The Creative Office of Inventionland
Inventionland is the creative work environment of Davison, a new product development firm located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Inventionland, turns out 2,000-2,400 new inventions each year with a license being secured with a corporation every three business days. In order to inspire creativity, Inventionland provides one of the most intuitive work environment ever.
It’s 61,000-square-foot design facility houses numerous themed sets, including a pirate ship, tree house and giant robot, in which creative personnel design and develop new products. The January/February 2008 issue of I.D. Magazine recognized Inventionland as one of “40 Amazing-Looking Design Offices.
For aspiring inventors, Davison is a name synonymous with inventing. Whether they’ve seen the Davison name on a bake set at Bed, Bath & Beyond, a promo on QVC for a new kitchen gadget or in an article in Entrepreneur, at the heart of the Davison brand is George Davison himself. A dynamo with the creative juices always flowing, the founder and CEO of Davison is also a savvy businessman whose lifelong dream is to bring out the creative side in others, and particularly in potential inventors.
“Everyone has an idea that might become his or her own invention,” Davison says from his office in Inventionland, another of Davison’s dreams made real. The 61,000-square-foot “office” where the Davison design teams work, play and dream—“dare to invent,” as Davison’s motto goes—is the stage upon which 250 employees go to “work” each day and invent. The space is divided into 16 areas and includes a brand-new movie theater with comfy chairs and all the luxuries of a Hollywood screening room. Nearly 2,700 new-product prototypes are churned out each year from Davison and Inventionland, which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named one of the best places in the area to work.
The winding roads through Inventionland lead to unexpected places—a tree house, which is George Davison’s personal domain; a country cottage with women inside sewing crafty projects; an auto body shop worthy of NASCAR; the “Inventalot Castle”; a life-size pirate ship that conceals an animation studio; a giant robot that inspires electronics designers—and that’s the way George Davison likes it, because ideas spark. “The unexpected road is the one from which great inventions spring,” Davison says.
Yet there is a cohesiveness in Inventionland too, and perhaps it can be attributed to Davison’s formula for seeing ideas to prototype and then to market. He claims it is his most important invention—his nine-step method on how to invent a product and shepherd it through all its iterations until it lands in the hands of the target audience.
“Everyone has the ability to invent,” he says. “It’s part of our inner being. But the impulse must be fostered. Without that nurturance and guidance, the impulse dies.”
As part of Davison’s effort to foster that creativity, Inventionland hosts tours by appointment. Each year, hundreds of students in kindergarten through high school tour Inventionland, its popularity as a field trip spurred solely by word of mouth among teachers and parents. Cub Scout and Girl Scout troops are frequent touring groups as well. Davison feels this is the best time to awaken the possibilities of inventing—while kids are in school and still curious. He speaks with nearly every group at the end of its tour, telling the students about himself, his first invention and what motivated him to build Inventionland.
Davison is not shy about talking about failure and the reasons people don’t pursue their ideas. Obstacles abound as inventors move toward realizing their dreams. Davison calls these obstacles “distractions,” and he gives an example: “Let’s say I invent a brand new communications device. Apple won’t like it. Blackberry’s Research In Motion won’t like it.” He pauses to let the implications sink in. “I like to think whatever I put my mind to I can accomplish. You have to have blind belief to get the job done.”
His method has been honed by trial and error, years of failures, in fact. Fresh out of college, he spent two years developing his own first invention, a product to sanitize toothbrushes. A large corporation beat him to market. “That first failure was a huge blow,” he says, but it was also an important one, because he learned the value of persistence and what would become a valuable component of his nine-step inventing system.
After each failure, he takes a page from Thomas Edison, one of his role models, and asks himself, “What have I learned from this? Show me the path to what will work.”
It was also after that first failure that Davison realized inventors like himself needed a system. He decided then and there that he would “reinvent inventing.” The solution was to get ideas designed, developed and prepared for licensing in one place, and at an affordable price point. This way, with all the efficiencies of scale in place, the creative side of the inventing business would blossom.
The first Davison venture, launched in 1989, was housed in his grandfather’s Oakmont farmhouse in western Pennsylvania, not far from where Davison and Inventionland are now located.
Making prototype molds, Davison designers and marketers worked with corporate and individual clients on new-product development, and the company grew. In 2001, the company moved to a 36,000-square-foot facility that remains the headquarters of Davison’s national sales and licensing divisions. Next door, George Davison oversaw the building of Inventionland. When it was completed in 2006, the design team moved in with the mandate to create.
During this same time period, big-box stores proliferated. Davison knew that in order to stay competitive, they were always on the lookout for new products. Davison set his sights on their shelves. Today, one third of the products developed by Davison are done in service of corporate clients; one third are from individual inventors, who pay for design, prototype and marketing services; and one third are products developed by Davison’s homegrown creator-employees at Inventionland.
“In this country,” Davison says, “one can build it, and finance people will listen and will grant their support if the invention is presented to them properly.” Another thing Davison has learned in developing his method of invention is that big-box stores appreciate prototypes that include packaging and adherence to their standard shelf measurements.
To that end, he works closely with designers and inventors to tweak the designs for the best possible chance of licensing and acquisition. Davison currently works with nearly 1,000 retailers on carrying Davison-designed products. Approximately 200-240 product prototypes are turned out each month at Inventionland, and those that are licensed and marketed bear the distinctive Davison “D” placed discreetly on the product packaging. Davison has been told by more than one supplier that he is the largest manufacturer of prototypes in the U.S.
Part of the design process involves finding and drawing out the story of the product, too, and Davison is a firm believer in the power of narrative. “Inventors have to tell the story of their inventions in order to facilitate their vision,” he says. Investors, licensees and customers all like to hear the back story of a product.
Investors in particular like to hear the behind-the-scenes narrative of how an idea becomes a product, what changes were made along the way to the prototype presentation and how the final decisions were made in order to see the idea fully realized.
“I’m trying to create fertile ground to give people the opportunity to create more things,” Davison says of Inventionland, which he quips is like “Google on steroids.”
The company and its products have been featured in numerous media venues, including Entrepreneur, American Executive, Business Week, Metropolitan Home, CNN Money, Fortune, Lifetime TV’s The Balancing Act and others. Inventionland was honored with a 2011 Creative Rooms in Business (CRIB) award by the Pittsburgh Technology Council at the ceremony’s third-annual Design, Art & Technology Awards (DATA) held at the Pittsburgh Opera. At the 2011 International Housewares Show, at least 150 Davison products were in evidence in at exhibitors’ booths.
Davison’s imagination has not waned since he started out as an idealistic college student with an idea for a new invention. Following in the footsteps of his heroes—Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Walt Disney—he never stops looking to and planning for the future. In the offing, Webisodes, an Inventionland road show, a series of children’s books and, as is George Davison’s first and true love, more ideas for more great inventions.
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Davison Awards and Accolades
Ideas thrive at Davison, where inventions for new products are the company’s stock in trade. From a glimmer of an idea to sketches on paper to prototype to finished product samples complete with graphics and packaging, inventions take flight at Davison. The company develops ideas for itself as well as for individuals and corporate clients. Based just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Davison has been lauded for Inventionland, its unusual 61,000-square-foot creative workspace devoted to fostering creativity in new-product development.
Founder and CEO George Davison has been called a “creative genius” by Entrepreneur magazine. The company and its wide range of products have been featured in American Executive, Business Week, Metropolitan Home, CNN Money, Fortune, Lifetime TV’s The Balancing Act and others.
Davison Awards and Accolades
· Davison’s Inventionland was honored with a 2011 Creative Rooms in Business (CRIB) award by the Pittsburgh Technology Council at the Design, Art & Technology Awards (DATA). The award “celebrates creative work environments, incorporating nontraditional design, unique methods of company community, artwork or space that encourages creativity.”
· George Davison was profiled in American Executive magazine. The article, “Creative Profits,” explains how the “Davison Method” builds new product ideas for corporations and independent inventors, noting that the method is earning its creator the title “Henry Ford of Inventing.”
· George Davison was featured on Lifetime TV’s hit morning show, The Balancing Act. He was joined by the inventor of the Cool Cot House and the president of Hugs Pet Products to tell the full story of new product development.
· Judy Wearing’s Edison’s Concrete Piano: Flying Tanks, Six-Nippled Sheep, Walk-on-Water Shoes, and 12 Other Flops from Great Inventors (Ecw Press, 2009) celebrates innovators from historic to modern times. Fourth-generation business leader George Davison is heralded as one of the “great inventors” whose “volcano popcorn maker” illustrates the role of human whim in getting a new invention to take off.
· In 2008, Davison’s 360° Hot/Cold Therapy Wrist Brace received an honorable mention in the Consumer Products category of I.D. Magazine’s 54th Annual Design Review.
· I.D. Magazine recognized Davison’s creative workspace as one of “40 Amazing-Looking Design Offices.” The 2008 article reveals that Inventionland is “teeming with productivity.”
· Ripley’s Believe It or Not! featured Inventionland in The Remarkable…Revealed (Ripley Publishing, 2007). The book includes Inventionland among many unique places, people and events from around the world, describing it as a “Tree-mendous Office.”
· Davison was named one of Pittsburgh’s “Top 50 Best Places to Work” in 2007. The ranking was determined through a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette employee-submitted survey.
· In 2007, Davison’s Jack ’N Stand, an innovative automobile jack, received honorable mention in the Concept category of I.D. Magazine’s 53rd Annual Design Review competition.
· In 2006, Davison won two Industrial Design Excellence (IDEA) Awards in a competition sponsored by Industrial Designers Society of America and BusinessWeek magazine.
o A Bronze IDEA was awarded for the BikeBoard, a bicycle-scooter hybrid that pioneered a new category of wheeled recreational products and that mimics the sensation of surfing.
o A Silver IDEA was awarded for the Hover Creeper, a reinvention of the mechanic’s creeper that hovers on a thin layer of air, improving navigation and eliminating breakage-prone wheels.
· Davison received its first award for product design in 1997. The Oil Filter Gripper, which eliminates the mess and hassle of changing automotive oil, was awarded a bronze IDEA by Industrial Designers Society of America and BusinessWeek magazine.
[via Office Snapshots]