Teamwork Makes the Tailgate Dreams Work

With over 30 years providing world-class product design, development and manufacturing in West Michigan, Tekna has built a reputation for excellence in bringing innovations to life for its clients. One of the core values Tekna brings to this work is its “design DNA”, focused on deep end-user empathy, market understanding and an unwavering emphasis on solving problems creatively, collaboratively, and consistently. 

The Opportunity

In that collaborative spirit, Tekna believes that its design DNA is best shared with others, including its local Kalamazoo connection with Western Michigan University. For the past few years, Tekna has provided its unique blend of design-centric guidance to students taking WMU’s Entrepreneurial Engineering II course. 

Recently, Tekna had the privilege of supporting a team of five students, all seniors in Industrial Design or Industrial Engineering. 

We met with the team bi-weekly, during the 15-week course, to offer insights into Tekna’s model of product design and development, user-centered research, design thinking practices, problem-solving options and simply encourage throughout this exciting process. 

The Solution

The team began investigating two topic areas but eventually settled on “tailgating” as their focus. From there they set out to solve an obvious and common problem for pick-up truck owners: how can my friends and I sit comfortably and safely in my truck bed to tailgate before the football game?

From there they named their product concept Tailgate Mate and worked through a series of human-centered design principles, including:

  • Interviewing 30 key stakeholders involved in the tailgating experience (truck owners, tailgaters, campus parking services and campus law enforcement)
  • Identifying and prioritizing user pain points (garbage disposal, safety/comfort, maximized seating, organization, food/drink management)
  • Brainstorming and design ideation leading to several possible product solutions
  • Performing competitive product benchmarking and developing rough production cost estimates 
  • Building multiple functional prototypes to evaluate their solutions, think through material selection, methods to attach Tailgate Mate to truck bed, etc. 

They also created a short video to explain and demonstrate the intent and features of their product concept. 

Following these design practices enabled Team Tailgate Mate to meet their mission: to provide consumers with a unique and improved tailgating experience. 

The Result

During WMU’s Innovation Expo in December, all teams pitched their work to the judges and the public in attendance. 

Team Tailgate Mate took second place, with the top three teams presenting their work during the MIX Innovation Celebration + Creative Crash event hosted by Southwest Michigan First. 

Tekna is proud of Team Tailgate Mate for their willingness to listen empathetically to end-users, consider alternatives to validate their assumptions and solution options, and step through important design principles to yield a very solid and inspired product offering…very much modeling the Tekna way. 

For more information about Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering, click here

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