Never a Normal Day: An Inside Look at Target’s Product Development Team

May 21, 2014 - Article reads in

Target’s Product Design and Development (PD&D) team does some pretty cool things, from traveling the world for inspiration to creating innovative products that solve everyday problems.

Boasting more than 600 talented product developers — from fabric engineers to color analysts — the team develops big ideas, graphic concepts and technical designs for Target. Oh, and they have a few patents too. And by a few, we mean more than 200.

With professional backgrounds as diverse as their day-to-day duties, PD&D team members bring a fresh, fun perspective to every product or system they create. Below, a few PD&D folks offer insight into their nine-to-fives and more.

Sam Silva, 3D Design Engineer

Before Sam joined the Target team, he was helping build bomb-resistant vehicles for the military. 

After hearing about your previous job, we have to admit we were a little nervous for this interview! Bomb-resistant vehicles? Tell us more about that!
I designed armored vehicles and body armor for the military in addition to very detailed projects that required a lot of commitment to see through from beginning to end. That sense of dedication means I set a really high bar for myself here at Target. I want the products I help create to be even better than the designers and product engineers could have ever thought possible.

How do you help bring designers’ creations to life?
I assist both designers and product engineers in creating better products for Target through rapid prototyping using computer-aided design (CAD) software that are brought to life by a 3D printer.

How is Target using 3D modeling?
A lot of people are surprised that we have 3D printing here within Target, but we can take an idea from a sketch to a prototype in a matter of days here. After receiving a sketch from the designer or engineer, I create a detailed CAD model of the product then feed it into one of our 3D printers. What results is a physical representation of what the designer envisioned. We’re currently the only retailer with rapid-prototyping capabilities, so we’re ahead of the competition.

Sounds like you’re personally ahead of the competition too — we also hear you have multiple patents in your name.
Ha! I have five patents now, and another six or seven under reviews. It was really cool to get that first patent, and see that Target appreciated my work enough to want to protect the design language. Getting the plaque was awesome!

Dr. Tom Flicker, up&up

Outside of his main gig as a chemist for Target’s up&up brand, Tom is also sustainability captain for the PD&D team and a leader on the LGBTA Business Council. Here’s how he makes it all work.

Tell us a little about your role on the PD&D team.
As a chemist and scientist, I get to work with a ton of different types of product and people. Mainly, I lead a team of engineers, chemists and designers that create up&up products. We design, create, formulate, test, decorate and all the other verbs I can think of for about 1,500 different products, from toilet paper and diapers to shampoo and sunscreen.

What does your typical day look like?
There’s no such thing as a typical day at Target. I’ll have meetings with chemists to talk about facial scrubs — we’re doing a ton of work to remove polyethylene beads, which can be harmful to the environment — or I’ll review prototypes for the latest diapers. Every day is different and that keeps my days very interesting.

How many formulas do you typically test for up&up products?
We always try to get it right the first time, but we also believe in extensive testing. We’ll ship thousands of products around the country for guest feedback.

Do you have a favorite product you’ve helped develop over the years?
Our up&up laundry detergent is a great performing product — truly. And it’s because we collected and tested data to figure out the types of stains people encounter most. We asked nearly 1,000 regular Target guests to keep “laundry diaries” and track their peskiest stains. Then we formulated the laundry detergent to specifically address those.

Neal Anderson, Lead Product Development Manager

When he’s not leading product development for the PD&D team, Neal’s coming up with innovative solutions of his own—in fact, he is one of the top patent holders at all of Target.

Tell us about your role on the PD&D team.
I help the technical team with overall strategy and manage our process approach to design process, taking a product from an idea to store shelves. One of the coolest things about working here is the breadth of categories I have had a chance to work on. I’ve worked on everything from ibuprofen and curtains to baby diapers.

How does your technical past influence your work today?
I always take an engineering approach to problem solving, whether that’s making sure delicate plates arrive at a guest’s home without breaking or figuring out how to make a balloon that is more fun for kids.

Target’s exclusive kids party supply brand, Spritz

What are some upcoming innovations in the gifting and party area?
We’ve been trying to understand what aspects of gifting are really important to the guest. Turns out, it’s all about the surprise factor. For example, if you wrap a gift for a child and they can see the outline of the gift’s branding before they unwrap it, that’s a fail. So, the team has tested a variety of paper weights and thicknesses to make sure you can’t see the present through them.

And there’s always something new and fun in the party category. Right now we’re exploring how to make cake more special, which is the main attraction at so many different types of celebrations. We’re developing cool candles and cake toppers that elevate how you’ll present your cake. Basically, I get to work with cake — and that’s pretty great.

What is your favorite part about your job?
Working in kids’ party supplies is a very humbling job. To get to watch kids play with products that you’ve played a role in creating is really stunning. Watching them smile and get excited about your work is one of the best perks of this job.

So, what’s it like leading a team that develops giftwrap and party items for kids? 
Our office is kind of like a constant party. There are literally balloons and streamers everywhere. Bubbles will float up randomly from behind a cube wall. It’s hilarious.

Interested in joining the product design and development team?

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