Why Inventors Should Focus On Designing Solutions For Needs

by | Sep 22, 2020

I’ve been inventing my entire career, and to be honest, until recently, I hadn’t given the difference between products that are needs versus products that are wants a lot of thought.

That’s probably because I began creating and licensing products in the toy and novelty gift industries, which are basically wants. For example, I invented and licensed the idea of the Michael Jordan Wall-Ball because I really wanted a better-looking basketball hoop in my home office.

Looking back, the rotating label I invented and licensed in the packaging industry addressed a need, which was for more space. There wasn’t enough room on over-the-counter medicines for critical information, like dosage instructions. Consumers needed it to protect themselves and their families.

But, since the outbreak of the coronavirus, we’re living in a different kind of world, so I’ve been making some observations — and one is about the value of designing for needs, because needs are evergreen.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

David Contract, head of marketing for baby products company The Betesh Group, explicitly theorized that because products for new parents and their babies are more of needs than wants, his company is seeing “continued robust results.”

The CEO of Lifetime Brands, Rob Kay, said basic kitchen tools like can openers are in high demand in the housewares industry.

In the pet industry, essentials like dog food, cat litter, pet treats, and waste containment systems such as puppy pads are selling well, as well as pet puzzles and IQ games, said Ethical Pets president Jonathan Zelinger. Earth Rated, which makes a popular line of products for cleaning up after your pet, said in an email that poop bags are “definitely a popular item right now.”

Trish Dowling, vice president of merchandise at “As Seen On TV” company Allstar Innovations, explained that they are selling increased volumes of home fitness products because people need to work out and cannot do so at a gym.

Products that are more of needs than wants are always going to be in demand. That’s why, as you decide where to target your creativity, I believe you should consider creating solutions and improvements for needs. And I do believe targeting is the right word, because you can target your creativity anywhere. That’s how people who create full-time make a living. You can’t wait for inspiration to strike.

Are these the only kind of products that are going to be in demand? Of course not.

I predict products in the following categories will be on fire for at least the next few years: Toys, DIY home improvement, home organization, indoor and outdoor gardening, raising animals, family games, pet toys, home fitness equipment, remote work tools, home cooking, recycling, online entertainment, hobbies, and home education.

Inventors invent for all sorts of reasons. Most often, to solve problems they personally experience. But don’t sell yourself short. As has been widely reported, the creative community has stepped up to address the problems that we’re seeing today with the pandemic, like shortages of masks and shields that protect against the virus. Entrepreneurs of all kinds have been able to quickly pivot to designing for these new needs. You can too.

At all times, as an inventor, I recommend looking for ways to target your creativity. When you’re playing a numbers game, which licensing is, having a target makes landing on a winner easier. This is another opportunity to target your creativity.

As you target your creativity, keep the following in mind. Companies that are well-versed in e-commerce are better positioned to take advantage of this moment. Your invention needs to be relevant a year or two from now. Understand that manufacturing and launching a new product onto the market takes at least a year, sometimes longer. So, you must always be looking towards the future. Right now, companies are planning which products they’ll roll out in 2021, 2022, and 2023. 

Understandably, inventors have a lot of questions. They’re wondering whether they need to change their approach, how the economic downturn will affect the lifecycle of products, and if companies are still accepting product ideas.

As for the latter, I have good news: All of the inventor-friendly companies I’ve reached out to have confirmed their doors are still very much open to new product ideas. And why wouldn’t they be? They’re balancing their most pressing issues, like supply-chain interruption and unpaid invoices, with the need to plan for the future.

The truth is that innovative thinking and action are needed now than ever. Trade event organizers have already pivoted to establish new digital platforms to bring their communities together. New products are being pitched virtually over Zoom instead of in a conference room.

Crisis breeds opportunity. Stay informed, ask questions, and embrace being flexible as you continue working on your inventions.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.


  • Stephen Key

    Stephen Key is an award-winning inventor, renowned intellectual property strategist, lifelong entrepreneur, author, speaker, and columnist.
    Stephen has over 20 patents in his name and the d...