“It can have spinning eyes!” I insisted. My stepmom Hilary had a new job as an engineer at a toy manufacturer. And I, an eight-year-old boy, had a golden idea to pitch her: a lollipop-making machine! I got the idea from a Crayola crayon-making toy I had received for the holidays. If you could create your own crayon colors, why not lollipop flavors? I’d finally perfect that blue-raspberry, green apple swirl I’d been dreaming of. And all my friends could have their favorite flavors, too! Now that I had an “in” with the toy making world, I was going to be a hero! Day after day I proposed new ideas for the machine to Hilary. First came the customizable colors and flavors. Then came the spinning eyes, the blinking lights, and the laughing sounds the machine would emit. The idea was clearly brilliant. I was going to make so much money!
By age nine, reality set in and I’d retired as an inventor/entrepreneur. The lollipop machine was never to be — not enough consumer interest. So I moved on, and with my entrepreneurial career over was able to invest my time in elementary school studies. And it paid off. A successful elementary school career put me on track towards admittance to Kenyon College — now I’m a Kenyonian heading into his sophomore year.
This summer I took an internship with Intelligent Product Solutions working on the marketing team, and with that, I got a real look into the world of product development. As it turns out, my eight-year-old fantasy wasn’t too far off from reality. It really does start with brilliant ideas which product designers and engineers can make into realities. Ideas are always the beginning.
Transitioning from a consumer’s point of view of how products are conceived and made is humbling. I’d never thought about the time and effort put into the simplest of my belongings or really understood anything about what’s involved in making them.
Take my toothbrush, for example. Somewhere out in the world, a team of mechanical engineers put in hours thinking of effective ways to affix the brushes to the handle. Are they soft brushes? Medium? What’s the best way to shape them so the user can easily and effectively clean his or her teeth? Then, a team of manufacturing engineers puts in hours finding efficient ways to actually make and mass produce the tooth brushes. And if it’s an electric toothbrush? Or one that’s connected to the internet – an ‘Internet of Things’ toothbrush?! Well then it’s a whole lot MORE complicated! And after all this, another team of packaging engineers debates and chooses the best way to protect the toothbrushes through shipping and also how best to feature them on store shelves.
All this effort was put in for me and you, the consumer. We buy the toothbrush, rip open the packaging, throw it out, and don’t think twice about where the brush came from until it’s time for a replacement.
There’s a big world out there, filled with product designers and engineers making countless products, the consumers of which most likely don’t even know exist. So now that I’ve been lucky enough to see both sides of the product development story and prepare to step back into the role of just another student-consumer, I’ll take the time to appreciate the investment and effort that’s put in to making the “things” I use day in and day out. Perhaps one day, I’ll even join the effort in some way. In the meantime, anyone out there interested in developing an Internet of Things Lollipop Making Machine? Think of the great flavors! The online recipe sharing community! It’s a goldmine out there…