Innovation leaps: Powering up with tech

Technology Director
New York
Technical Product Manager
New York

How do you accelerate tech solutions through prototyping and road mapping? What should you build and what should the focus be? When should you leverage already existing software frameworks?

Smart Design hosted a Fast Track as part of 2019 Fast Company Innovation Festival on how to strategically make innovation a business reality within organizations. Presented in break out sessions at the event, we focused on 3 areas essential to moving an innovation program forward:

Part two of our content series focuses on tech and how to use technology to prototype and roadmap innovation into reality. In our “Powering up with tech” breakout session, John Anderson and Jared Billig lead attendees through a case study on how they were able to build the Gx Sweat Patch and an accompanying sports monitoring app through lean startup techniques, leveraging already existing software frameworks, and by focusing on core users. Read on to learn about their top 5 recommendations on how to accelerate tech solutions and build innovative products.

1. It’s a proof of concept

Over the years, Smart Design has built many software projects working with Fortune 500 global IT departments. Invariably, there are daunting protocols to build software or hardware. In our experience, simply by calling the deliverable what it actually is—a proof of concept—security and software solutions are more lenient.

2. Leverage frameworks, not scale

It’s pointless to build a product to scale before its elements of success are clearly identified. Since you’re not building for scale, the key to accelerate development is to build something focused that uses existing software. Build quickly by leveraging frameworks such as Ruby on Rails and Node JS. Similarly, stand up servers and hardware are increasingly using applications like Heroku, App Engine, Raspberry Pi’s and Arduino.  If you’re trying to reach as many people as possible, look toward React Native for Android and iOS, and Electron for desktop.

3. Focus on the front end

When performing pilots to test a concept, the key is what the user sees. For example, you can save precious development time and resources by manually inputting user sign ups, on-boarding and databases. The less you make functions dynamic on the backend, the more you can focus on the front end user experience.

4. Build less, get focused feedback

It pays to stay hyper-focused when building pilots. Taking on too much can create too much noise to learn. Smart started piloting Gatorade’s Gx Pro sports fueling recommendation program working with just two professional teams instead of the 20 envisioned. This smaller focus allowed us to offer a white glove service to the teams, learn behaviors, and zoom in on what’s working or not.

5. Own product vision & partner with experts

Simply put, as a consultancy or business, it’s not scalable to be an expert in every single tech component a project touches upon. A smarter approach is to own product management and prioritize multiple roadmaps to build strategically. For example, working on Gatorade’s sweat patch, Smart oversaw the overall product strategy, development and piloting, and also worked with experts in niche areas such as the sweat absorption technology.

6. Understanding a design vs. tech problem

Be creative in weighing up the pros and cons of creating, implementing, or integrating technology features. For example, the Sweat Patch specs called for the weather and location being shown to the user. However, the pilot took place in Dallas, Texas, where the local weather was highly predictable. Instead of implementing a weather and geolocation API that offered little value for the pilot, we focused on building additional core features for the app.

“Start small, focus on a subset of users, and leverage software that already exists.”

John Anderson
Technology Director at Smart Design