerged from cultural anthropology. Some years ago, designers and their client companies learned that we can’t just ask people what they want—they probably won’t know what’s missing and won’t be able to clearly articulate what they need. Actions speak louder than words. So designers developed the practice of direct observation in a user’s natural environment. We immerse ourselves, discreetly, in homes, stores, offices—wherever a person would use a product or service. We watch people in action to find patterns of behavior and to discover moments of pain or pleasure. It’s common to video and audio record the activities. We interpret and then communicate the data to derive suggestions for new ways of doing things.
Why did you choose to speak at the International Home + Housewares Show?
I believe most of the audience at the Show wants to achieve the same things that my team and I at Fred Sparks endeavor to accomplish every day… to bring products to market that enrich peoples’ lives and provide a profit component to enrich companies and their communities. I also know through experience that the best way to mitigate risk and waste in doing so is through good research that gets to the essence of consumer behaviors. Beyond that I have an interest in sharing a “tool kit” of info for getting ethnographic research done right with an audience that I believe benefit from this knowledge.
What do you see as consumers’ biggest concerns regarding housewares products?
If you had asked me that question 10 years ago when I was forming Fred Sparks, I’d have had a totally different answer. Today I believe the answer to this question can’t be summed up easily. There are so many different and unique individuals, and while we can group people together into demographics, we’re left with so many consumer segments types that I don’t think there is a single answer to this question. I suppose that I could say choice or value, but that’s not definitive in a way that’s meaningful.
What are some of today’s trends or issues that new product development professionals and/or retailers face in the housewares market?
The power that the Internet and other new technologies provide entrepreneurs. It’s something that is still evolving, but I believe that industrial designers/product development professionals now have a unique advantage in being able to identify a consumer problem, develop a solution, and source manufacturing and funding… all while sitting in their underwear at midnight in front of their home computer.
Thank you, Ken, we’ll keep that image in our minds as we think about that “stranger” in our house! We look forward to hearing your take on the latest techniques designers use to create products and services to satisfy unmet needs. Mark your Show calendar to attend Ken’s presentation, Tuesday March 18 at 10:30 a.m. It’s sure to be a great finish to our four days of exciting programming in the Innovation Theater, Lakeside Center room E350.
Learn about the many educational sessions and exciting events at the Show by clicking here.
To learn more about Ken Harris and Fred Sparks Design, contact him at:
3711 S. Kings Highway Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63109