Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Improving your products with Attribute Listing

As we all know, creative inspiration sometimes requires a jump start, particularly when a deadline looms. In a previous post, I described how the SCAMPER technique acts as a creative trigger for ideas. SCAMPER, of course, is only one creative thinking tool in a treasure chest filled with idea-generating techniques. Another useful tool for creative inspiration is Attribute Listing.

Back in the 1930s, Attribute Listing was devised to develop new and/or improved products from existing or known products by breaking them down into their characteristic parts, or attributes, listing individual elements that fit these attributes, and then combining selected elements from some of the attributes in new ways. In the industrial world, for example, a manufacturer might decide to develop a new pen that stands out from its competitors. Some of the attributes of a typical pen might be said to be style, color, ink delivery method, comfort, and type of ink. By identifying specific styles, colors, ink delivery methods, elements of comfort, and types of ink, and then combining the best ideas from each of these attributes, it is possible to develop a new and improved pen. The same is true when a fashion designer develops a new bag, whose attributes might be said to be material (fabric, leather, synthetic), hardware (buckle, button, snap, handle), intended use (book bag, evening bag, laptop bag), and style (formal, sporty, classic, playful). By listing specific possibilities for each attribute of a bag, and then selecting and combining the most appealing ideas, a designer produces a new bag.

Attribute Listing is chiefly a creative thinking tool that is designed to be used in a limited way—to improve upon a pre-existing idea or product. However, the possibilities for improvement of an idea or product are endless. To apply the Attribute Listing technique, follow this five-step plan:

  1. Identify your goal, i.e., what idea or product do you want to improve?
  2. Identify 4 to 8 attributes, or characteristics, of this idea or product. There are no right or wrong answers here; you determine the attributes you want to analyze.
  3. List as many specific ideas for each attribute as you can. Resist the urge to reject ideas; write them down without analyzing them.
  4. Go back through your list of attributes, and circle the best ideas for each one. This is, of course, subjective.
  5. Consider how you might combine the best ideas.
Let’s take a look at how you can use Attribute Listing. If I want to develop an Etsy “Treasury,” a showcase of Etsy products that I believe is special in some way, Attribute Listing provides me with an endless array of ideas. Typical attributes of a Treasury could include theme, style, audience, technique and material. By listing the first ideas that come to mind for each attribute, I will have the start of an Attribute List that I can use to develop a Treasury:

Theme: color, ecological, industrial, nature, floral, toys, songs, books, indoor, outdoor, tools
Style: modern, Western, vintage, Victorian, medieval, eclectic
Audience: adult, women, men, children, teen, baby
Technique: crochet, collage, beadweaving, felting, knitting, metalwork, glassblowing, painting, encaustic, woodworking, sewing, macrame, Scherenschnitte
Material: yarn, fabric, feathers, beads, buttons, paper, glass, wood, metal, plastic

For the purpose of this exercise, I will select the following elements from each Attribute to create a Treasury:

Theme: floral
Style: eclectic
Audience: women
Technique: showcase multiple techniques
Material: showcase multiple materials

Finally, below is a blog-style Treasury of BBEST artists’ floral creations I could develop from the attributes I have listed. Try this yourself the next time you want to create a special Treasury, or to improve upon an idea or product you already have. Creative thinking tools such as Attribute Listing or the previously-described SCAMPER are situation-driven techniques. In other words, much as you would use a hammer and not a block of wood to drive a nail into a board, ideally you can select the right creative thinking tool for the inspirational challenge you are facing.

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at


Myfanwy said...

wow! What a lot of information, and lovely choices too.

On a Whimsey said...

Gosh what a lot of work went into this very informative post! And, a great selection to illustrate your points..... thanks for including my red flower!!

Beth said...

Great feature with tons of info, Thanks Judy

kimbuktu said...

Very interesting article and a wonderful illustration of the technique. Thanks!

blazingneedles said...

Great info, Judy! And great pictures, too.

Yankeegirl said...

Once again I learned so much from this blog!! Beautiful creations, too!

Fused Glass said...

Great information here, Judy! Thanks

Chauncey said...

jn, thanks for the intersting post. Its chock full of good information.

joon said...

This is so cool, Judy. What a fun way to educate us all. Thanks for another wonderful contribution.

ZudaGay said...

Thank you for this great post, Judy! Very interesting and informative. I think I actually do this without knowing I'm doing it. hehe.. Wonderful flowery selections. Thank you for including me.

Beth Anderson said...

Thanks for the lesson and for posting all of those wonderful floral creations - lovely!

The Filigree Garden said...

Interesting ideas and food for creative thought! Lovely flowers too.

Sixsisters said...

Another wonderful blog Judy. Thanks for including
my collage.

Cher of StuStuStudio said...

Keeping this info at hand! Welldone, and pics well chosen! Glad I stopped in today.


Pam said...

I so appreciate your techniques for inspiring creative thinking. The attribute listings will be very helpful in many ways. And, the treasury of items you chose in absolutely beautiful! What fantastic talent lies within the Bbest team members!