Quirky Recap – S01 E04 – “I Crush It”

It’s another week and a chance to crown another Quirky inventor.  We’re at Eval again and the Quirky employees get their chance to chime in on the top ideas chosen by the online community.

First up is Joe from Portland with his idea for a piece of plastic that piggy backs on your roll of toilet paper giving you, Voila! – TWO rolls of toilet paper, so you don’t run out as often.  “Wiping your a** like no other,” jokes Ben.  One designer points out that it lacks the “wow factor” (ok, name a toilet product with wow factor, what, you can’t either?).  Ben asks who likes it and hears crickets (insert standard Ferris Buehler/Ben Stein attendance joke here).

Now we go to Marnie in Seattle with her “Ziploc Rolodex,” which seems like a very OCD product for OCD people who have just simply lost control of their storage bag inventory.  One Quirky staffer comments that he doesn’t believe in the problem this idea solves despite the fact that it got a lot of interest from the online community.  Popular doesn’t necessarily mean good, so there’s a good lesson for you kids out there.

Ok, what’s next?  Here’s Y.C. Chan (which is very similar to my stepmother’s name, really, it’s just one letter off), a Vancouverite who tells us his nickname is “Chan the Man.”  CTM shows his idea for a camera case that can transform into a tripod.  In the staff discussion, they all like it and although there are similar things in the market, they think they can differentiate this one and it could be a winner.

Last up we have Jim from Pueblo and his collapsible mop bucket similar to a dust pan that clips onto a broom handle.  The quirky designers are excited about this one because it combines two things that they really like: folding things and cleaning things.  Who knew?

Ben talks about what a tough decision it is this week and although the show of hands is close, Chan the Man comes out on top.  Score one for my Chinese Paisan!  They call up CTC on video chat to tell him the good news and CTM tells Ben what he does for a living.  He’s an industrial designer!  Ben says that’s never happened before and that maybe they can learn something from this, but it sure did look like he made kind of a poopy face when CTM dropped that bomb.  Usually the inventor’s are total newbies to product development, so Quirky has the upper hand as experts.  Could this be a set up for some conflict?

As usual, we now check into a Quirky product in mid-development.  Tracie from New York is the inventor of the Contour Hanger which lets you hang up your dress so that it doesn’t crumple the garment and lets it hang so that you can see the whole dress.  Ben gives her the bad news that the retail partners are showing some resistance.  They decide they have to do some work to show the benefits, such as get some before and after pictures in magazines.

Ben now meets with his design team to discuss CTM’s Tripod Case where he tells Eeyore and the others that their time will likely be spent on defining the target customer demographics that will drive the design.  We also learn that CTM is not just a designer but a design teacher!  Eeyore jokes that he will “school” them and Ben is confident that his team will show that they have some skills of their own.  I just can’t wait until these guys all meet although I am afraid that when he sees him the first time, Eeyore will decapitate him with his teeth and wear the head around his neck to show the others who the alpha is.  I’m pretty sure it’s happened before.

Chan the Man shows up in person at Quirky, excited to finally launch a product under his own name, although I’m not sure if he means Y.C. or CTM.  Ben greets him and immediately tells him, “we’re going to get in your head.”  He then introduces Eeyore and I am getting nervous for “the Man,” but Eeyore just shakes his hand and introduces him to the design team.

One of the designers says he hopes CTM has an open mind, but as we find out, he comes in with his designs already well fleshed out and concept sketches pretty detailed.  CTM now says these guys are pretty young and he’s not sure he needs their help, but the Quirky process must reign supreme!  That means he has to take input from the team and the community.  His concept sketches are really nice though.  He tells us point blank that when it comes to design, “I crush it.”  No ego there!

They take CTM to the real world for some ethnography to look at real world scenarios of use.  One of the designers pretends to be CTM’s family as they try out different tripods to take photos.  Many of them are awkward and clunky and they learn that one key differentiating feature would be speed and ease of use.  The designers talk about how they will approach their own concept designs, but CTM has it all figured out already with his own solutions and tells them they “can go home early.”  But the Quirky guys are uncomfortable skipping ahead of the process.  The process is king!  CTM doesn’t want his ideas challenged; he is “the Man” after all, but he acquiesces and lets the kids do their thing and he’ll see what they come up with.

They come up with a few different designs and mechanical approaches and Ben comes in to see what’s up, but he does not like where it’s going as the designs don’t look universal to fit different size and model cameras.  He asks them, “do you have a REAL product to show me?”  He stresses the business and profitability importance of limiting SKUs and all that smart, MBA-type, creativity killing stuff.

Gaz (I will stop calling him the other name for a moment) and Ben start to argue in a stereotypical designer/businessman way.  Ben mandates they keep the practicality in mind and Gaz reminds him that’s not what this phase of development is about.  Ben gets very testy and even says “don’t tell me about the design process, I’ve been through this a few times before.”  I picture Ben wearing Gaz’s head around his neck or maybe putting it on a pike outside his office.  Chan the Man looks a bit nervous, although I’m sure he’s been through this before.  Ben sends him on his way with his customary fist bump.

Now free of the inventor’s influence, the designers try to come up with concept sketches that address Ben’s concerns.  Their ideas range from the Pivot Pouch to the Slide and Hide and something they call the “All Wrapped Up.”  Ok, these guys can draw, but their diction needs work.  They are ready to show Gaz and Ben what they’ve come up with.  They upload the concepts for community input and chat via video with CTM.  He sorta likes their concepts, but admits to us on the side that he is a bit underwhelmed.

The community feedback gravitates towards the Pivot Pouch (we’ll see if that name sticks) and one person reiterates the concern of it not fitting a variety of cameras. The All Wrapped Up design is number two and CTM’s own design comes in at number three.

Next stage of the all important process is to do the solid modeling, making physical mock ups of the top ideas.  Ideas often fall apart during this exercise when it goes from 2D paper to 3D reality, and they discover that the All Wrapped Up idea is kind of clunky.  Also, instead of doing a dedicated model of CTM’s design, they decide to morph it with the Pivot Pouch concept.  Yeah, that’s going to go over well with Chan the Man….not.

CTM comes in to review the models.  Although the All Wrapped Up design, with its collapsible legs, is bulky and awkward (Gaz calls it “embarrassing”), Ben thinks it has much greater potential than the Pivot Pouch which is too conventional and safe.  CTM then asks, “what about my design?”  Uh oh.  He expresses concern with the AWU approach, but ultimately concedes against his nature that the risky approach is the one to try and agrees to explore it further even though it’s so far from his original.  That’s the Quirky spirit!  He really has no choice anyway.

CTM sits down with the team to improve the design, such as going with three legs instead of four for a true tripod design.  He is excited as that’s more in spirit with his original idea.   They huddle over the workbench tweaking the prototype here and there.  “Measure twice, cut once,” they say, another great lesson for the kids.  Maybe CTM taught them that?

Tracie is back and they’re going to work on before and after shots of her Contour Hanger, which is something Quirky has never done for any of their products.  They all agree it’s necessary to convey the product benefit with these pictures, especially since the retail partners were unconvinced by the concept.  The pictures have to visually match the product tag line, “Supports Your Style.”  Hey that’s not bad, maybe they should get her ideas for naming the tripod case?

At the meeting where they review the photos, Tracie is really happy with how they came out.  Ben makes her sit down and tells her that they will have a meeting with Real Simple magazine to get them to publish her story which will hopefully grease the wheels with the retailers.

At the magazine, Tracie and Ben meet with Real Simple to pitch the hanger.  Ben is wearing Khaki shorts and sandals to prove he’s really quirky and Tracie wears an attractive white dress and gold handbag, what a contrast!  They tell them that they see A LOT of hangers but that hers looks really interesting.  They really put Tracie through the gauntlet and challenge her with questions on everything from price point to features and benefits.  She holds her ground really well and the people seem honestly impressed.

Later on they have a conference call to get the verdict and Real Simple tortures Tracie with a long diatribe on what they thought.  While they wax poetic repeating everything from the meeting, Tracie  doesn’t want to hear any of it, she just wants the answer damn it and so do we!  Finally they cut to the chase and tell Tracie they’re going to feature her hanger on their website.  Yay!  She is speechless and flabbergasted.   We get a graphic on screen that tells us that Real Simple’s website gets 2.9 million visitors and 40 million page views per month.   I look at my own blog stats now and am suddenly very depressed.

Ben shows up at CTM’s design class with one of his special black boxes to surprise the Man.  Is he really surprised?  What about the TV cameras in the classroom?  Chan gets to open the case in front of his class, what pressure, how will this affect his credibility with his students?  Ben remarks that CTM is subdued in his reaction, I mean, all the other inventors just go nuts when they open the special box, but CTM is Asian, and we are a cerebral race, like Vulcans, that is bred to be unexcitable and to avoid extremes.  Hopefully Ben remembers that for the future.

They use the case and take a photo of the whole class.  As usual we get some text graphics at the end of the show and one tells us that “Despite the differences along the way, Ben and Gaz agree that the Pose (the case’s final moniker) has the potential to revolutionize the digital camera marketplace.”  Yet another lesson for the kids – no matter what, things usually sort themselves out in the end.  And that’s one to grow on….



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