Written by Tom Powell: Online enthusiast with an abnormal interest in innovative applications of technology, crowdfunding, co-design, co-creation, and crowdsourcing.

30 July 2007 ~ 4 Comments                                       

Design Our Pepsi Can Contest

Design Our Pepsi Can winnerPepsi conducted a contest recently called Design Our Pepsi Can. Users submitted 100,000 designs and through online voting decided on their favorite design. The designer won $10K and gets the warm and fuzzy’s associated with having his design printed on a line of cans.

Had Pepsi gone the traditional route the design would have cost an order of magnitude more than what it cost them (not including the promotional expense for the site itself.) They not only get a design on the cheap, prevalidated as a popular design, but they save a hell of a lot of money. And who knows, maybe the winner doesn’t normally make a living through design/art work. Or maybe they just gave away their professional services for cheap.

I won’t argue for or against the merits of this type of crowdsourcing, but I will say that it can, has, and will work — given the right conditions, product, etc. Of course crowdsourcing such as this cannot be applied to everything, Pepsi will continue to design cans the old fashioned way, but they have obviously benefited from conducting the contest. Not to mention that the folks who submitted the 100K designs spent at least a bit of time thinking about Pepsi and designing a cool can. It’s the Threadless model of can design.

It seems people tend to jump on a trend and assume it will take over the world (see offshore outsourcing, feared massive unemployment as a result of). Not the case. Crowdsourcing can’t be ignored. It also can’t be used exclusively or parasitically. Any company that attempts to suckle at the teat of free or drastically cheap labor through crowdsourcing exclusively will ultimately fail.

23 July 2007 ~ 1 Comment                                       

Ponoko: Innovative Company of the Week

The entire production chain is being opened up, ever so slowly and minutely. Small scale design, manufacture, and distribution – in units as few as 1 – have been decoupled and are available to anyone, anywhere.

The latest example of which is Ponoko (via MadeForOn), out of the recently productive New Zealand (see: Flight of the Conchords). Essentially it works like this: Anyone can design a product, send the design to Ponoko, and they send the finished physical product to you. Pretty cool so far, but eMachineShop does similar work. However, you will also release and sell your design on Ponoko’s website. Nothing is built until a customer buys your design, which Ponoko builds and distributes, and you get a cut. Although the term is overused, it seems this is another case of the long tail at work: essentially it is limitless inventory and designs. (I imagine pricing will be an issue. Who decides how much to charge? Will Ponoko be able to easily calculate their cost of production for various items?) Users will even be able to purchase designs and build the objects for themselves, perhaps they could employing a home fab machine or computer controlled laser cutter.

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Extrapolating from this, perhaps the future could look like this:

Step 1: Anyone makes a design. In the future, perhaps you will be able to use multiple design tools, producing a standardized file. Maybe: Google sketchup, CAD software, eMachineShop’s design tool, etc. Design departments become decoupled from manufacturing companies and can range from a guy tinkering at home alone to a highly experience, large team.

Step 2: Release the design into the wild. Here you have the choice of doing a number of things: release it into the public domain or creative commons, sell it through a broker/aggreggator like Ponoko, put it up for bid by manufacturers, etc.

Step 3: Customers, whether they be individuals, communities, or retailers, then decide how they would like to have their product built: make it themselves, have a local manufacturer produce it, or order it from a manufacturer that specializes in the type of widget you need made. When buying a design for commercial purposes or medium scale manufacture, buyers will be able to purchase a number of licenses corresponding to the number of finished products.

Designs are decoupled and freely available to anyone (or for a fee). These designs can then be manufactured anywhere. Some items will become popular and others will be made by a handful of farmers in the developing world who need an extremely specialized tool. (Fab machines are becoming cheap and easy enough to build such that local manufacture of specialized items is possible in the developing world).

Anyone with an idea, some design skills, and 0 money can now test out physical product ideas on the market.

19 June 2007 ~ 0 Comments                                       

On a few week hiatus…

I’ll be traveling for the next few weeks, so don’t expect any brilliance until July.

10 June 2007 ~ 1 Comment                                       

Open Source Car

Open Source Car hopes to design and develop a car over the web. This falls right in line with the original concept I was focusing on around crowdsourcing design and development of physical products, but it is about 469 steps down the line in terms of complexity. It will likely be a great learning experience, but first, it seems, companies should focus on figuring out how to involve crowds in co-development of simpler products. (Such as say… the design of products… like laser etching on a Mac, for example.) A car is just about the most complex type of product one can develop for a consumer — when you factor in sourcing, regulations, safety concerns, etc.

08 June 2007 ~ 0 Comments                                       

Some new changes to the blog

You might notice a few new touches on my modest little page here:

I’ve added:

    A banner to the extremely worthwhile and totally awesome Kiva.org to the sidebar. If you have always wondered what microfinance was all about, check this out. Similar to Prosper, you can loan money to individuals in developing countries and even keep in touch with them to learn how their business is developing over the course of the 6 to 12 month loan. The most amazing thing is that as they pay off the loan, you get your money back which you can then either re-loan or withdraw. It’s an incredible model, applying business returns and principles to development work.
    A ReadThese page above of recommended reading, some good beach reading if you ask me.
    An InnovativeCompanies page above of sweet companies you should check out.

05 June 2007 ~ 0 Comments                                       

Guiding principles for a new venture

When I first quit my job to see what I could do via an entrepreneurial project, I wrote down a set of general guiding principles to follow in running the project. As we have moved towards a knowledge/service based economy (and now connected/globalized/Internet economy) from an industrialized mind-set, work and businesses have been fundamentally altered. Employees and customers are no longer soulless commodities out of which companies must wring as much labor or money but more partners in the process. It is a fundamental shift, and firms that not only recognize this but implement policies, brands, and strategies along these lines will flourish. Virgin, Amazon, Apple, JetBlue, the list goes on. When dealing with solid, personalized brands that respect and solicit the opinions and experiences of customers and employees, business takes on a much more pleasant, useful, and satisfying tone. Thus, I would aim for:

1. Radical Transparency; internally and externally.
2. Simplicity
3. Flexibility. Owning as little as possible: software, infrastructure, inventory. Use SaaS. Outsource/Freelance. Light weight operations.
4. Continuous Iterative improvement.
5. Making life easier.
6. Authenticity.
7. Radical customer centricity. Worrying less about the competition or term strategy and more about what the customer is asking for. Soliciting ideas, designs, and help from everywhere: internally and externally.

04 June 2007 ~ 0 Comments                                       

Etch Connection Development continues…

As I have mentioned, I am outsourcing the development of my Etch Connection site to a Pakistani IT group who appear to be doing good work so far. The process has been surprisingly easy. I specified my requirements for the site, they came back with a list of milestones and costs for each stage, and we have interacted purely via email/attachments. Anyway, it’s been interesting.

Head on over to Etch Connection and enter your email address if you are interested in finding out when the site launches. Then you can be the baddest cat on the block with a laser etched cell, iPod, or MacBook.

15 May 2007 ~ 1 Comment                                       

3D Home Fabrication

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It’s stuff like this that shows how product development, design, and customization will begin to explode in the coming years: Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories’ 3D Fabrication in Sugar. (which will play right into my hands. ha!) In addition to being amazing (though I would guess it doesn’t taste too great), it illustrates a good point.

I recently read Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop-from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication which discusses the many permutations of home building and local building and small scale manufacturing of products that weren’t possible before. The coolest possibility, from my perspective (which is just about feasible today) is that someone:

1) Anywhere in the world downloads and implements the plans and software for the Fab@Home project or heads on over to a place like TechShop in Menlo Park (an open access workshop).

2) Gets the requisite raw materials and loads them into a Fab machine.

3) Downloads a design for the object to be built from, say, an online design marketplace provided by someone such as myself. Or open source, whatever…

4) Lets the machine do it’s thing. The resulting object could be a specialized farming tool, for example, useful in a specific region of a developing country or a toy or candy, whatever.

I have simplified the whole process to a ridiculous degree, but it is a good illustration. This process may therefore more fully distribute the various functions needed to create an end product. Someone in South America might concieve of an object they would like, someone in India might design it and post the designs, then anyone in the world could download the specs and make a 3D print of the object. (Granted it will always be easier to run down to a nearby Wal-Mart, but if you live where the long arms of the Mart have yet to extend and you need an extremely specialized item… this might eventually be the way to go.)