Changing Properties: A Checklist For Innovators

What do I change? What do I gain? This article brings a methodology of breaking down a product or process into its properties and functions. By changing a property, new or improved functionalities can be identified. This method is illustrated on a surfboard case study.

Building the ProductDNA

Any product is designed to perform a function, often in an array of components with each a specific (sub)function to the whole. In order to innovate, we divide the product into its components.

surfboard components

Fig. 1 Main components of a surfboard

property adjectives/function verbs

Fig. 2 (left) property-adjectives and (right) function-verbs in surfboard pool

Taking a component analysis pool of patents on "surfboard" we start collecting the properties and function that best describe the surfboard by scanning the adjectives in front of “surfboard”. Distilling the best elements out of the above our SurfboardDNA becomes:

surfboard dna

Fig. 3 Surfboard DNA: property-functions of a surfboard

From the ProductDNA we can now go into two directions. Firstly, what are the products that have similar DNA, what is family? Whilst ProductDNA is a good ground for analogy, it is not subject of this article . The second direction is property variation and evolutionary potential. Which of the properties can we now vary in order to gain new benefits?

Evolutionary Potential

A standard list of properties has been proposed in the AULIVE method. They are acting as measures for product and process state of evolvement. Within PatentInspiration there is an Evolutionary potential analysis. This radar diagram gives (nominal or relative) the amount of times an inventor has gone into the direction of varying that property, given he has a claimable benefit within that change.

A complete picture of an evolutionary potential is given below.


Fig. 4 Surfboard DNA: property-functions of a surfboard nominal in blue, relative in grey

Most work has been patented in the area of shape, surface, integration and fibres, logical for the surfboard or fin, as shape and surface provide the glide, grip and fibres are omnipresent in the compositions. This tool can now be used as a directed brainstorming tool. Each axis which is rather unvisited could present new opportunities.

Property Variation

Going over every property can trigger good ideas, three example properties:
  1. Porosity: by adding pores or cavities one can make the surfboard lighter, the board could contain keys or apare fins, or wax,. Water or air can pass through the cavities (more on that topic later) or little cavities can provide grip on top. Open holes provide heat transfer, closed holes can bring insulation. Trapped air can cushion or bring resilience.
  2. Transparency: a partially or fully transparent board would allow to inspect the wildlife in the water, as it would act as an aquarium window (both ways). A similar example in a kayak.
  3. Segmentation: Segmenting your surfboard in two or more parts makes it easier to transport, you could add in more parts to vary the length depending on the conditions, or the experience, having a set of click-on's would provide a bodyboard, kneeboard, surfboard and even standup paddle board. Depending on the waves, different fun boards could be assembled out of the same set. The segments would be easier to repair/replace.
There are twenty more property directions in the radar, using them as a checklist, one can evaluate, by changing this property, do I gain a customer benefit or function? Some examples innovations in surfboard are in our MoreInspiration database, classified by property.

Asymmetrical Surfboard Powered Surfboard Segmented Surfboard

DNA Directed Variation

The ideas above are random and more opportunistic, they add new functions, however do not really tackle the main issues. To make the ideas more pertinent to the main function of a surfboard, we go back to our original DNA, and make a few more evolutionary potentials, however this time not “surfboard” based but function based. For example, the pool of “reduce drag” gives the evolutionary plot below. Exploring the patent pool of ‘reducing drag’ within the direction of porosity, we find an interesting idea. The patent below inspires to reducing the drag by guiding air from outside through the vessel onto the lower gliding surface. One could design a surfboard with frontal air intake that guides it through the board to the outer gliding surface.


Fig. 5 Evolutionary potential plot of the pool “reduce drag” with a selection in the porosity direction

After exploring all directions, a similar plot can be made on buoyancy, anti-slip, fin or any of the DNA links. Each of them will give new directions in achieving the main task of a surfboard.

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