How often have you thought to yourself, “this hydration pack (or sunglasses, shoes, etc.) is excellent, but there’s this one feature that would make it better…”? In today’s age of technology and social media, we are used to talking and having someone hear us. Some companies leverage their social media outlets and listen to what their consumers want, and deliver it. But why not provide some way for the masses to have hands-on control of how their products are designed?

Fanformed thinks consumers should have that hands-on access when it comes to designing the products they love–and seeks to give it to them. Fanformed’s stated mission is “to help expert product users create product design breakthroughs.” They go on to say, “As a product fan, you know best how a product should work, what it should do, and what it should look like.”

A couple of weeks ago I received an email asking if I would be interested in being an “expert” for Fanformed as they seek to design a mountain biking hydration pack. Fanformed is a brand-new company (the mountain biking hydration pack is one of the very first products they are producing), so at first I was a little sketched out by this random email from China. However, I did some digging and came across a video of the Fanformed founders, David Tan and Chris Baker, presenting information about their company idea at a business convention. You can check out the video here:

Needless to say, after doing some research and chatting with David on the phone, I was convinced these guys are for real… and that they might be onto something cool.

The hydration pack design process is still in the very early stages, but here’s how they envision the process working:

  1. First, the panel of experts will confer and determine what the ideal use case for the hydration pack is. As you can probably tell from all the reviews published here on Singletracks, there’s a hydration pack for just about every possible application. This stage is used to determine exactly what the experts think the intended application should be. Also, during this time the experts are supposed to test product samples from the factories.
  2. The experts add their specific feature ideas to the Fanformed website.
  3. The website opens up to the general public. Then, anyone who’s a mountain biker or is interested in hydration packs can discuss certain features and vote on which ones are most important for the pack, and which are not.
  4. Fourth, the final design is verified with the factory. A couple of samples will be produced and tested by select experts to make sure the concept as it was laid out online works in real life.
  5. Finally, the pack is ready to be sold! Sales for the hydration pack will work sort of like Kickstarter: anyone interested in the pack will have to place a pre-order (at sweet, factory-direct pricing), and if the pre-orders reaches a certain threshold in a given time frame, the pack will be produced and shipped to those who placed pre-orders. If pre-orders don’t reach the necessary threshold, the pack will go back to the drawing board to be reevaluated, modified, and rereleased to the public.

Factory sample pack that I am testing.

After hearing Fanformed’s vision for how the process will work and reading through some of the literature, I have to say that it sounds like a pretty sweet concept! However, since this method is, as of now, completely unproven, I’m interested to see how it will play out in real life.

As of this week, step one of the above process is complete. Coming to a general consensus on a use case was rather difficult and required a lot of back-and-forth discussion, but the group finally settled on a use case we think will appeal to a broad audience and set this pack apart from lots of other packs out there on the market:

“All-day mountain bike hydration pack optimized for quick access to essential gear”

Now, it’s time for us to take the discussion to the Fanformed website, talk about specific features we want, and to release our ideas to the public to discuss and vote on.

Stay tuned for more information as this project gets underway!

Your Turn: What do you think about the crowd design concept? Are you interested in having a hand in designing a hydration pack?

# Comments

  • jeff

    Chris Anderson’s book Makers describes this idea of crowdsourcing design and working directly with factories really well and I highly recommend it. One of the interesting points Anderson makes is that there’s a lot of latent talent and interest in design out there–but not everyone can be employed as a designer.

    Just think–there are probably thousands of folks out there who would KILL to be in the bike industry but there are only so many slots. This taps into the knowledge and in some cases talent of those who will never land a job at Trek or Camelbak.

    It sounds like Fanformed has a pretty solid process which will hopefully prevent them from producing a product that has too many competing features. For some reason the car Homer designed for his brother’s car company comes to mind here. 🙂


    • mtbgreg1

      “Just think–there are probably thousands of folks out there who would KILL to be in the bike industry but there are only so many slots. This taps into the knowledge and in some cases talent of those who will never land a job at Trek or Camelbak.”

      I think that’s where the potential success of this idea lies!

  • dgaddis

    It will be interesting to see how it works out. As an engineer I know there can be problems when too many people have input. “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians” as they say. Trying to please everyone can lead to too many compromises. The customer really isn’t always right. Sometimes you just need someone who understands the whole process of getting the product made to make a decision and stick with it, even if some parties don’t like it.

    I could also see there being issues with people making input without having an understanding of the manufacturing processes. Probably not a huge issue with hydration packs, but still.

    So are the experts paid? From a manufacturer standpoint this seems like a great way to get design work for free.

    • mtbgreg1

      Re: too much input: Yeah, I’ve thought about that too. I’m planning on doing coverage of the process here on the blog as it goes along, as much to document the creation of a hydration pack as to document the success or failure of the crowd design process in general.

      I’m not totally certain how the pay is going to work out yet. In the literature they sent us, they have a certain pay scale worked up, but it will be interesting to see how it works out in actual practice. Right now, it sounds like if an expert submits a feature and it gets accepted into the final design, they get a certain percentage of sales per feature. So I’m guessing, if multiple features get submitted, they get more $$. There might also be money to be earned for referrals in the preorder phase, although if just experts can get referral $$ or anyone can, I’m not sure. Also, I’m under the impression that when the website goes live, anyone from “the crowd” can also submit features, so if one of theirs gets accepted, can they get $$ too?

      Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted on how this works out in the end!

  • Bubblehead10MM

    I’m checking out the sight. Crowd source is interesting, as a concept. Just so the crowd can eliminate dumb ideas as well as add good ones.
    I wonder how the crowd can evaluate cost of fetchers (both at retail and net to manufacturer) incentives to us is to add features even if it’s not profitable to them, and vice versea. Hmmmmm?

    • mtbgreg1

      Yeah, that could be difficult. Determining whether a specific feature will cost too much to manufacture to be beneficial might be up to the Fanformed employees themselves, possibly with input from the expert panel. It will interesting to see how this shakes out.

  • stackout

    My perspective is skewed by my limited experience in defense procurement, but when you try to design a product that meets everyone’s needs, you end with a product that satisfies no one.

    • mtbgreg1

      I agree, however, we’re NOT trying to please everyone. I believe this is why the expert panel determined the intended use case FIRST. From here on out, everything should be shaped or discussed with that specific use case in mind. (At least, in the perfect world.)

  • David_Tan

    It’s great seeing all the member feedback to Greg’s article. We’re very excited at Fanformed to do something new by bringing together real users and qualified factories. We’re looking to explore a lot of possibilities in the process. To name a few: 1) produce specific products targeting specific community use cases, 2) empower every-day users with a passion for products and help turn their ideas into a reality (in the vein of the maker movement), 3) encourage new design aesthetics and product innovations that mainstream brands won’t consider, 4) create high quality, full featured products without compromises and 5) bring all the above direct from factory with minimal retail markup.

    We’ll be announcing a launch date for our first product challenges soon. Visit http://www.fanformed.com to pre-register, or follow us on Twitter @FanformedBIKING.

    Co-founder, Fanformed

  • Bubblehead10MM

    As to a set of features I’d like preachment points on the chest for instant access to small items like a camera or little sundries bag hooked on with a carabiner.

  • RidingPastor

    what if you support the idea/ item and it does not receive enough $ to be produced? are you out of the money?

    • mtbgreg1

      According to the FAQ from Fanformed, “If we fall short of the pre-order threshold, we simply refund all collected pre-orders to date back to their respective buyers. There is absolutely no risk to buyers for placing a pre-order on our site.”

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