Method Products, the eco-friendly cleaning-products company, believes it has a winning strategy for scouting ideas. "We try and identify dirty little secrets in the categories we work in," says Joshua Handy, Method's senior director of industrial design, whose business card lists "disrupter" as one of his titles.
When Handy's team researched laundry detergents, it found three key problems. First, most laundry detergents are primarily water, requiring big jugs that, as they are hauled from factory to store to home, require the burning of lots of carbon. Second, Americans are chronic overdosers — we use far too much detergent, which is bad for the environment, not great for clothes, and rotten for washing machines. Finally, laundry rooms tend to be messy, blotched with sticky patches of lint-covered soap spills.
Method's solution: develop a highly concentrated detergent (eight times the norm) and deliver it in a rugged pump-equipped bottle. The first clue that the team was onto something big: "People wouldn't give us back our prototypes," says Handy.
To the IDEA jurors, the innovation isn't just the detergent or just the bottle; it is the whole product. "Even though the pump structure is nothing new in cosmetic packaging, combining it with ultra-concentrated detergent prompted new consumer behavior that reduces both resources and water use," says Starbucks executive Fumi Watanabe, a judge in the packaging category. "Why hasn't anybody done this before?"
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.