So You Think You Can Invent? -- "Quirky" Premieres Aug. 30 on Sundance
By John Adamian
5:51 PM EDT, August 29, 2011
The people at Quirky are geniuses. They’re sort of supposed to be, since it’s a cool, young, highly valued, tech-soaked start-up that helps launch new inventions. Inventors are smart, as a rule. But these young men and women might be advanced-level masterminds. I say this because I just watched the first episode of Quirky, the new reality show devoted to the workings of the company which premieres Aug. 30 on the Sundance Channel.
The show spotlights the way the company -- fronted by 24-year-old founder and CEO Ben Kaufman -- takes on new inventors, who submit their ideas online and then, using Quirky’s network of over 50,000 online community members, helps fine-tune and crowd-source the best concept. The company’s business model harnesses the wisdom-of-the-masses ethos and social-networking buzz. But it’s the creation of the show that struck me as the true mark of synergistic (maybe cynical, but whatever) wizardry. Now the company, which went public in 2009, gets an artfully shot commercial for its approach, but also for several of its specific inventions.
The first episode focuses on two inventions. The first is something already greenlighted by Quirky, and the viewers get to watch the young inventor -- a student at the Rhode Island School of Design -- as he sees a prototype for his product for the fist time. The product, something called Pivot Power, is a power strip that has little hinge-like segments to it, allowing it to bend and flex so that you can use every port even when plugging in large and unwieldy devices. It’s a great idea.
The other product is an all-in-one pasta bowl that allows a user to strain, serve and store pasta without the need for colander, serving bowl or Tupperware. Viewers watch as the Quirky online community winnows through all of the idea submissions to arrive -- with the help of the Quirky office staff’s equal vote -- at this as the next project. We watch the inventor -- a Pennsylvania mother -- as she learns her concept has been chosen. We see her meet with the staff to work on designs and ideas. And a little dramatic tension is folded into the mix as hurdles and interpersonal friction arise.
Design is fast becoming something like cooking. It’s a field of knowledge that everyone can appreciate and many of us even think we might know a thing or two about it. Consider the way the retirement of Apple’s Steve Jobs has triggered praise-filled assessments of his career and the role that aesthetics of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad have had on 21st-century living. Or look to recent movie Helvetica and the book Just My Type about the somewhat rarefied worlds of font design and typeface.
Quirky’s Kaufman may have latched onto an idea that is perfectly calibrated for its time. It’s nerd chic and IKEA-love, all in one. Kaufman -- in a kind of “dude”-inflected version of Willy Wonka, bestowing wonder on the wide-eyed young hopefuls -- basically tells the inventor of the flexible power strip that he can expect to start making six figures off of his product. If you’re left with the feeling “I wanna be an inventor!,” then Quirky, both the show and the company, are probably doing their jobs. And if you’re maybe more inclined to go and purchase this particular style of power strip or that fancy pasta bowl, well, that doesn’t hurt either. Quirky premieres Aug. 30 at 10 p.m. on the Sundance Channel