Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crowdsourcing Sneaks

From the "I heard it on NPR files..."

They were talking about a small firm here in my town of Portland that I had yet to hear about. (This town seems small, but I'm constantly amazed at all of the small and medium sized businesses ticking away out here.)

NPR was talking about RYZ shoes, a company with a new way of designing shoes. The time honored technique of crowdsourcing - that is asking the public to the work once given to highly trained professionals - is at the heart of this business.

Threadless is another example of crowdsourcing. However, if you go to their site, most of the T-shirts, again, given their look by the public, have been significantly reduced from $20-$15 all down to $12. Is this a successful example of crowdsourcing?

There is a time and a place for crowdsourcing. Netflix used a contest to have their site redesigned in a genius use of crowdsourcing. However, the RYZ shoe takes me back to the conversation of "what is design". You are putting an image, colors and images on the shoe. But the shoe itself was "designed" by, hopefully, a shoe designer. When I buy a shoe, maybe this is the sign of my age, I want it to look cool, but I also want it to be comfortable! RYZ sells essentially one shoe in many different colors and "designs". If the shoe fits, you can wear it.

So, is this the future of fashion? Is this the future of technology and new products? Mass personalization seems to ebb and flow, never completely getting off the ground, but showing small successes like the boutique companies above. It's likely to work well with sneakers and clothing and even to design the skins on your technology, but I don't think researchers and designers should be terrifically worried about being outsourced by the crowd.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

All the Amercan Girls

For this post, I believe the pictures are worth the 1000 words. I had the opportunity to go with my 5 year old cousin to the American Girl store on a trip to Chicago last weekend. The trip was for her, but also a social science moment too good to pass up.

What was inside was incredible. Three floors of dolls, accessories, a hair salon, a hospital and a "museum". It's honestly difficult to discern if this is a horrendous marketing scheme or just a good idea gone bad. Teaching young girls about history through dolls is theoretically a good idea. Paying for your doll to go to a hair salon, enjoy a fancy tea and being swept up in the "stuff" of it all is a different experience entirely. The good news, is that there is hope for the economy based on the masses of people there with disposable income spending money on something other than food, gas and housing.

I'll let the pictures speak:
One American Girl doll has an unassuming demeanor. This case full of genetic options (hair, skin and eye color to match that of your 7 year old) is downright creepy.

One might question the choice of this diorama, showing the option to buy accessories and night clothes. Should the American Girl really be sitting spread eagle on a bed with shiny pajamas on? I suppose the American Girl does need to represent all career options for your 7 year old's future.

Yes, they really have a hair salon. You can pay $10-$20 to get your doll's hair done. For an extra $5 you can get the pampering package - a facial scrub and decals on the nails to mimic a manicure. Really.

And finally, representing the incredible attention to detail paid in this space, the bathrooms sport these American Girl doll holders. While you relieve yourself, Kit, Josefina or Nellie can rest easy supported by this ingenious doll holder. Hopefully, nobody will try to use it for their 1 year old.