Innovation That Matters

Top 10 style & design business ideas in 2006


  1. Mass made to order, here: Unto This Last is a miniature Ikea, situated on Brick Lane in London’s East End. Like Ikea, prices are low and many products are sold as flat-packs (pre-assembly optional). Unlike Ikea, everything is manufactured uber-locally, and the designs aren’t overly familiar. The workshop uses the latest 3D modelling software to design and produce innovative and inexpensive furniture, which it sells directly to the public. Orders are manufactured to measure, within a week, at mass-production prices. More »

  2. Repackaging barcodes: Japanese Design Barcode turns standard barcodes into appealing and engaging brand elements. Following laundry services, supermarkets and coffins in our recurring ‘everything can be reinvented’ theme, come the humble stripes and digits that shape the ubiquitous barcode, as reinvented by Design Barcode. Fifteen companies are currently using the agency’s novel barcodes as part of their packaging design. (A video showing examples can be viewed here.) The designs are clever and whimsical, from bars being picked up by chopsticks for a ramen noodles package, to a zebra carrying the black and white stripes on its back. More »

  3. Sexy supermarkets in the Alps: MPreis, a chain of supermarkets in western Austria, bills itself as “The Seriously Sexy Supermarket”. The company’s stores literally stand out because of their unusual and progressive architecture. MPreis has been commissioning up and coming architects for the last fifteen years, encouraging them to design buildings that make the most of their settings in the Tyrolean Alps. Which is in stark contrast to most chain retailers, who find a formula and repeat it, regardless of location. More »

  4. Customer-manufactured: What blogs, citizen journalism and YouTube have done for media, CrowdSpirit hopes to do for product development. The Scottish-French venture’s focus is on harnessing the power of crowds to allow inventors and adaptors to take their products to market. By involving end-users in every aspect of a product’s life-cycle, CrowdSpirit aims to set off a crowdsourced manufacturing revolution. More »

  5. Luxury loos on location: Tired of our Everything Can be Upgraded theme yet? We’re not. Not as long as there are new business ideas like Igloo’s Luxury Portable Loos. Offering the ‘ultimate luxury portable toilets for the corporate and private events industry within the UK and across Europe’, the company has beautified (and sanitized) events like the Brit Awards, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the Stella Artois Tennis Tournament, the G-8 Summit and the Volvo Golf Masters in Andalusia. More »

  6. Customer-made wallpaper for naked walls: Combining one of today’s leading consumer trends (customer-made) with a continuing trend in interior design (wallpaper), Naked & Angry just launched its line of user-designed wallpaper. Wallcoverings constitute Naked & Angry’s second series of products featuring patterns created by the brand’s audience. Anyone can submit a pattern design, which is scored by other Naked & Angry users. The highest scoring designs are manufactured in limited runs, with patterns providing inspiration for what the actual product will be. More »

  7. Old-fashioned bikes for the new world: Vancouver-based Jorg & Olif sell Dutch bikes to Canadian urban cyclists. The two-year-old company took a classic design and added Japanese hub gears and drum brakes to tackle North American cities (i.e. cities that aren’t utterly flat). Aside from that modification, Jorg & Olif bikes are utterly old-fashioned: heavy and black. A strong rear carrier handles extra baggage, and a woven basket is an optional extra. Saddle and handlebars are positioned for upright riding, which allows bikers a safer view of traffic and a better view of the scenery rolling by. More »

  8. Masonry for beginners: Created by a Dutch company, Brickadoo is a building toy. Instead of providing an easy click-and-go system (like Lego), Brickadoo building kits come with little bags of mortar. Children mix the mortar in a mixing tub and slap it on the bricks with a small trowel. If they want to build something else, they just dip the entire house in water, which dissolves the mortar and releases the bricks for another round of masonry. Each kit comes with enough mortar to rebuild a house three or four times. More »

  9. Custom-made avatars: Not long ago, we featured two small companies dedicated to creating custom-made avatars. A third example of this creative cottage industry was recently spotted in the UK. Bless This Chick creates mini-portraits that illustrate someone’s online or offline identity. Customers send Bless This Chick details of the person to be illustrated, pay by PayPal, and receive a hand-drawn portrait by email a few days later. What are they for? Consumers can stick their chick on their personal website or MySpace page, add it to their email signature, or use it as an avatar on blogs or chatrooms. More »

  10. Office supplies, upgraded: Offering an alternative to boring office supplies, russell+hazel sells stylish binders, paper, storage and accessories. Minneapolis-based russell+hazel, founded by a former architect, is a range of aesthetically pleasing office supplies that combine a designed look with durable quality. The company’s newest range, Audrey, is a fashion-forward selection specifically tailored to women, offering ‘working girl chic’ supplies with details inspired by vintage architecture, classic Hollywood and contemporary couture. More »