Lesson #4: Have an Orginal Idea

I think for creatives, for anyone really, the hardest part is coming up with that truly “original” idea. But, sometimes it doesn’t take a truly “original” idea, it’s just looking at something that has been done before and finding a way to make it better and make it your own. How can you take a tea towel and customize it to your design aesthetic? Are there products that you love, but that you wish came in a certain pattern or function? Our entire Kitchen Line was started with a need for a modern Mixer Cover Design. When I couldn’t find the style of prints I wanted I decided to make and sell my own. I can’t tell you how many handmade stories I have read where entire businesses were started from an absence of a specific product someone was looking for.

To help define if your idea is original you have to be able to look at your product and/or service and answer the following questions (be honest now!):

  • How can we make our products/service more original and uniquely our own?
  • How can we make our products better and different than our competition?
  • How can we make our products/service harder for people to copy just from seeing a photo or sharing a bit of our process?

For us the process of answering the above questions developed as we walked through the following phases in our product development: Phase 1: Materials, Phase 2: Production, and Phase 3: Value.

PHASE 1: Materials: While it’s ok to start with what you have it’s also important to think about the type of materials you are using, what do they say about your brand, the over quality they add to your products, and their availability? Stores want to sell and customers want to buy a product because of it’s unique materials and style. If you have to change your product depending on the materials available it can be harder to establish brand recognition and in turn see a consistent profit.

Originally we started creating our concrete jewelry out of materials we had found like: rope from the old pull windows we took out of our house, recycled wire, carved bones, found buckles in an old shed, and metal casings we purchased at a local craft store. All these materials worked great until we sold out of that particular style of necklace and people wanted more! It was at that point we felt stuck because we didn’t know if we could re-create a similar design without those exact materials. We decided to think of our first initial jewelry set as a sort of “test” round. Taking a step back we did lots of research and established new relationships with vendors that were reliable and could provide an unlimited quantity should we need to order large batches in the future. By slowing down our production and taking time to find quality materials that were available at our disposal we were ready to meet the need we had created within our own market, felt confident about the materials we were using, and also opened up the doors for both consignment and wholesale retailers.

PHASE 2: Production: Think about your skill level and the amount of time it will take to reproduce an item again and again. Is it something you can do over and over again and not get tired of re-creating? Do you feel confident in your ability to create the product at a price point that is truly profitable?

While we were working on perfecting our concrete jewelry we were also wanting to explore a more modern aesthetic. At one point Cale was able to get his hands on several carpet samples so we put our heads together and came up with an upcycled Wood Tote and the Wall Pocket as an updated solution for a coat hanger. There was one week on Etsy where we sold close to 10 Wall Pockets (exciting right!?)! We quickly learned that both of these ideas were really cool, but really awful to have to re-create again and again. Cale was cursing the whole week (not a good week for our marriage) and after that we decided we didn’t want to have to reproduce something that we did not enjoy making. It turned out that as much as people love the idea of upcycled materials, they were not willing to pay the amount it would cost to hand make each item. We also struggled with selling a product that we didn’t feel confident in the level of craftsmanship behind the piece. The ideas were initially cool, but the Wall Pocket was basically glued fabric around a PVC pipe. If we had the finances to develop the idea out of plastic or ceramic, at that time, it might have been something we could have pushed further, but we were not satisfied with the level of quality we could make from hand alongside the price point we had to charge to make it worth our time.

PHASE 3: Value: Who will want to buy this product? Who needs this product? How much does it cost to make it again and again and is that something of value to you? What is the perceived value of other products similar to yours within your market? Will you be able to charge more/less for your product based on the quality of materials used, production time, etc.?

Originally the idea for a Modern Mixer Cover was born out of a hole in the market. Our first batch fit too tight around the mixer, the second batch we forgot to pre-wash and realized we had already sold close to 10 (even though we had been advertising them as “washable”). Yep, a total disaster… BUT it gave us time to recognize that the printed sayings on the mixer covers were a great hit! People loved the sayings and would stop at shows to point them out to their friends, but we didn’t take into consideration that a majority of people don’t have a standing mixer. A lot of people wanted to purchase the print, but did not need a mixer cover. It was then that we decided to expand our Kitchen Line into Mixer Covers, Aprons, and Tea Towels. Not only did this widen our market, but it added variety to our price point from $39.00 to $12.00-$39.00 establishing both a low and high end market that was more affordable for a much wider audience.

It’s hard to believe that what started with a bag of concrete has developed into two product lines we can finally honestly say we feel confident in the quality, production, and overall original design that we are providing for our customers. I hope that by sharing some of our process you see how we have developed our products over the past few years. Walking through this process has helped us establish our own Green Couch Design style. It didn’t start over night, but it was something that we have worked and re-worked again and again. And it’s something still to this day that we are constantly aware of, analyzing, and evaluating so that we know 100% that we are pushing our ideas to be the best they can be on all levels. It’s ok to start with you what you have, but you have to have the patience and the time to flush out that original idea until it’s not only a great idea, but a great product/service as well.

What inspires your creativity and keeps it fresh? In what ways do you strive to push your ideas further and make them better? What is your favorite phase about developing a new idea or product?

From the Farm

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About meg:

I like curly lines, and the simple joys of life. Good coffee and the perfect souffle.

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One Response to “Lesson #4: Have an Orginal Idea”
  1. 04.26.2012

    This was such an insightful/helpful post. I’ve been wanting to resurrect an old idea and the #1 question I’ve been asking myself is … how can I “up” my idea and make it more me, more original. So thanks Meg, you’ve given me a lot of good things to take into consideration and think about.

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High class design in overalls. It's the simple life of a farm through the eyes of a couple of crazy designers. We call ourselves Green Couch Design and we are Bringing Design Home.

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