article headline

LEGO® Model Dives Deep to Find What Shoppers Really Want!






Feb 17, 2011 9:00 am
by Joe Meno
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Box art

A LEGO® model of the Shinkai 6500 submersible will go on sale on February 17. The model is not just remarkable because it is a limited edition sold only in Japan, but also because it owes its existence to a Japanese website and its visitors.

The website in question is http://www.cuusoo.com/, which draws thousands of visitors in Japan. “Cuusoo” is Japanese and means “wish”. The website works by asking its users to come with ideas for new products. If those ideas are supported by enough members of the 20,000-strong Cuusoo community, then the website’s partners commit to producing and selling the product.

The LEGO Group has a history of working with its fans to develop some of its products, but the collaboration with the website Cuusoo - takes the idea of user-generated content a step further.

On the website, visitors are encouraged to put forward their suggestions for products – and to vote for the products they would like to buy. Japanese user @Guy came up with the idea of manufacturing a LEGO version of the Shinkai 6500. The idea quickly attracted more than 1,000 votes. And the LEGO Group chose to finish the design and put the submarine on the market. The whole process from approval of the idea to finished product has taken about 170 days.

The submersible is the LEGO Group’s first collaborative venture with Cuusoo, but head of New Business Group Paal Smith-Meyer expects more products to flow from the pipeline in 2011.

Only 10,000 of the submarines will be sold, exclusively in Japan. Each model has 286 white, grey, black, red and green LEGO® bricks. The real vessel is a manned research submersible, diving with its crew of three to depths of 6,500 m in the seas around Japan to explore the deep ocean and monitor environmental changes.

Open dialogue with fans

"It’s the first time we’ve had such an open and direct contact with ordinary shoppers,” says Paal Smith-Meyer about the collaboration with Cuusoo.

The New Business Group, is the entrepreneurial arm of the LEGO Group, responsible for finding new ideas to put into production. It has been involved in a number of projects, including the launch of the LEGO Architecture series.

“LEGO Architecture is a venture launched with a carefully selected LEGO fan. Cuusoo on the other hand is a way of getting in touch with anyone with a good idea. The potential is enormous – there are millions of LEGO fans out there with ideas. Although most of those ideas will never become LEGO products, it takes only one good idea to make a popular product says Paal Smith-Meyer.

One percent for one good idea

Steen with model

Steen Sig Andersen with the model

While the Japanese user @Guy came up with the idea for the product, it was LEGO designer Steen Sig Andersen that transformed the rough proposal into a white, rounded craft.

Paal Smith-Meyer: “We have to make sure the model conforms to LEGO standards in quality, durability and building capability. Then we have to investigate whether in a strictly practical sense we can manufacture it” – and at the same time make a profit from it. Our ambition is to start with a small initial quantity – and in the longer term take advantage of a greater potential for sale in the High Street.”

Set and box

As only 10,000 copies of the Japanese submersible have been manufactured, the product is being made and packed in Billund, Denmark by the LEGO Concept Factory. This is the unit that tests new product ideas for the LEGO Group to see whether they are viable and suitable for general production. For example, LEGO Architecture began life in the Concept Factory. The mini factory is able quickly to mould special parts and to pack small volume orders.

“It’ll be interesting to see how consumers react. We’re not aiming the product specifically at children – it’s something that may appeal to both adults and children. It’s along the lines of LEGO Architecture – it’ll be OK for adults to have this standing on their desktops next to the pencils and pens.

“We have the potential to launch several new products a year. In the longer term, we have to be able to work with a very short lead time from idea to product in order to respond quickly to the wishes of our consumers.”

He says the Cuusoo project is currently at the experimental stage, but 2011 will see the launch of an English language version that will really see the concept tested.

“Potentially, that will open the door to millions of users with ideas – but it’s important to stress, that at the moment this is still an experiment for the LEGO Group.”

The model will be sold in Japan via the Cuusoo website, the Japanese version of Amazon.com, and in selected stores.