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Product design is increasingly being performed by consumers themselves, as we’ve already noted in our coverage of Exuve, Ryz, Infectious and others. The latest spotting? CardsInk, which brings the Threadless model to greeting cards. All cards sold by CardsInk are created by visitors to the site. In a special section for new submissions, visitors can vote on the user-uploaded designs they like best. From there, CardsInk picks the highest-rated ones and turns them into real, printed cards for sale in its shop; pricing ranges from USD 1.25 to USD 3.99 each. Designers of cards chosen for production get paid USD 100, with an additional USD 50 if the card gets reprinted. Queens, NY-based Scissor Tracks—the company behind CardsInk—currently prints new cards about every two weeks. International shipping is available. It’s one thing to let the eager masses of Generation C(ontent) have a hand at product design, but the rubber doesn’t meet the road until you reward them for their efforts. That’s where Generation C(ash) is born, and it’s also where crowdsourcing reaches its full potential. Keep the (paid) crowdsourcing efforts coming! (Related: Consumers get paid for input on new products.) Spotted by: swissmiss If warm soup and a heated bus stop are the way to Chicago-area commuters’ hearts, then coffee, cupcakes and fun are probably a good choice for catching the attention of recession-beleaguered office workers. Such, indeed, proved to be the case earlier this year, when Kraft Foods’ Maxwell House launched its new Trio coffee brand in Dubai. Throughout the months of May and June, the brand targeted Dubai office workers with free “Trio Time” office parties, available for the asking thanks to a campaign developed by OgilvyOne Middle East. Once securing their employer’s permission, office workers needed only register online and pick a date for the party at their office. A team of brand reps would then arrive at the appointed time with cupcakes, music, games, balloons, prizes and of course plenty of Trio samples. More than 150 parties were held in offices throughout Dubai during the 5-week campaign, bringing the taste of Trio to more than 3,000 consumers. Additional impressions were made, too, through coverage of the events on Facebook and Twitter. Particularly during tough times, a little sympvertising can go a long way toward showing consumers that your brand cares. Add to that a dose of tryvertising—an increasingly popular strategy in its own right—and you’ll soon be savouring the sweet aroma of success! 😉 (Related: Nationwide tryvertising parties.) Solar energy may offer myriad compelling benefits, but its use in homes is still far from widespread. California developer Comstock Homes is now developing what it calls the nation’s first single-builder solar-powered community, however, just 10 miles from downtown LA. Comstock’s Villages at Heritage Springs will include more than 500 residences set on 54 landscaped acres in Southern California’s Santa Fe Springs. A variety of sizes, styles and floor plans will be available, ranging from 1,390 square feet to 2,166 square feet, two-story townhomes to three-story houses with optional loft. Regardless of the size, energy efficiency will be at the heart of each Villages home, with features such as double-pane, low-emissivity (Low-E) windows; energy-efficient lighting, heating and air-conditioning; cool roof tiles; and a tankless water heater. Perhaps even more significant, however, is that all homes will feature SunPower solar roof tiles to power their lights, appliances, TV and other electronic devices, allowing them to exceed the National Energy Standard by 50 percent, Comstock says. With a wireless monitoring system for energy-use tracking, the SunPower system can save consumers up to 60 percent on their electric bills, including credits for extra energy production. The development is expected to be finished next year, according to CoolerPlanet, with single-family home prices ranging from USD 500,000 to USD 750,000. There is another large, solar-powered development in California already, CoolerPlanet points out—a 650-home community from Lennar Corp. in Roseville. Either way, with all the many reasons to decrease dependence on fossil fuels, both provide a large-scale example of the possibilities. A model to be emulated in sunny places around the world! (Related: Thin, flexible solar panelingSolar panels, measured and designed remotelySolar panels shaped like clay roof tilesFree plans for eco homes.) Spotted by: Jim Stewart Back in 2007, a New York artist duo created Wants for Sale, a site where they offer up paintings they’ve made of things they want to buy. Whereas buyers of those paintings support the couple’s various purchase plans, visitors to their new Needs for Sale site are given the chance to support charitable causes instead. Every painting on Needs for Sale represents a cause the artists would like to support. Whether it’s food for the hungry or building supplies for people who have lost their homes, 100 percent of every sale is donated to the cause represented. All paintings on Needs for Sale are created on 2-inch-deep gallery canvas and come ready to hang. Pricing varies with the cause represented. A painting of a Barbie doll, for example, recently generated a USD 250 donation to Toys for Tots; proceeds from a USD 100 painting of a toilet went to Habitat for Humanity. Shipping is available worldwide. In a world where charitable consumers are constantly bombarded with cries for help, there’s something attractive about the simplicity of buying a painting to support a specific cause. Perhaps even more compelling, however, is the tangible, stylish and unique proof of their generosity consumers get in return. It may not be a building named in their honour, but it still goes far beyond the typical tote bag or umbrella to provide one-of-a-kind evidence with a story that can then be proudly displayed and discussed with friends and family far and wide. Nonprofits around the world: time to find a sympathetic artist to partner with! 😉 (Related: T-shirts with a story, and a causeMicrocharity uses tangibility to target young donors.) Spotted by: Jon D. When it comes to breakfast, consumers can already customize their own muesli and tea. For those in the mood for pancakes, however, there’s now a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, that lets patrons create and cook their own pancakes, right at the table. Slappy Cakes is a full-service breakfast and lunch restaurant that features a variety of dishes made from fresh and organic ingredients. It chooses local and regional vendors whenever possible, as well as operating its own courtyard garden for herbs, vegetables and berries. Most interesting of all, however, is that each table at Slappy Cakes features a built-in griddle. Patrons can choose from a variety of batter options—including buttermilk, pumpkin, vegan and gluten-free—and do the cooking themselves, right at their table. Accompaniments such as nuts, berries and chocolate along with organic maple syrup can then be added to create the customized pancake concoction of one’s dreams. Batter costs USD 5 for an 8-oz. bottle; toppings are USD 1 each. For those more interested in the “rest” part of the restaurant experience, meanwhile, pancakes can also be ordered from the kitchen. There’s no doubt Burger King was onto something early when it came up with its famous “Have it Your Way” campaign more than 30 years ago. With the addition of a heaping helping of customer-made experience, however, there are no limits to the fresh and modern possibilities! (Related: More self-service at bars: a tap at every tableWhere food & tech meet for dinner.) Spotted by: Sarah Anne Jackson We’ve been writing about swapping marketplaces for several years already, with Uneven Feet—which facilitates the trading of single shoes—being the most recent example. Working on much the same idea—but this time for frequent flier points and miles—is the Global Points Exchange, a peer-to-peer trading marketplace from Toronto-based Points International. Points International already gives consumers a way to manage their reward miles and points from a variety of airline, travel and retail partners, as well as a way to move airline points and miles from one carrier to another. Now in beta, the company’s new Global Points Exchange differs in that it lets users set the exchange rate for their trades. Through GPX, users of the platform can seek out other members who are interested in trading points and miles, either by posting a trade offer or responding to another user’s posting. Either way, it’s the users—not the airlines—who decide how many points and miles they get in one program, and how many points or miles in another program they must give up in return. Users remain anonymous throughout the process. Once two members have connected and agreed upon an exchange rate, GPX allows them to transfer points and miles between their respective accounts. Current airline partners include Delta SkyMiles, American Airlines AAdvantage and Continental Airlines OnePass, among others. Posting a trade offer is free, but once the trade is made participants must pay a fee assessed by the reward programs along with’s processing fee of USD 6.95. Earlier this month, added Facebook Connect functionality to the service, allowing consumers to post GPX trades directly to their Facebook walls in order to tap their extended social network in the trading process. Giving consumers the flexibility to convert what they have into what they want, GPX is similar in many ways to GiftCardRescue, which lets consumers trade in the gift cards they don’t want. With the addition of peer-negotiated exchange rates, however, it adds a degree of eBay-like control that other such services lack. A model to apply to the niche of your choice! (Related: IKEA organizes furniture swapAmazon trades gift cards for used video gamesClothes swapping meets NetflixOnline exchange lets hourly workers swap shifts.) Spotted by: Julie Bates Demonstrating Broadway-sized ambition, a group of (mostly Dutch) bloggers and designers aims to turn New York’s Times Square into a huge public art show. The goal of Times Square to Art Square / TS2AS is as straightforward as it is lofty: instead of broadcasting commercial messages, the Times Square billboards should beam out artwork. TS2AS, which just launched, is currently asking artists to upload images and videos to its Flickr and Vimeo pools. Next come the crowd and money parts: the artists’ fans are requested to donate money for billboard time, buying their artist a few minutes of jumbotron bandwidth. Even without running the numbers on what a Times Square minute would cost, the mission seems entirely impossible. After admitting their outsized ambition, TS2AS explains why the project might just work: “If every artist starts to promote the idea within his or her network, we’ll get an enormous group of people. And that means power, money, and quite possibly the realization of [Justus Bruns’] idea. We’re going to show the world what the buzzword ‘crowdsourcing’ really stands for.” And we’ll be watching! (Related: ‘Stock market’ for art to crowdfund 10 public projectsCrowds judge world’s biggest art prizeCrowd-buying a soccer teamVideo art on the MTV HD screen in Times Square.) The proverbial $100 laptop has been held up as an ideal for years, but until recently, no actual machine has come even close to that price. Now, however, there’s the Cherrypal Africa, a 7-inch mini laptop that costs just USD 99. Designed with developing countries in mind, the Cherrypal Africa features at least a 400 MHz processor, 256 megabytes of RAM and 2 gigabytes of flash memory. Its screen offers a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels and it can run either Linux or Windows CE. A built-in Lithium battery, meanwhile, can power the machine for up to four hours. Also included in the 1.2kg device are a built-in speaker and microphone. To keep prices low, Cherrypal buys excess inventory, shells with minor cosmetic flaws, discounted limited batches and other high-quality but discounted components and systems, company chairman Max Seybold writes on the company blog. The result, he adds, is that many of the devices actually shipped feature components more powerful than the minimum level promised on the site. The goal, Cherrypal explains, “is to help educate children all around the world so that the digital divide is no longer a divide but a global community of knowledge that everyone has access to. By placing technology within the grasp of people who otherwise would not be able to afford it, we believe that this can make a significant difference.” Indeed, Cherrypal—part of Tristate Hong Kong Group—has already teamed up with the PAAJAF Foundation to build a learning center for children in Accra, Ghana. Since launching the Cherrypal Africa, it has received orders from more than 150 countries around the world. One to sponsor, team up with or otherwise get involved in…? (Related: Internet-in-a-box for areas without electricityOpen-source software for low-bandwidth consumers.) Spotted by: Ruben Feith Shoppers at Urban Outfitters can already design their own bikes in a rainbow of colours, but a new venture in Brooklyn takes that notion a step further. At Bamboo Bike Studio, customers actually build their own bamboo bicycles by hand through the company’s guided weekend workshops. Bamboo is “a renewable and performance-positive material growing right in our backyard,” as the studio puts it, and it’s stronger, lighter and easier to work with than steel. In Bamboo Bike Studio’s weekend workshops, expert bicycle builders lead consumers through the process of assembling their own custom-fitted ride. On Saturday they begin by selecting an ideal mix of bamboo for comfort, strength and speed, then choose a geometry that fits their body and riding style. Next, they learn to use hand tools and the studio’s antique drill press to turn seven pieces of bamboo into their bicycle’s frame. After lunch, they choose a fabric to join and lash their frame together. On Sunday they put their component package—pedals, chain, wheels and handlebars—on their frame. After learning a few basic maintenance techniques and a final safety check, they’re ready to ride. Tuition for full bike weekend workshops is USD 932; for customers with their own components, a frame-only weekend workshop is priced at USD 632. All proceeds directly support Bamboo Bike Studio’s collaboration with the Columbia University Earth Institute-based Bamboo Bike Project and the Millennium Cities Initiative to seed the first bamboo bike factories in developing countries. Of course, Bamboo Bike’s workshops don’t just allow consumers to customise an eco-iconic ride—or support a worthy cause around the world. They also leave them with a wealth of status stories sure to impress friends and family far and wide. The experience economy strikes again! 😉 (Related: Retailer helps tweens make their own clothesDIY wedding ringsRetail chain for junior tunersUpscale takeaway meets on-site cooking school.) Spotted by: Rick Noyes When the Super Bowl rolls around in another few weeks, there will be no fabulous ad for Pepsi beverages. Instead, Pepsi—which was the largest advertiser during the event last year—will be focusing its efforts on the Pepsi Refresh Project, a crowdsourced marketing effort to revamp U.S. communities. Pepsi has reportedly set aside USD 20 million to fund a variety of community projects across America. Rather than simply donating to existing charities, however, it will be inviting consumers to suggest and vote on the projects it funds. Pepsi will hold contests every month for 10 months beginning in January. The first will begin Jan. 13, when consumers will have 10 days to submit ideas “that make us think, inspire us and ignite participation,” according to a report on GigaOm. Toolkits for developing an application will reportedly be made available online starting this week. Ideas will be accepted in categories including health, arts and culture, food and shelter, the planet, neighbourhoods and education. After the 10-day submission period, contributed ideas will be opened up for public voting, and the top projects will win awards of USD 5,000, USD 25,000, USD 50,000 or USD 250,000. Thousands of projects will get funded, likely with additional resources from Pepsi’s retail and other partners, according to an AP report. Similar in many ways to Google’s Project 10 to the 100th contest, the effort is part of Pepsi’s “Refresh Everything” campaign, which launched about a year ago with the tagline, “Every generation refreshes the world.” Frank Cooper, senior VP-chief consumer engagement officer at PepsiCo Americas Beverages, explains in Ad Age: “In 2010, each of our beverage brands has a strategy and marketing platform that will be less about a singular event, less about a moment, more about a movement.‪” Besides increasing involvement with its brand and tapping into the all-powerful global brain, Pepsi’s effort is also sure to please the skeptical masses of Generation G, who increasingly expect—nay, demand—that companies give something back. (Related: Crowdsourcing economic solutions for IrelandContest replaces ad campaign for Nissan launchYouTube contest for eco-minded kidsGrocer lets customers direct its community giving.) Spotted by: Katherine Noyes