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Yuppie Consultants Concoct Ideas in Revamped Factory From Bygone Era

June 25, 1989

EDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) _ A 19th-century factory that once produced linseed oil is pumping out ideas today as the home of a new kind of company, a product consulting firm.

Style counts at companies such as Innovation & Development Inc., which help other companies turn technology into dollars by making products easier to use and nicer to look at.

The 14 employees of Innovation & Development work in a zone by the Hudson River that once pulsed with basic industry. Next door are empty lots dotted with dead smokestacks as well as new development, signs of a moribund tract taking on a second life.

Inside, the mood is relaxed and the decor high-tech. Employees have the tieless, hip look of younger Madison Avenue advertising types.

The testing section is strewn with a bag of golf clubs, a treadmill, half- dismantled dishwashers, refrigerators and a sink. A shelf is covered with dozens of shampoo bottles.

The atmosphere of Innovations & Development reflects the change in the balance of power from gritty industry to the knowledge economy, in which know- how and creativity are paramount.

When Baxter Healthcare Corp. invented a better way to administer fluids to hospital patients, it turned to Innovations & Development to help make it a product.

The firm’s designers visited hospitals, did market research, spoke to nurses, drew sketches and made foam-board models.

Eventually, they helped Baxter design a device for delivering up to 10 fluids to a patient through two lines, replacing the tangle of tubes seen in critical-care wards.

″Really, what we did was simplify the plumbing,″ said vice president Victor A. Siegel.

Rarely is the know-how of product consultants put into a completely new widget. Clients don’t want that.

″In most cases, they’re under time pressure, and they’re not interested in a whole lot of pain,″ said Don Gamache, chief executive of Innotech Corp. of Trumbull, Conn., another firm in the field.

There are are nearly 6,750 industrial designers in the United States, and more than half work independently, the Industrial Designers Society of America says.

In 10 years, the society’s membership has more than doubled to 2,200 members.

In an age of ″product parity,″ where soap is soap and there are a profusion of soaps, Innovation’s Siegel says the best way to identify a new brand in the consumer’s mind is to put it in a new container.

Syntectics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., takes a different approach. An independent outgrowth of consulting giant Arthur D. Little, it works with company marketers and researchers to create ″an environment receptive to innovation,″ said senior associate Josephine Fuller.

At one problem-solving meeting, Gillette Co. officials pretended to be strands of hair, and were asked how they felt, Ms. Fuller said. The role-play was part of a marketing strategy for Silkience conditioning shampoo.

At a brainstorming session to come up with vandal-resistant pay phones for New York Telephone Co., participants thought of indestructible things in nature. Mount Rushmore inspired phones built into the sides of buildings.

End adv for Sunday June 25

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