Product Representations Exploring Computer-Based Technologies and Customers' Understanding of Product Concepts
Doctoral thesis, 2001
A large proportion of new products does not succeed on the market. One explanation is that companies have misinterpreted, or not succeeded in identifying the needs and requirements of their customers. A focus on the customer, especially in the early stages in the product development, has been argued to improve product quality and customer satisfaction. A prerequisite of achieving knowledge about the customer is that developers and customers communicate on the basis of a shared understanding. For this purpose, product representations, e.g. sketches, mock-ups and virtual reality representations can function as communication tools. The demands for efficient product development have resulted in an interest in new computer-based technologies and arguments that virtual reality can replace costly physical prototypes. However, little is known about what customers understand of product concepts through different product representations. Thus, knowledge of product representations can be of importance to manage a product concept evaluation in an efficient way. This thesis has aimed at gaining knowledge for an efficient use of product representations in communication with customers. One question concerned the use of product representations in industry for communication with customers. The studies indicated that product representations were used between the developers for evaluations of technical matters and not used as tools in communication with customers. Moreover, virtual reality was widely considered as very effective for the understanding of product concepts, even though most companies had not used virtual reality in product development. Thus, the conception of virtual reality reflected high expectations rather than actual experiences. The main question in this research concerned computer-based technologies' and conventional product representations' effect on customers' understanding of product concepts. A series of exploratory studies revealed that an increasing degree of realism in the product representations was not always reflected in an increased understanding of the products. This implies that the information provided by a product representation was not necessarily the information required by the participants for enhanced understanding. Certain product aspects were more important than others for enhanced understanding, in this case, tactile interaction and scale. This thesis argues that customers' understanding of product concepts through product representations is determined by several interrelating factors and that the type of product representation is but one factor. Other important factors are the participants' product knowledge and the participants' product representation knowledge.
product representation knowledge