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INVENTOR'S CHECKLIST
THE IDEA

CAN YOU EFFECTIVELY ARTICULATE YOUR IDEA?

"IF AT FIRST THE IDEA IS NOT ABSURD,THEN THERE IS NO HOPE FOR IT" - ALBERT EINSTEIN

This module is designed to help you think through all aspects of your idea, in relation to:

  • What it does
  • How it does it
  • What it looks like
  • How it can be described or explained in the most effective way

You must be able to explain your idea in a way which is both understood by and interesting to a variety of different people with different backgrounds and interests. This is important, as without being able to explain your idea to others, you are unlikely to be able to make any money from it.

WHAT IS YOUR IDEA?

Describing a new idea can be very difficult. When explaining your idea you don't need to provide large amounts of technical detail - rather your aim is to get across the concept of your idea clearly and concisely, and to capture the interest of your audience.

You cannot assume the person you are talking to has any knowledge or experience in the market or industry. So there is a risk that explaining the technical details of your idea may lead to a blank stare, and if you are lucky, a polite nod. Equally, there is also a risk that if you describe your idea in terms which are too general, the description becomes meaningless.

EXCUSE ME, WHAT IS AN "IPHONE"?

Imagine you had developed the first iPhone in 2007 and were trying to describe it.

You could be too technical and describe a 'Quad-band GSM capable touchscreen phone, mp3 and mpg player, with 4Gb flash memory'. Alternatively you could be too general and describe 'a touchscreen phone that can store up to 1,000 songs'.

Whilst both of these descriptions are accurate, one being technically precise and the other highlighting the user benefits, neither is an effective description of the idea.

Describing this idea as

'a handheld touchscreen device combining a mobile phone, and a music and video player, with Internet functionality'
identifies:

 

  • What it does – it is a mobile phone, music and video player. Most people are aware of the general functionality of these devices. It also positions the idea in an existing market.
  • Who the customer would be - people who buy and use mobile phones, music and video players are an established and identifiable market.
  • The novel aspect of the idea – combining a mobile phone, music and video player with internet functionality is descriptive and easily understood by most people.
  • User benefit – by implication, the key user benefit would be explained as the ability to combine what up to this stage had been separate devices – a mobile phone and a music and video player into a single product.

IDENTIFYING THE FEATURES, FUNCTIONS AND BENEFITS

Identifying a basic statement of your idea in simple and informative terms provides the basis of a good description.

If there is opportunity to add more information to the description, beyond a simple title, deciding what information to include will depend on who you are talking to and what you are trying to achieve.

The following exercise is designed to help you identify the key features, functions and benefits of your idea. These lists will provide you with a source of information so that you can easily tailor your descriptions depending on who you are talking to.

EXERCISE 1 - IDENTIFYING KEY ASPECTS OF YOUR IDEA
Exercise Template (Download)

Using the templates provided, create three separate lists about your idea. Each list should have a maximum of 10 items, but there is no minimum number. Within the lists, arrange the items you have listed in order of importance. The most important ones being those which you think best help convey an understanding of your idea.

List 1 - Functions

Identify and list as many of the functions of your idea as you can. Functions are what your idea will do.

List 2 - Benefits

Identify and list as many of the benefits of your idea as you can. Benefits are the ways in which your idea is better than what already exists or the ways in which it makes an activity easier for the user.

List 3 - Features

Identify and list as many of the features of your idea as you can. Features are things about your idea which are distinguishing or that people can identify with.

This exercise will help you identify and assess the key aspects of your idea, this in turn will form the basis for the way you articulate your idea.

ANALOGIES

Sometimes it is easier to understand a complex or unfamiliar concept by comparing it to something that is more familiar and easy to understand. Using analogies can be a very useful tool when explaining a concept which is new and unheard of.

An iPhone is like...
'...having a phone, TV, walkman, games console and encyclopaedia in a device the size of a pocket calculator'
Parental control software is like...
'...a nanny for the internet'
A Kindle e-reader is like...
'...a portable library'
EXERCISE 2 - MY IDEA IS LIKE....

Exercise Template (Download)

Try and think of as many analogies for your idea as you can. There is no right or wrong here. Try and have some fun and sometimes the silliest sounding ideas may be the ones that are the easiest for people to understand!

Once you put a list together, try them out with your friends and family to find out which one conveys your idea the best.

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

If you find it hard to articulate what your idea is, then draw it.

The drawing may show your process, your value chain (suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, agents, etc), your business, your business model, your idea or the problem it solves.

The overall concept of drawing your idea is to communicate what your idea is. This approach can support your product description, or act as a tool in helping you to articulate it. This is a particularly useful approach if your idea is quite complex and cannot be explained in a simple manner.

Drawing your idea can help you focus on the core aspects of it and focus on what is really important.

EXERCISE 3 - DRAW YOUR IDEA

Exercise Template (Download)

Draw your idea/business/process/business model or what problem your idea fixes. Show it to a person you trust and explain your idea using the drawing.

Once you have done this, find out if using your drawing has helped the person better understand and visualise your idea.

PUTTING YOUR IDEA INTO WORDS

Exercise 1, 2 and 3 will have helped you gather an array of information which can be used to help you describe your idea, ranging from analogies and pictures, to the identification of important aspects of your idea.

On your journey to commercialisation you will have to deal with many different people. They will most likely have different backgrounds, fields of interest, level of technical understanding, and agenda. What you do to effectively describe your idea will be different each time you do it. This is because the person you are talking to is likely to be different, and also the reason why you are describing it is likely to vary.

TIPS: HOW TO ARTICULATE YOUR IDEA
  • A good description of an invention uses simple, straightforward terms which are easy to understand
  • Technical terms and jargon that your audience is unfamiliar with should be avoided
  • You must be able to explain how people will benefit from your solution
EXERCISE 4 ARTICULATING THE IDEA - YOUR BASIC STATEMENT

Exercise Template (Download)

Bearing in mind the decisions which you have taken in ordering the lists in Exercise 1, your thought processes in developing images (Exercise 3) and identifying analogies (Exercise 2), plan and write a description of your idea. Your statement should be clear, easy to understand, and written in the language of your customer. Your description should communicate what the idea is, who it is for and how it is useful.

To help convey an understanding of your idea as concisely and effectively as possible, develop three different descriptions of your idea:
  • A 10 word description of your idea
  • A 50 word description of your idea
  • A 100 word description of your idea
Evaluate your idea description by checking whether it answers the following questions:
  • What product or service are you selling?
  • What is the end benefit of using it?
  • Who is your target customer for this product or service?
  • What makes your offering unique and different?
HAND-LUGGAGE CASE ON WHEELS IN 10, 50 AND 100.
10 word description
Travel-case on wheels that is pulled instead of carried.
50 word description
It is a hand-luggage case on wheels that prevents back strain caused by carrying heavy bags. The bag which is designed specifically for frequent flyers is a light weight, easy to manoeuvre case (on 4 unidirectional wheels) with a handle that retracts into the case when not in use.
100 word description
It is a stylish, lightweight, hand-luggage case for frequent flyers. It has four in-built unidirectional castor wheels which allow the user to easily manoeuvre the case without the need to carry it. This offers a range of benefits, primarily focused on preventing back strain and injury caused by carrying heavy cases. The ergonomic handle can be adapted to different heights, so that it can be positioned at a comfortable height to hold when walking. When not in use the handle retracts so that it sits flush with the case, making it easy and compact to store.

HOW GOOD IS YOUR DESCRIPTION?

Because you already know about your idea, it is hard for you to evaluate how effectively your description communicates the concept. The only real test is to try it out.

Find someone who is not aware of the details of your idea, who you can talk to in confidence. Give them the description you have written, and then have a conversation with them to find out what they understood by your description.

Any difference between what you intended to get over in your description, and what the person took from your description will help in refining the explanation of your idea.