Reinvent the wheel
It is a catchy phrase to remind you to be creative first before looking at what others have done. Because if you don't, you will be so influenced by what you see that for a long time your own creative ability is seriously hampered.
The main problem is often of a higher abstraction level than the lesser problems. It is important to understand the hierarchical abstraction structure of the concepts that make up the product. Because it is never possible to make a concept work at a lower level if it does not work at a higher level of abstraction.
BAD - PAD - MAD
Brain Aided Design - BAD
Before you start development work, stop and think!
A large part of concept development and engineering design is the joggling of objects in the mind. We see our design in our mind. We search for and try out different solutions in our mind. It is therefore important to train this ability, but also to create the right circumstances necessary for the ability to function at optimal level.
Take a walk, or at least move the body. According to a theory called NLP, neuro-linguistic programming, the body must move for the mind to change its mode. Other methods are to lie on a sofa and shut the eyes, shut out the world, and visualize. You may function better at some time of the day or during some kind of activity, in some special environment, etc.
By observing yourself and taking note of when and under what circumstances you have peak ability to use your mind for development work you can increase both quality and volume of your output.
Pencil Aided Design - PAD
Pencil and paper are the most important tools for concept development. By drawing on paper there is created a direct link between the thoughts in the brain and the visual impression from the picture being drawn.
The muscle memory is at work. The movement of the hand is important for the brain-activity in finding solutions, especially so for creativity problems. Many pictures are created that are simultaneously viewed and processed by the brain. The paper acts both as memory and test bed for the seeking of solutions.
The action is from the abstract towards more and more detailed solutions. At a suitable level the pen and paper sketching is stopped and the work is continued in a CAD-program.
Model Aided Design - MAD
It is often useful to build and test some simple models to verify the function of concepts or to increase ones understanding of the concept.
Favored materials are model clay, plastic foam, LEGO-bits, balsa wood, and cardboard.
As with PAD, there are some merits to models that computers lack. The tactile feedback and the visual impressions, and the possibility to mimic the real thing differ from when using computers only. Also the impressions are remembered differently and more vivid by using models.
The forte of using computer software for trying out mechanisms is the possibility to get exact data of displacements, forces, velocities, and accelerations.
Typically a specification is a noun and a number. Such specifications are necessary but seldom sufficient. Just designing to specifications is not enough.
To find the best solutions it pays to think of the worst cases, the extremes, and to visualize extreme usage of the product. Lets say you design a new camera. Then think of what the camera must withstand onboard a sailboat during an around the world race. Water, cold/hot weather, shocks from tumbling around at the bottom of the boat. This gives you a better, truer, understanding than simply stating that the camera should withstand three consecutive half-sine pulses of amplitude 300 m/s2 and period 30 ms.
By thinking of the extremes and solving for them we almost automatically also solve for the in-betweens.
There is also a contrast effect of regarding opposing extremes that helps clarify problems and lets us see functional solutions with more ease.