Web Brainstorming for New Product Ideas

Discussion
Nov 29, 2007

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

Citizen journalism, blogs, Wikipedia and consumer-generated entertainment are just the beginning. Now anyone with a computer can vote on new product development suggestions or suggest their own and try to stimulate sufficient demand to get the idea off the drawing board and onto the production line.

Stimulated by Japanese inventor and entrepreneur Kohei Nishiyama, Elephant Design is aimed at new ideas. Through its “Design to Order” technology, anyone who wants to will be able to post an image and description on www.elephant-design.com. From there, others are encouraged to suggest alterations and improvements. If enough people then vote for the product, Mr. Nishiyama will look for a manufacturer to turn the item into commercial reality.

Design to Order has been running in Japan for a few years at www.cuusoo.com. It’s scheduled to be formally launched in the U.K. as www.elephant-design.com in 2008.

Mr. Nishiyama wants to provide an alternative to the mass-produced items weighing down retailers’ shelves. As he told The Guardian, “Our idea is to give people what they want by involving anyone of any age or nationality who has a good idea, early on in the process. There are a lot of people who have great ideas but they’re not working in the business. Our society is an under-utilized talent.”

In Japan, designers have found the Cuusoo website an invaluable tool to float ideas without financial liability should they fail. An arrangement with Japanese retailer Muji is also up and running, with the goal of developing products for its stores. The first product to roll out is a set of transparent sticky memos, created by a 21-year old student and due to hit the market next month.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of using the internet as a forum for brainstorming new product ideas? Or is the opportunity more for the tiny niche populated by the weird and wonderful?

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12 Comments on "Web Brainstorming for New Product Ideas"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Web brainstorming is a great decision-making tool, to design products, improve designs, and exchange ideas of all sorts. Great market research almost always pays for itself many times over, and web brainstorming is certainly quick and low cost. What would happen if retailers showed images of the clothes they haven’t yet bought for next year, and let their best customers vote on their favorites. Would there be fewer markdowns? If Wal-Mart had posted the designs for Metro 7 online and asked their shoppers to vote before the clothes were manufactured, would rollout have been more successful?

Joy V. Joseph
Guest
Joy V. Joseph
14 years 5 months ago

As I had already mentioned in one of the past discussions (E-Commerce Sites Aren’t Too Social), the harvesting of Blogs and Social Networking forums for new product ideas is a natural extension of using these for marketing. Companies are already doing it in several ways, be it systematic online panels, research vendors like Affinova (affinova.com) that tests new product and packaging ideas using online panels and proprietary algorithms and Umbria (umbrialistens.com) that listens to the pulse of the web for consumer perceptions on products and brands, or companies that directly allow their loyal consumers to dictate how products should look, like Pepsi is doing at designourpepsican.com. I think this is what new product development is going to evolve into, eventually.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
14 years 5 months ago

The sooner product manufacturers allow consumers to “hijack” their brand, and ultimately new product development, the sooner these same companies will have greater success, and will command a leadership position in the marketplace. The world is changing, and moving faster, and this is true with product development as well.

David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Using the internet as a forum for brainstorming new product ideas is efficient and is at least as reliable as most other means which vary in reliability. The challenge using the internet is to be sure about validation so that results are not tainted by over zealous participants that do not truly represent the right sample of attitudes and ideas.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
14 years 5 months ago

This isn’t just a great idea, it’s an inevitability–and not just for new product ideas. I often wonder, as I scan product reviews before making a purchase decision, whether the product designers ever read these reviews. Here’s a perfect example–read the reviews for “Elefun” on Amazon. This is a Hasbro game that has been around for several years, and even the positive reviews complain about design flaws that STILL have not been fixed or addressed.

I think consumer-driven design is a fantastic goal and applaud companies that are embracing it. If that’s too much to take on at your company though, then at a minimum you should be considering product review-driven design, because I have a feeling that manufacturers that are responsive to the design complaints customers take the time to share in product reviews are going to get a lot more brand loyalty than manufacturers who ignore them.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 5 months ago

As much as I agree that this sort of interaction is desirable and inevitable, I agree with Lee that it has to take its proper place in the product development cycle. Maybe I’ve been in Silicon Valley too long, but we tend to think that consumers can be surprised and delighted, to paraphrase a certain god-like SV CEO, by products they didn’t know they needed or wanted. In other words, let’s hear what they have to say, but let’s continue to try to think beyond the consensus of the majority. Sure, a lot of products will fail, but then again, some will be the iPod.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 5 months ago
Collaborative design brainstorming is a cool idea that has numerous hidden implications. In particular, consider its potential impact on our creaky legal definition of “intellectual property.” Who owns the product patent once dozens or even hundreds of individuals contribute to its final design? If royalties were to be shared, what systems would be required to ensure that each contributing designer gets his or her entitled tenth of a percent? On the pragmatic side of things, when is a collaborative product design “finished”? And what kind of nimble design, tooling and manufacturing infrastructure would be required for a company to profitably produce products that may be subject to continuous and incremental design refinements? Finally, might this collaborative design model also be applied to entertainment content and other “soft” products? Will the world soon see graphic novels, videos, games or entire web sites developed with the input of the masses? And how would all the above questions apply to those? Perhaps the answers to these questions, and others I cannot think of on my own, will be… Read more »
Lee Peterson
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

It’s great and necessary to get as much feedback as you can about new product ideas, but you can’t let the results reformulate your ideas…as a merchant, ANY merchant, you have to lead the customer. The customer cannot help you be innovative.

As proof, let us not forget that this type of testing is the dearth of the movie industry in that audience testing has limited several great ideas and forced innocuous and boring endings to once great scripts for years. Sometimes, you just have to go for it, take chances, change things. That’s the difference between genre change and “pretty good sales figures.”

You also don’t have to look far for consumer-tested blandness; check any “fashion” retailer in your local mall for that.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

This is a perfect use for Web 2.0–cheap, easy for the commenter, and much less subject to groupthink than is the usual focus group.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 5 months ago

Using the internet as a forum for brainstorming new product ideas appeals to a growing segment of consumers. Just look at hotel websites that list customer reviews as one example.

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
14 years 5 months ago

Original attempts to use the internet for research immediately limited sample size and audience to those people with the ability to use their computer as something more than and email machine.

Today’s household penetration of computers and high-speed access make the internet the perfect place to connect with consumers who are passionate about their likes and dislikes and reach a statistically significant and diverse audience.

mike huett
Guest
mike huett
14 years 2 months ago
Clearly the net can be used in this way though contributors may need reassurance as to how their own ideas are rewarded rather than simply appropriated. I am interested in how open organisations are to externally created innovations…just how easy/difficult is it for an outsider to get their idea heard? To give just one example; I spent half an hour imagining I had come up with a new idea for a product/marketing opportunity for Tesco that I wanted to discuss with them. Let us further imagine it is my lunchtime so my time is limited. How do I get their attention readily? Can I get their attention before I get frustrated trying and/or forget the idea? This is an issue I think organisations need to address: just how able are they at capturing innovative ideas? Half an hour on Tesco’s website left me none the wiser as to how I could get my idea heard. Intra-preneurs are only half the story…. So, web brainstorming may be one quick way of getting an idea “out there”… Read more »
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