Today, Frog Design is opening the doors on a clever new form of design research: FrogMob, a website that presents open challenges—How do people tuck away power cords? How are bikes adapted for workplaces?—and allows anyone to submit pictures and stories about brilliant, everyday ideas they've encountered in the wild.
[A parking brake on a pedicab, fashioned from a sliver of old inner tube]
"Product innovation has to be based on consumer need," says Robert Fabricant, Frog's vice president of creative. "Small adaptations invented by real people tell you where the opportunities are. But they usually come from places you never expected." FrogMob—and the open-sourced, crowd-sourced research it offers—is a natural solution, since Frog is often trying to find something they initially don't know they're looking for.
Moreover, the process of "ethnographic research"—as practiced by legends such as Jan Chipchase—often takes months of research, field work, and syntheses. While FrogMob won't replace such laser-focused deep-dives, it will allow for "quick scans" of an entire world of common adaptations—which produce reams of raw intelligence, in weeks rather than months.
[In China, bikes often become a place of business]
FrogMob began a few months ago, as simply an internal experiment. "We were curious to see how the research from one studio would compare to others," says Catherine Sun, an associate creative director at Frog. "We wanted to spot similarities and differences from around the world, and see how those might inspire innovation." The first test challenge was work bikes, an experiment led by the San Francisco studio.
[This bike's welded metal plank supports milk crates and serves as a bench, when waiting for the train]
"We were looking at messenger bikes in San Francisco, and those were interesting," says Jon Snydal, a principal designer at Frog. "Then we started to get pedicab pics from Munich, and others from Amsterdam and Milan. But suddenly, we got a 100 pics and captions from Shanghai and the ingenuity blew our minds. You never guessed that people could use bikes so many different ways, or fit so many things on them."
Among the innovations they found across the world, many had to do simply with inner tubes—since many countries such as India don't have easy access to bungee cords, they'd been drafted into use to fasten almost anything. And in many cases, they worked better—able to grasp anything, and every last corner on any odd-shaped box.
[Inner tubes at work as fasteners, in Bangalore]
Now, Frog has decided to open up its research process to the wider world—including its more than 100,000 Twitter followers—and they're encourage people to not only take pictures, but ask the inventors about their thought process, since the stories are equally important. For now, the incentives are simple: To be able to play a role in Frog's process, and be in an actual dialogue that includes luminaries such as Chipchase.
Frog is currently working with a client to design power supplies and plug adapters. So the first challenge on FrogMob asks people to sent in ingenious hacks to manage power-cord clutter. "We're trying to provide insights at the pace of global business, drawn from places that no one usually looks," says Fabricant. "I don't think there's ever been a single place you can do that."
[A binder clip becomes an adjustable clasp for cord-management]