Part 1 – Exploration: 3 Stages of Product Development; Explore. Eliminate. Execute. (Business Tips!)

I always feel a wee bit uncomfortable writing posts like this. My experience comes from 25 years of developing products for the stationery, gift, scrapbooking and jewelry industries. I am by no means an expert, although I have been successful with the businesses that I have owned – NOT all the products I have developed have been successful. I’d be concerned if they were. It would tell me that I’m not taking enough risks.

I’ll do my best at explaining my product development process in a 3-part series. I have broken the process down into 3 stages: Exploring, Eliminating and Execution. My intention is to explain to you that there is a lot to designing products that sell. If you feel discouraged because what you created didn’t “work,” then get back on that horse and try again. Those who have “grit” are the ones that will thrive and survive.

In this blog post, I’ll be focusing on the practice of exploration that occurs during the product development process.

Stage 1 of Product Development: EXPLORATION

At Nunn Design, we are working throughout the year on product development. I am very organized in my design process. I’m not saying I’m neat, my staff will tell you the truth about that, but I am organized. I like systems and processes to keep things on track. Especially when it comes to capturing my thoughts and ideas.

Here are some of the ways that I track my exploration:


I am an avid journal writer. I start (almost) every day with 30 minutes of quiet time in which I blah blah away about nothing in particular. Often within that stream of conscience writing, ideas will surface and I’ll capture those thoughts off to the side of my writing area with a bullet point. Once a month I’ll go back through my journal and look for the areas that had bullet points and double check that they were followed-up on, delegated or that the ideas were on some sort of tracking list. I’m always exploring ideas about products, marketing and manufacturing within my journal. I have gotten in such a habit that I often feel lost and ungrounded if I don’t start my morning ritual with this routine.


All right, I’m showing my age. A scrap file was the early pre-computer version of Pinterest. I still rip out images from magazines of things that inspire me and organize them in files. Like my discipline of journaling, keeping a scrap file is a deep-rooted habit that I practice to keep my creative muse continually inspired. I often reference these files when I’m beginning a new collection of products by leafing through the images and storing the various ideas in my mind.


Keeping product idea boards was a practice I started when I worked with my friend Susan Ray designing a jewelry program for the Michaels Craft Stores. I learn such a great deal from Susan on organizing “what made my heart sing”. I also was introduced to building a plan-o-gram. From that project on I have kept large sheets of white foam core boards in my office. Thousands of product ideas have been pinned and unpinned from those boards. Being such a visual person, it has really helped me to physically see my thoughts and ideas organized.

When I start a new collection my idea boards look like a total garage sale. I pull ideas out of files and pin them with great abandon. I print and pin images from my digital scrap file. I put random scraps of fabric, found objects, or organics in small bags and pin them to the idea board. During this exploration stage, I’m not thinking too hard. I’m just exploring the options.


I must admit, revisiting old ideas is something that I recently started to get in the discipline of organizing well (so much to do, you know!) We will get into stage 2, the process of elimination in the next post, but past ideas are a treasure trove. They might have been pulled off the idea board for various reasons, but they still have potential. I now store all of these ideas in plastic bags and organize them by collection release dates. At the beginning of developing a new collection, I’ll get those bags out and go through them once again.

The part that I have started getting more organized with is the discipline of recording WHY they were eliminated from a release. It could have been the cost, the supplier, the clasp wasn’t right…a variety of reasons could come into play. If I know why it was stopped, I might revisit the idea again just to see if I could problem solve a solution or challenge a belief I might have told myself in the moment of why it won’t work.


I really TRY not to overthink creativity. As you can read, I have a very strong analytical brain, but my process is structured to truly feed my creative muse. I stock ideas, place them on idea boards, look at them every day and then sleep on it. A lot of ideas and solutions come to me in my unconsciousness. I call this process “putting the ideas in the hopper.” As the idea boards grow and change, I take pictures of them with my phone and look at them often before going to sleep. I read somewhere about dream seed planting, so that was the concept around this practice. I can’t say that it always brings about killer ideas, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Heck, I don’t know where random thoughts come from – I just run around with a journal trying to capture them!

That wraps up stage 1 of the 3 stages of product development; Exploration. What isn’t there to love about this stage!

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