Students in New Product Course Tackle Problems That Try Our Souls—and Soles

Students in this fall’s Managing the New Product Development Process course are proposing solutions to problems that consumers face from head to toe: from the serial shoe buying required of parents of growing children, to the angst that plagues those who spend their days typing and swiping on electronic devices.

The prototypes for their solutions will be on display at the course’s annual trade show, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, in the Bank of America Forum.

The course requires teams of engineering and business students to develop a new product or service from concept through prototype over the course of a semester. Coaches from major design firms provide each team with in-depth feedback along the way. Taught by Mark Martin, CEO of design consulting firm design4x, the course is offered jointly with the College of Engineering.

“Going through the product development process, we were forced to start with a focus on the problem instead of on a specific solution we thought might work,” says John Ready, a PhD student in nuclear engineering who worked on the children’s shoe product. “The course introduced us to the design-thinking process and provided us methods to draw a comprehensive picture of our problem.” 

Ready said his five group members, who have seven children between them, were frustrated by constantly replacing lightly worn shoes to accommodate growing feet. The group is now prototyping three products aimed at saving parents money and reducing the impact of repeat shoe buying.

Another group took on more abstract problem: the feelings of emptiness, anxiety, and restlessness brought on by heavy technology use. Yet during their initial ethnographic research, the students discovered that people did not want to give up any technology they relied on.

“They were stressed out about reducing their use, so we decided to focus on behavior change,” said Sanjay Sharma, MBA 13.

The students developed three prototypes, including a smartphone app that requires users to take deep breaths to unlock their phones and charts their progress, a tool for friends to record short motivational videos to help a user achieve a goal, and a wireless “social squeeze” stress ball, that would allow users to transmit their emotions to their social network and receive responses.

A handful of companies started by Haas alumni can trace their beginnings to products developed in the class in past years, including Revolution Foods (class of 2006) and PACT Apparel (class of 2008).