Last September, Jenny Drinkard was just a recent college grad from Georgia Institute of Technology merely entering the supposed “real world” — also known to her as the industrial design market. She had heard of a company called Quirky when CEO Ben Kaufman came to speak to her class and decided it would be a cool place to start submitting her inventions. Her design: modular storage units based on the shape of milk crates. After not hearing from the company for several months, Drinkard got a reply the following March with Quirky interested in pursuing her design. By June, Crates was officially sold in Target and Drinkard had moved to New York to join the team as a design intern.
How it begins
“Living the Quirky dream,” as one would describe, Drinkard is one of many who have flocked to Quirky to take part in social innovation. Started in 2009, Quirky takes the submission of inventors and polls its online community to see how receptive the products are to the masses. Despite a $10 fee per submission and the company’s rights to take over the designer’s existing patent, Quirky has been receiving enormous traffic since its humble start three years ago. “We get about 1,500 submissions a week,” says Jaime Yandolino, Quirky’s public relations representative. “We usually pick 10 a week to discuss, but this week we have 12.”
On Thursdays at 7 p.m. eastern, Quirky hosts a Ustream event with its entire staff of 70 and the rest of the Web to discuss the week’s possible inventions. Led by Kaufman, the one-hour show is filled with creativity and laughter as Kaufman tries to get his team members, armed with beer and wine, to discuss the reality of making an idea possible or likelihood of someone actually buying it. Some of the week’s ideas include a shoelace cutter and crimper, an expandable fiber gift sock wrapping, and a juice carafe that users can adjust the level of pulp before pouring. Viewers from home and also vote on how much they like the product, and throw in comments via live chat.
If approved, Quirky designers would begin creating prototypes and continue to poll its community to help them come up with everything from the name, tagline, color, finish, and most importantly, price.
A lot more goes on in between these phases, of course. At our visit to the Quirky headquarters in the west side of New York City, we saw the scale of the company’s production and vision. There was the giant wall of brainstorming ideas plastered across the exposed brick walls while engineers were drilling prototypes in the “Dirty” part of the production room. The “Clean” room, is of course, left to less messy creations such as 3D prints from the industrial-sized Object Connex 350 — also known as Bertha.
For the most part, many Quirky products start out as 3D prints, says Quirky’s lead industrial designer Jordan Diatlo. Take for example the Switch, a modular pocket knife that were initially plastic pieces held together in a box. This plastic prototype allows the designers to get an idea of how the product should look and work before sending final, modified versions to the studio for photography.
Everything on the Quirky website is done in-house, and after a final prototype is done, the product receives its glamor shots to look give the audience an idea of how it would be used in real life. The picture then gets its special page on the “Upcoming” section of Quirky where audience can vote on its pricing or give any other input to making the design better. If the product passes this round, expect to see it up for sale on the Quirky site or retail stores in the near future. The headquarters even has a space where a team members recreate a mockup of a retail store aisle just to show how Quirky products could be placed in the store shelves nearest you.
A truly social experience
What makes Quirky even more social than the product design process itself is that those who have no industrial design experience can contribute and even make a buck or two. By taking part in voting on item colors, name, finishes, members can help “influence” the production of a Quirky creation. For every bit of influence a member contributes, they earn a percentage of the revenue that product makes. The inventor earns 30 percent of the profits if his or her item is sold directly through Quirky, and 10 percent if through third-party retailers. For Drinkard, this is only the beginning of her successes as college season swiftly begins.
Not all Quirky products that make it past the evaluation and polls end up for sale, which is expected considering the scale of submissions. To keep track, Quirky has a wall full of inventions either in production, pricing, and sales stages. At-home inventors could only hope their designs end up in museum-esque display at the Quirky HQ known as “The Chosen Ones.”
This room houses all Quirky items currently available or perhaps even sold out in stores. The experience is like a nerdy kid in a design candy store, with the ability to touch and feel all the hard work that hundreds of people have poured into creating. And of course, for those who dream of becoming inventors but were never able to chase it, Quirky provides that outlet for design whether it be just partaking in influential votes or claiming credits for the invention yourself. It’s the most social experience you can have on items that may end up in your own home, and it couldn’t be a more quirky process to get there.