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What’s News: A Bevy of Good Ideas

By Tema Frank

The Apple world has a reputation for sleek design and innovative products, but one fan has taken product development a step further, opening the gates to massive consumer input into product design. An early result is a nifty little device called “The Bevy,” which is the Swiss army knife of iPod cases.

It not only carries an iPod, it is also a bottle opener and a keychain that has grooves to wrap headphone cords so they don’t get tangled—a combination unlikely to be thought up by an electronics company product developer, and equally unlikely to have been the dream child of keychain manufacturers or bottle opener makers. So how did they come up with this novel idea that has turned into an instant bestseller?

In 2005, eighteen year old Ben Kaufman created a company called “mophie”. His goal was to create “cool” products that were simple to produce, inexpensive, and user-friendly. Although he developed the first successful product idea himself (a combination lanyard/iPod case called the Song Sling,) he has expanded the company vision to encourage bright ideas from others.

The company’s product development philosophy, as stated on its website ( www.mophie.com ) is: “We believe strongly that harnessing the power of a community will create the world’s best products.” They tested out that philosophy at MacWorld ’07 by setting up a booth at which the 30,000 attendees were invited to spend time doodling ideas for new products (generally enhancements to Apple’s product line.) At the end of the first day, conference attendees were asked to vote on which products they felt had the most potential. Based on the votes, three were passed along to mophie’s industrial design team.

The next day, public twenty minute discussions were held for each concept. Attendees discussed the product concepts with mophie industrial designers, to advise on further refinements. Throughout the day, conference attendees were encouraged to vote on mophie’s website to select their preferred concept and come up with ideas for names.

On the third day, staff working the booth developed branding, packaging, and sales materials for the chosen product. Audience members were still able to provide their opinions at this stage of the development process.

The next day the product was “launched” and pre-orders were taken.

Four months later, the idea originally doodled by seventeen year old Jared Fiovorich, who hung around the mophie stand because it was “the coolest booth,” was shipping to twenty-eight countries for sale in the stores of Apple distributors.

The two other finalist product ideas arising from the conference are also being produced by mophie, whose company executives are delighted with the consumer input into the process. “It is the ultimate way to interact with consumers,” says Dave Schmidt, mophie navigator. “Inviting consumers to participate and providing them with a way to really offer feedback proved to ignite widespread creativity.”

This mass collaborative approach to development seems likely to lead to many user-friendly ideas, although one has to be careful that those contributing ideas and opinions truly represent a sizeable target market.

It also raises interesting issues about intellectual property rights, which have yet to be addressed. For the moment, recognition and token payments seem to be enough. Jared Fiovorich is thrilled see his idea become a real product. “This is so cool. I have ideas all the time, but have never had the opportunity to see one of my ideas actually produced.” Beyond that, his payment consists of having his name on all the packaging materials and on the company’s website, some product release cash, free iPod Shuffles, and cases of Bevys to give out to his friends.

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User Experience Magazine is by and about usability professionals, featuring significant and unique articles dealing with the broad field of usability and the user experience.
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This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 3, 2007.
http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_publications/past_issues/2007-3.html.

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