Look, I just came back from the International Gift Fair at the Javits Center, so I think I know a thing or two about utterly useless crap for sale. Right now, the idea behind Cuusoo Seikatsu ["Imagination Life"] sounds pretty appealing: instead of trying to entice people to buy what you make, flip it around. Get users to conceive and design stuff, then when enough people want something, make it for them.
Cuusoo is a Tokyo-based, 20,000-member design collaborative community overseen by Elephant Design. It's somewhere between a giant, open-ended focus group, Threadless, and the Half-Bakery [thanks to dt reader Mark for the threadless]. Whenever product ideas click or gain enough popularity or viability, someone--either one of Elephant's designers, one of the 1,200 designers in the community, or one of the crafty super-users known as "Frankensteiners"--will mock it up and then throw it online for feedback and improvement.
As I started reading up, the whole process was feeling familiar--the tenets of user-centered design are well-established, though Elephant's Design-To-Order process pushes it even further. Bt sure enough, it turns out DTO has been used by Muji's online community to create such products as their wooden toy series, the eating smock/bib, and even the kid's sweet mesh/velcro sneakers.
Meanwhile, there are several interesting kid-related designs being floated on the Cuusoo Seikatsu site right now. If you're like me, your tendency'll be to critique them and come up with a dozen reasons they won't work. But since they'll only ever get built if enough people feel the need for one, it really doesn't matter what we think. Unless we're going to buy it.
For those moments when you need to leave the kid's side to run a quick errand--like when you're taking out the trash or doing the laundry or whatever--a webcam-equipped monitoring system would let Grandma and Grandpa keep an eye on the kid from afar. The idea so far is not, as you might've thought, a webcam pointing at the kid, but a playmat with four webcams built in, one in each corner. [Suggestion: embroider a giant WTF? right in the middle.]
The living room fills up with toys. How about a sofa the kid can play with instead? [Somewhere between this and the Campana Brothers' stuffed animal chairs, and Boon's stuffed animal storage sack/beanbag chair is a great idea.]
Cardboard Playpen [also here, #01]
The idea here seems to be something to define a somewhat enclosed play area within a room. It should be write/decoratable, and it should stack/fold out of the way for easy clean-up. [Is it too old-paradigm thinking of me to mention the giant pile of overstocked white cardboard playhouses I saw at the DWR Outlet yesterday? Was $120, now $19?]
Oyako/Parent-Child Table by Shiho Nishizawa
Cuusoo folks spotted this when it was exhibited last fall at Toyko Design Week. Now they're soliciting user feedback and suggestions for it, asking in what kinds of sites and situations such a design would be the most desirable. It's beautiful, but I can't stop thinking how pissed I'd be if I didn't have a kid, but this was the only style of table in the park.
Cuuso Seikatsu [japanese only] by Elephant Design
Elephant Design: build your imaginary gadgets online [pingmag.com]