New Product Discovery Research

A portable label printer and connected smartphone app sit on a work cart while a technician applies labels to a cable.

New Product Development

This project is part of a larger portable printer and mobile app epic.

(1 month)


A manufacturer of industrial label printers wanted to develop a new printer that leveraged a smartphone app. In theory it would be used by field technicians such as network installers, electricians, plumbers, and so on. However, there were several risks to this endeavor:

  • Solution is predetermined by a stakeholder.
  • Technology platforms are predetermined by a stakeholder.
  • Extremely compressed timeline.
  • Steep learning curve as no in-house talent has any previous experience with the technology platform.
  • Standalone handheld printers already exist. This product might not be solving the right problem.
  • Previous smartphone apps have not been very successful because they added little value to standalone handheld printers.
  • Previous research shows that older technicians do not like using smartphone apps.


Conduct research that answers the following questions:

  • How do field technicians print labels in the field today?
  • Do field technicians use smartphones for their jobs?
  • Do field technicians share files with their smartphones?
  • If so, how do they share files (email, cloud storage, etc)?
  • Would field technicians be interested in ways to reprint existing labels from a file?
  • Would field technicians be interested in ways to print new labels directly from a blueprint?
  • Do field technicians understand how to connect devices to their smartphones?
  • If so, which connection method is preferred (USB, WiFi, Bluetooth)?
  • Would field technicians be interested in a portable printer?
  • Would field technicians be interested in a wearable printer?
  • Would field technicians be interested in a printer that could be used from atop a ladder?
  • Do field technicians think our concept of a portable printer is at the right price point?


I began by creating dozens of illustrations and high level conceptual user flow sketches. These would be used as conversation aids.

Illustration attempting to understand the typical user flow.
Illustration attempting to gauge understanding of Bluetooth.
Conceptual mobile app user flow.
Conceptual wearable tech illustration.

Next, I conducted a series of focus groups with electricians who use label printers.

  • 2 days, 16 participants
  • I guided conversations around label printing using the illustrations above.
  • I also showed physical mockups of printer and wearable accessories.
Seven electricians in a focus group sit around a conference room table.
A focus group of electricians compares experiences with labeling wires on the job site.


We learned the following from our focus group participants:

  • Almost all use a smartphone for work.
  • Proposed solution is at the appropriate price point.
  • Printing is usually not done in the field, but might be preferred.
  • Good understanding of Bluetooth, and it is preferred.
  • Strong interest in the ability to share label designs with coworkers.
  • A solution that could interact with their project plan software seemed far-fetched, or magical.
  • Concern that the proposed solution requires 2 devices that are battery powered, where a failure in either would leave the user without the ability to print.
  • Strong desire in a printer powered by readily-available alkaline batteries to avoid recharging in the field.
  • No interest in a touch screen unless it allowed the printer to operate standalone (without a mobile app).
  • No interest in a wearable printer.
An electrician examines a concept portable printer mockup to see how it might fit into a belt holster.
Examining the rough device mockup
And electrician tries on a bandolier designed to hold a concept portable printer.
Trying on the wearable device accessories