What’s the Big Idea?!

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A better mousetrap

The bagel guillotine. The salad shooter. The Veg-O-Matic. Not a one came from GE Research or Westinghouse Laboratory. Each of these contributions to the culinary arts was conceived in the mind of a home cook.

A new website has come along that applies a crowdsourcing model to turn concepts into products. Quirky is not exclusively a platform for kitchen innovations, but with a strong natural affinity between cooking and tinkering, the site receives a steady stream of cooking-related submissions.

The basic idea of crowdsourcing is to tap into the collective intelligence and creativity of the public. The phrase was coined in the June 2006 issue of Wired Magazine to describe a new form of corporate outsourcing utilizing largely amateur pools of volunteer contributors. Quirky takes an extreme approach to crowdsourcing, blurring the distinctions between developer, producer, and consumer at every turn.

Let’s say you have an idea for a home chestnut roaster. You post the idea on Quirky. The in-house design team evaluates and tweaks the concept, and if they like it, the online community votes to move the roaster to the next development phase. In this phase, the Quirky community weighs in on every aspect of the chestnut roaster (design, aesthetics, branding, packaging) while the company’s industrial designers and mechanical engineers evaluate the manufacturing specifications and create a 3D shelf-ready photorealistic image. If 500 people respond to the prototype in the Quirky online store, your roaster goes into production.

It costs $99 to get the ball rolling, but you retain ownership of the chestnut roaster concept and the analytics and schematics created in the process. The company foots the bill to manufacture and market it. Profits are split between the company, the inventor, and the online influencers.

Sign up to be a Quirky influencer or to submit your own concept. Who knows where it can take you. Remember that even the George Foreman Grill was just a twinkle in George’s eye, once upon a time.

Established brands have turned to the cyber-populism of crowdsourcing.

Kraft actively solicits product and packaging collaborations through their Innovate with Kraft program, and Sara Lee Open Innovation is looking for the next blockbuster pastry. On My Starbucks Idea.com, customers are asked What would make your Starbucks experience perfect? Ideas range from free birthday drinks to coffee ice cubes in the iced coffee. More than high tech suggestion boxes, each of these corporate giants solicits input from its online community to select the best ideas for the company to implement.

Be inspired. View a gallery of truly quirky kitchen gadgets (a power saw pizza cutter, a square egg mold) or Gizmodo’s reader submissions of gadgets that haven’t been invented but should (who wouldn’t want a cheese sauce faucet for the kitchen sink).

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