Product ideas are free, and if you put any effort at all into finding them, they're strikingly easy to come up with. I keep a list of product ideas that's pages long, and I try to be open about sharing them with friends and potential collaborators. However, there's always the protective instinct there - I don't want to give my ideas out to just anyone, especially if I think they might actually do something with them.
In the past few months, I've been particularly interested in developing new ideas, and have enjoyed talking to anyone else about their own visions. I try to keep an open mind when talking startup shop; it's more fun, for sure, to listen to someone's half-baked pitch with enthusiasm. I think it's also important to be delicate when following up on an idea that strikes me as a good one. Intruding on someone else's project can be dangerous, and I try to be careful to not overstep on a friend's personal flame. In particular, it's important to not try to change the focus of an idea. From personal experience, I know it's all too easy to become protective over what one sees as the core idea of an product, and if someone uses my idea's shell but replaces the seed (the metaphor is a bit of a stretch, sorry), my reaction tends to be defensive.
It strikes me that despite the proliferation of high quality snark surrounding Hyperloop, Elon Musk has made an impressively brave decision in releasing his idea to the public. It takes real guts to put what, by many accounts, is a totally harebrained idea into the ether.
My own ambitions are admittedly smaller. My product list includes a handful of blatant ripoffs (ostensibly with small design improvements, but whatever), lots of generic furniture/EDC items, and is generally full of stuff that's been pretty well picked over. A good portion of my list wouldn't pass the "market need" test. There are more well designed LED flashlights out there than I could shake a stick at; if I haven't found one that's perfect for my needs and meets my aesthetic requirements, that's because I haven't googled hard enough for it.
In the end, a product idea will sink or swim partially on the creators' ability to create a successful marketing platform. Doing so allows otherwise uninteresting product ideas to flourish (this is, IMHO and with no offense intended, how Best Made Co. works). If your product is generic (e.g., an off-the-shelf axe with a painted handle) and relies on an iconic brand image to succeed, then you have nothing to worry from someone else taking your idea.
Ditto if, on the other hand, your product is too large or complex for you to pull off alone. Hyperloop falls into this category. Musk himself is likely too overworked to launch it himself, and anyway would need municipal support that he can't get alone.
From my own list: I want to build a public database of parts - an API that would aggregate specifications from suppliers like Digikey and McMaster-Carr, with a web interface that would allow users to manage the parts they have on hand in their own shops. I see it as an ecosystem for managing inventory and procurement, with IoT opportunities that could change the way that workshops, R&D labs, and warehouses deal with parts on hand. It's a project that's too big for me to take on alone, and if someone builds it while I'm busy boning up on the skills required to complete a small part of it - well, all's fair.
The harder ideas to give up, for me, are the ones that make a big dent in a small workflow in my life. For years, I've lamented the sad state of laundry hampers. I want a hamper to be architectural, and to be made from materials that I'd find elsewhere in my home. I want it to stand on its own, but fold down quickly for trips to the laundromat. And most of all, I want *one* all-purpose device; I see no need to use one container for in-closet storage and another for transport.
A few years ago, I sketched up an idea for a hamper that fit my specifications. It's something that I'm fairly well qualified to build, and wouldn't cost more than $100 in parts and a few hours of my labor to complete. But it remains on my backlog, and it'll likely be there forever.
What do competent, driven designers do with projects like this? Presumably, Quirky was built for just this use case: something that could be a decent idea, but which I just don't have the bandwidth to move forward on a meaningful timescale. But to hand over my baby, however half-baked she is, to Quirky's "design experts?" The whole idea just hurts a little bit. It's silly, but I want the product to be *mine,* whether or not it ever gets built.
Optimally, I think each of us needs a network of collaborators - people who we can work with, for, and against (against is important) in the pursuit of something shippable. Immediate feedback and real, honest enthusiasm are things that Quirky (and Kickstarter, for that matter) isn't very good at, and to many people those are important parts of the design and development process. I'm constantly working on expanding my product development network, but I'll admit that it's still far from where it want to be. And more importantly, my skills at communicating with someone about product ideas - both theirs and mine - are crude, and anyway the ideas that I can bring to the table are mostly harebrained.
How do other designers deal with these issues? I'd love feedback, or simply to connect.