The SCAMPER method is a relatively well-known, qualitative method to think about current designs to look for opportunities to innovate.
The SCAMPER method was invented by Alex Faickney Osborn in 1953. Osborn also invented brainstorming. It is a method of focus one's attention on specific ways one can change existing designs to create something new.
The task of creating something new, even if based on existing products, is daunting due to its scope. “Quick! Be creative! Right now! This rarely ends well. The reason is that “being creative” is just too broad a task for virtually anyone to carry out without assistance.
The purpose of SCAMPER (and of most creativity methods) is to focus one's attention on particular aspects of a problem. Solving focussed problems is far easier for the human brain.
SCAMPER applies to ideation where the current situation is well understood, and where an innovative solution is desirable. SCAMPER seems to work best in group settings, where individual team members can build on each other's ideas.
“SCAMPER” is an acronym; each letter stands for one of seven verbs representing ways of thinking about improving a design situation:
These are described in detail below.
This section includes the general steps used to execute a SCAMPER. Subsequently, each of the seven aspects of SCAMPER are explained in more detail.
SCAMPER is about changing how things are done today, so it's fundamentally about changing the reference design. Of course, any changes you propose need to also address your requirements. Thus, SCAMPER is about looking for ways to substantively change the reference design to meet your requirements.
Make sure you and your teammates are all in agreement on what the requirements mean, that all the requirements you have are important for success, and that you haven't forgotten any important requirements1).
As a team, go through each of the seven elements of SCAMPER and apply them to your reference design and requirements. Set a fixed time for this part of the exercise - 30 to 60 minutes is usually sufficient if all team members are well-versed in the details of the initial situation.
For each element below, a series of questions are posed. Try to answer each question out loud. Let others chime in with their own modifications to your answer.
Do not criticize the ideas of others; build on them instead.
Apply the questions for each element to any aspect of the reference design and requirements: cost, function, use, repairability, weight, size, capacity….
Keep a single list of all ideas. (This can be easily done with, for instance, a shared Google Doc to which everyone adds their own ideas as they come up with them.)
As a team, go through the list of all the ideas you generated collaboratively and look for the ones that seem the most interesting, most different, or most feasible.
Make sure you note why only certain ideas were selected - that is, justify why you think those were the best ideas.
Collaboratively distribute those ideas amongst your team for further study, expansion, and refinement.
In this context, to substitute means to replace one part, system, or element of the reference design with something else entirely. The more different the new part, system, or element, the better.
Some guiding questions:
Of course, this list of guiding questions is not exhaustive. You may think of other related questions to ask. That's fine; just remember to document the new questions.
In this aspect, the goal is to combine two or more parts, elements, functions, behaviours, or systems be combined to produce a significantly different product that still meets all the requirements.
Adaptation is about changing a (part or system of a) product to better fit its context and environment. This is typically done by considering what inputs are available in the operating environment, and what outputs (especially bad outputs) can be tolerated by the operating environment, and then looking for the parts and systems of the reference design that are least efficient/effective with respect to those inputs and outputs.
This is essentially the same as the design by attribute technique. Focus on key features, aspects, or characteristics and consider forcing them to be very different from how they are in the reference design. If it's round, consider making it flat; if it's light, consider making it heavy, or even lighter. Changing just one attribute of a product will almost always induce substantive changes in the rest of the product.
This aspect is about embodiments and the collateral functions they can provide, both of the product as a whole and of its systems and parts. Consider each embodiment in the reference design, exclude its intended function, and consider all the other functions that that embodiment provides by its nature. Look for ways to leverage those other functions in ways that improve performance or user experience.
Focus on eliminating, simplifying, or reducing some aspect, characteristic, function, or behaviour of the reference design. Simplification tends to lead to many downstream advantages. Generally, the goal is to look for opportunities to match the design better to the context of use by making your design less than the reference design; more is rarely better in engineering.
Sometimes, just rearranging embodiments can stimulate new designs. Select an embodiment in the reference design and then think of an entirely different embodiment that still provides the same function. This approach can also work by considering rearranging major systems or assemblies as they exist in the reference design. Also consider reversing (a part of) the process by which the reference design is used.
Can I interchange components, the pattern, or the layout? Can I change the pace or schedule? What would I do if part of the problem, product or process worked in reverse? What if I relocate a particular assembly such that the relocation alone would be beneficial?
To justify the ideation and selection of “best” ideas, you must include the notes you took (see above) in an appendix of your design report. Make sure that the appendix includes the (1) date, time, and duration of the session, (2) all the ideas you generated for each of the seven SCAMPER aspects, and (3) the justifications for having selected only some of the ideas.
There are many similarities between SCAMPER, TRIZ, and other creativity techniques. Often, the same underlying principles are being applied; it's more a question of finding the means to embed the principles in actual product development processes.