The air around the Quirky headquarters in New York City was more intense than usual last Thursday night as employees await their weekly live product evaluation that airs publicly on Ustream. This wasn’t going to be their typical one-hour show. In fact, Quirky designers were in store for a 24-hour design-a-thon set to take place that night and into the waking hours of Friday in hopes of creating a complete iPhone 5 accessory collection slated for pre-order today on Fab.com — just one full week after Apple’s official iPhone 5 announcement.
I had the opportunity to stop by the Quirky office with the atmosphere full of energy as always. Quirky CEO Ben Kaufman paused for a quick chat, stating time and time again that anything is possible at that moment. “Here’s the thing,” he says before preparing to host the weekly evaluation. “You’re talking to me at, like 6:45 [p.m.]? I don’t even know what we’re making in ten minutes.” The outcome of the evaluations has everything to do with what Kaufman will end up doing with his scheduled flight to manufacturers in China on Saturday. For now, all he has are his flight itinerary and a network of manufacturers — stateside and overseas.
Let the designs begin
As the eval starts, it’s revealed that upwards of 50 design ideas have been selected overnight post-iPhone 5 announcement. Instead of the usual couple-minute discussion on each idea, Kaufman gives every submission a 90-second rapid fire round which allows Fab buyers Devin Guinn and Lukas Thoms, along with Quirky resident designers, to give their opinions in product feasibility, sell-ability, and overall creativeness. After 90 seconds, audience raise their hands to vote on whether the idea should go into production. If more than half the crowd agrees, Kaufman throws the project into an accepted pool. By the end of the night, he is looking for 12 to 15 designs hoping to condense the line down to approximately five to seven products.
Of the ideas submitted, some of the more — well, quirky — ones include a vibrator adaptor that plugs into your iPhone for power. The crowd definitely had a good laugh with this one, but the submission was ultimately scrapped after one audience member exclaims, “I like my iPhone, and I like my vibrator. I don’t like them together.” Other ideas include a stick-on wallet that can be attached to the back of your iPhone 5, a case that doubles as a camera grip for iPhoneographers, and an iPhone lanyard wrist loop that contains a USB and Lightning port within the strap. Another popular idea was an iPhone dock that’s also a photo printer, but Quirky ultimately decided the project was too ambitious to complete in a 24-hour time constraint.
Immediately after evals come to a close, Quirky staff got right to work: Designers flocked into brainstorming rooms to begin sketching prototypes and discuss materials, adaptations, and colors. The entire event continued to air live over Ustream with hundreds of viewers from home tuning in to check up on the team. Audience members who weren’t designers also got stickers to help identify themselves as part of production — whether you’re just a media person documenting the event or project launcher who is contributing to the start of item production. A DJ was on-site to keep upbeat music pumping and the energy alive, but not soon after an hour into the design process, Quirky staff began switching their drinks of choice from gin and tonics and beers to coffee and Red Bulls.
Though the challenge remains mostly in Quirky’s hands, Fab buyer Lukas Thoms was confident in the team’s ability to pull this project off. “We’re innovative because we [Quirky and Fab] move quickly, and we’re not afraid to take risks,” Thoms tells me. “We’re not afraid to go at a speed that’s probably unrealistic for most.” It also helped that both Quirky and Fab customer demographics are design connoisseurs — even if Fab users happen to enjoy vibrators a little more than Quirky would like to produce.
As the night continues, Kaufman is seen racing from room-to-room, microphone in hand to discuss with senior designers the progress of their work. Graphic teams are sprawled on several computers creating mock-up packaging and ads for the new products, complete with the idea submitter’s name rightfully smacked on the page to give credits where they’re due. Artists drew prototype designs, one after another, to decide on which ideas would make for the most innovative look that’s yet to be found on the market today. By morning, several pictures from Quirky’s Twitter account shows the staff slowly clocking out one by one, desperately needing a catnap from the chaotic night that ensued.
One week later…
Well, it’s September 19 and is the day Fab and Quirky promised the 24-hour iPhone 5 accessory line would begin the pre-order on the fresh-off-the-presses collection. The sales launched promptly at the announced time of 3 p.m. ET, and nearly everything Quirky said it would accomplish has come to life. The iPhone cases and dock were there, but sorely missing is the camera handle, bike/car iPhone dock, and the USB wrist loop many were excited about during the evaluation. This doesn’t mean Fab and Quirky aren’t developing the product, however, it just was simply impossible for the team to create such items in a very short time span.
The available line currently ranges from $35 to $40 in the 4-day sale on Fab, and it comes with free shipping within the following six weeks. While one week may be a short time for some, for Quirky designers, this just spelled the end of another busy work week. Tomorrow the startup goes back live for its weekly evaluations, resuming life as normal at the ever-enthusiastic headquarters.
What do you think of Quirky and Fab’s iPhone 5 accessory collection? Is speed the name of the game, or should companies take their time to develop thoroughly designed products? We hope to get our hands on the new item(s) as soon as they become available and be the judge ourselves, but until then, we can’t say we’re not impressed by the effort, dedication, and quirkiness that lives within both innovative startups.