From paper to product: Class takes students through cycle
A student walks down State Street with IPod in hand, a laptop bag swung over his shoulder and a cell phone to his ear. He’ll tell you he needs them all to survive the day, but he could do without the hassle of the tangled device cords inside his bag.
Alex Kang, an MBA candidate in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, was one member of a collaborative design team that created Jumpstart, a universal charger for mobile technology for U-M’s Tauber Manufacturing Institute’s Integrated Product Development (IPD) course last fall.
“Basically, our product started from our own school life,” Kang says. “Normal students usually carry two or three mobile devices. On our first team meeting, we opened our bags and found the chargers all tangled together. That’s how we came up with the solution—a universal charger.”
The USBner, a flash-drive compacted into a keychain/bottle opener; the Jumpstart, a universal charger for mobile electronics; and the Sleek, a compact laptop carrying case, all were progenies of numerous late nights and empty coffee cups from students enrolled in the IPD course.
The class, which allowed students to build and promote their own products from the beginning market research stages to the actual manufacturing and selling of their prototypes, challenged students to collaborate with the mechanics as well as the business-oriented aspects of the product development process.
Students also designed a Web page to display their products in an online trade show that took place Nov. 23-29, when members of the University community, affiliates and alumni logged on to vote for their preferred products. Following the online show, students re-evaluated their ideas and presented them Nov. 30 at an on-campus trade show.
Student teams from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, College of Engineering and the School of Art & Design developed products that supported mobile technology used by students. This year’s class produced numerous working products ranging from souped-up laptop workstations to a negative-ion reducer for mobile phones and mp3 players.
“The objective of the IPD course is to provide an experience in integrated (marketing, engineering, manufacturing and design) customer-focused product development in a competitive context, and to enhance students’ ability to work well in teams of combined business, engineering and design expertise,” Bill Lovejoy, creator and professor of business administration, wrote in an article about his experience teaching the course. “The unique feature of the IPD class is the evaluation of customer-ready prototypes by large numbers of potential customers.”
The process of product development of the Jumpstart from conception to retail began with market research, Kang says. “First, we conducted a market survey to understand consumer behavior. Then, we did a preliminary design along with the idea generation. We had one art student, two engineers and two MBAs. So it was a really good mix to understand and account for various aspects in the early stage.”
A key feature of the class was to create the design for manufacturability and profitability. Students had to determine an economic way of manufacturing their product by experimenting with material choice, cost, assembly process and labor requirement. Also, the teams had to perform costs analyses that would help them to determine reasonable prices for their target sales.
The grades for the student teams were weighed by the amount of profit and revenue generated by their products. “We had a surprising turnout this year,” says Paula Baker, marketing development and alumni manager for the Tauber Institute. “The judging of the products, which took the form of online voting from the University community, had over 800 votes.”
Originally developed in 1991 and delivered jointly by the Graduate School of Business and School of Engineering at Stanford University, Lovejoy brought the class to U-M and has been teaching it for the past 10 years.
“I have learned a tremendous amount about real product development activities from this class,” Lovejoy says. “The behaviors and reactions of students are a great lens into the world of pressurized creative work, how it is paced, and what activities work and which do not. Everyone that is associated with this course gets a much richer view of this world than reading existing literature or working in just one company.
“The result is a course that has surprising chemistry, unleashing strong passions, allegiances and great energy among both students and faculty,” he adds. “Students do not, in general, leave the course with polished skills. Rather, they leave with an enhanced comfort level in the root environment essential to what any creative firm does. This is one of their most valued take-aways.”
Students of the class share in this consensus: “This was one of the best classes that I’ve ever taken,” says Tony Vanky, a graduate student in the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning. “It was utterly painful—but rewarding. It demanded real-world products with real solutions, for real problems. This is rare in college.”