Morphing new ideas through morphological analysis

Apple’s iWatch is due to be unveiled this week. For the first time, no one really knows a lot of what it will be and that air of mystery makes for an interesting launch. But what can you expect from a watch? It will be worn on the wrist, it will have a face, and it will have a strap. The basic design of the wristwatch has never changed since Patek Philippe designed the first one in 1868. In a sense, it might be new wine in old skin.

Just in case you think that today’s article is about watches, it is not per se. It is about morphing new design concepts using a process called morphological analysis and we will use the watch as an example.

What is morphological analysis?

Basically, it is a structured process for using random associations to create new design ideas. It works this way:

  • identify all the categories of the object for redesign, writing them as column headers in a grid;

  • brainstorm as many new design elements for each category as possible, filling up each column of the grid;

  • do a “random walk” exercise to come up with a new design

Let’s take the watch as an example.

Step 1: Identify categories

You can have as many categories as you like. Let’s say we decide to have these categories: mode of telling time, dial, case, strap and back. These become column headers as such:

MA Grid 1.jpg

Step 2: Brainstorm elements within each category

Don’t mind that they are far-fetched. As a design thinking tool, we are aware that we should not critique our ideas; instead we just let it rip! This brings us to something like this:

MA Grid 2.jpg

Step 3: Do a “random walk”

In this case, randomly choose one element from each category and associate them together to form a new design idea.

For example, if we chose these 5 elements,

MA Grid 3.jpg

then we can have a watch that is strapless. It holds onto any surface using magnets, which some say is good to help circulate blood too. The gold back is good for conducting heat away, so that it remains cool. As it tells the time mechanically, it can be used by vision-impaired people and at the tap of the glass, it will buzz the number of times for the hour and the minute (we haven’t figured out how just yet). It can also be used underwater where light is limited. And the mirrored surface can be used as a safety feature. Well, that’s one iteration for a new watch.

Play around with different combinations, seeing how they come together and how the watch can be redesigned. As you play with more ideas, more will sprout, leading you ultimately to a brand new design for the watch!

Morphological analysis is not really an analysis, but it does have the ability to morph your thinking. Use this really awesome tool to help you become more creative and conjure up new designs for an established product!

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