If you’re someone who looks at a product and thinks “I could design that way better than they did,” or who has a collection of napkin sketches of new product ideas, chances are you’ve considered taking the plunge and inventing a product on your own.
Inventing as a profession has been romanticized for centuries, and that still continues today. When we think of an inventor, we often think of one of two stereotypes:
The first is someone like Rick Moranis in the old movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids – a goofy, scatterbrained nerd who creates oddball machines to do crazy things (like shrink people).
The second is more of a polished scientist, someone who creates their incredible inventions through strokes of genius.
The reality, of course, is that inventors are the same as people in any other profession. Some are nerdy, some really are geniuses, but the majority of them are just plain old regular people. What’s more, the day-to-day of inventing is hardly as exciting as the movies make it look – which is important to know if you’re thinking about creating a product yourself.
So then what do inventors do? Here’s a basic rundown of what it’s like to be an inventor.
Necessity is the mother of invention – seriously.
Successful inventions, and therefore successful inventors, fill needs. Inventing isn’t about spending years creating a product that you personally think is amazing – unless you’re independently wealthy and don’t need a day job, that is.
Inventing is about noticing a need that isn’t being filled, and then figuring out a way to fill that need.
Now, needs differ greatly from person to person, and group to group. Take the BonzaPack, for example: it’s a gear bag for young athletes that can be converted into a simple chair for parents. (Full disclosure: we helped develop this product, which was designed by parents who were tired of kids forgetting cleats, balls, pads, and other athletic gear when they went to sports practice.)
You may not have any need for this product because you don’t have children, or the ones you have aren’t involved in team sports, or they’re preternaturally organized. But to the people that these parents were seeing at their kids’ sports practices each week, this product absolutely filled a need.
If you find yourself noticing things like this, and you’d like to try to give people what they need, then you may have the right mindset to be a successful inventor.
Inventors do a whole lot of research.
Because creating products can take up huge amounts of both time and money, inventors do plenty of research before starting the actual development process.
If you’re a first-time inventor, you probably got the idea for your invention from your day-to-day life. That means you don’t have any market research to fall back on – you’ve got to do it all on your own.
The first thing you have to concern your research with is finding out whether your product has already been invented. This involves searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online database, as well as doing keyword searches online or using Google Patent Search. You can also hire a professional to do a patent search for you, just to make absolutely sure you’re not wasting your time.
If it turns out your product hasn’t been invented, then you’ve got to start researching and planning how you’re going to create it. Depending on what it is, that could involve researching anything from engineering principles, to wedding guest etiquette, to the habits of nocturnal lizards – whatever it is you need to know in order to make your product viable.
As you keep going down the path of invention, research will continue to be a vital part of your work. You’ll need to look into prototyping, materials for manufacturing, marketing strategies and much more. If you’re working with a product development firm, they can handle a lot of this for you.
For more about what inventors do, check out part two of this series.