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Just Add Inspiration

A peek inside the Inventables DesignAid kit, the odd but thought-provoking secret weapon of great designers.

Four times a year, Chicago-based Inventables sends A-list companies such as Boeing, Motorola, and Nike a package of 20 gizmos with "unexpected properties." Although some customers incorporate them into products, that's not the point, says cofounder Zachary Kaplan, 27. The idea is to inspire innovative thinking by giving inventors unusual technologies and suggesting various applications, labeled a "step," "stretch," or "leap," depending on their feasibility. Companies pay $63,000 a year for the kits and training, and as much as $250,000 for two days of hands-on brainstorming and prototyping. Here's a sampling from the latest DesignAid, along with Kaplan's brainstorms.

Design At Its Best: Just Add Inspiration

To submit your own step, stretch, or leap ideas, go to

A version of this article appeared in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.