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The Votes are in for the ultimate Pooper Scooper

A doo-zy of a design problem

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

The votes have been tallied for the pooper scooper contest. This was an important vote – students grades were involved. These were pooper scoopers designed collaboratively by students from the Ross School of Business, the College of Engineering, Architecture and the School of Art & Design for a class called Integrated Product Development (IPD).

Working in interdisciplinary teams, the students had 13 weeks to develop fully functional, customer-ready "dog waste management systems" at a price point of exactly $19.95 and then subject them to assessment by voters in simulated markets.

Each year, the public vote is the 'simulated markets' part. Voters weigh in online at the IPD website and in person at "the trade show" on at the Duderstadt Center Gallery. (Sorry, no dogs allowed.)

The IPD course has been consistently named one of the top design courses in the world by Business Week. Each team works together on the market research, design, manufacturing, and costing of their product, as well as graphic identity, websites, and trade show presentations. Past classes have tackled such products as a personal hygiene stations for disaster areas, a kitchen area for people with one arm, devices to enhance social eating and now, the pooper scooper.

According to Shaun Jackson (School of A&D) who co-teaches the class along with Bill Lovejoy (Ross School of Business), it's not easy to come up with a real world design issue that can be implemented and manufactured from start to finish in the short 13 weeks of the class. Shaun explains the choice, "Each year we make a list of possible products. I've had the pooper scooper on the list for a couple years now but Bill, frankly, thought the whole thing was a bit off-putting. I just thought it was humorous. Then, his wife and daughter kept bringing up the idea until finally Bill relented."

Despite the 'ickiness' of the project parameters, dog waste is actually a real issue and a real design problem. "The current solution is a plastic bag. So the product has to be useful enough to warrant someone shelling out $19.95 for a different solution. There are also alot of environmental issues involved with this product,"  says Shaun.

It did, however, involve some creative use of materials for prototyping. "We used some sort of oatmeal mixture for the soft poops and a realistic modeling clay for the hard ones. What's interesting. really, is how comfortable you get with using the word 'poop"."

The premise of the class it to recreate the competitive environment that real businesses face every day as perfectly as possible. So the teams are graded on the actual profitability of their products which will be measured by combined votes from the online and trade show events. All the design development is done in complete secrecy. Reviews are conducted behind closed doors. "Even then," Shaun says, "people always claim some sort of idea-stealing. It's very competitive!"

In addition, students are asked to predict their market share for both the online and trade show voting. These predictions are part of what real businesses have to do and will therefore factor into the profitability of the product (and hence, the students' grade.) Shaun explains, "for example, if they underestimate their market share at the trade show, even if they end up getting the votes (ie. the sales), it means they wouldn't have the inventory, so the sales will be passed on to the other teams."

This year each team was asked to produce a 30 second commercial for their products, which you can see on their website.  The online campaign brought 1,344 votes, while the physical trade show boasted 412 attendees who reviewed the products and cast ballots for their favorite.

And, finally, the market has spoken. As in real life, winning is not based solely on popularity but rather cost and profitability.  The winner of this year's Integrated Product Design course is... Doodad!

For a fascinating and detailed analysis of the results, including details on projected profit margins and market share for all the projects, make sure to take a look at the full announcement (PDF).

 

For more about IPD, check out this interview with Professors Lovejoy and Jackson
(3 min 11 s; requires QuickTime version 7.0 or later).



COMMENTS

As the owner/operator of an off-leash dog park, I saw only one product that looked like it would work as well as the ubiquitous plastic bag, and that was the "Blue Bag". Unfortunately, the price/use ($19.99 for 35 "bags") eliminates it from any consideration. Most of the rest of the products might work marginally well under very specific conditions, but ultimately would be very ineffective for general use. As an example, any sort of device using a flat or semi-flat scoop may work well on a flat surface or a very closely cropped and rolled lawn (think putting green) but on the typical uneven surface of a grassy park such as shown in the pic above, only the hardest large stools stand much chance at being picked up. The usual result of trying to use a scoop is that the stool is smeared/spread across the grass. Verdict: Back to the drawing board for ALL of the designs, especially the cardboard clamshell designs; I would not consider buying any of these products. Unfortunately, my verdict (leaving the store with NONE of these products) isn't an option when voting. However, in real life, it IS an option. Tod (UM '85, BSE)

Posted by Tod on November 24, 2010

Thanks for this comment Tod. Sounds like you have a lot of experience in this area! I'll be sure to pass on your comment. If you're in Ann Arbor, talk to the designers themselves, Wednesday, December 1st, 6pm in the Duderstadt Gallery. I'm sure they'd love to hear your feedback!

Posted by Kath Weider-Roos on November 30, 2010

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