Kohei Nishiyama and Yosuke Masumoto, who co-founded Elephant Design in 1997, came up with an innovative approach to the fusion of marketing and e-commerce: customers can go online and commission tailor-made designs directly from their website, www.cuusoo.com (the word cuusoo means "ideal" or "daydream" in Japanese).
After registering with the website, consumers can order from a catalogue of existing products shown on the home page. If they don't find exactly what they are looking for, they can post their own ideas for their "ideal" product. This design-to-order (DTO) process ensures that energy and materials are not wasted by dumping an unwanted product on the public, and direct collaboration with the customers also brings interesting results to even the most mundane products.
Launched in December 1999, the website had over 12,000 registered members by the end of its first year of operation. Out of an original 120 customer-proposed designs, twenty received enough orders to be manufactured, and are now available for purchase. Another 7,000 ideas posted by website visitors are waiting to be designed. Elephant Design works with 1,250 free-lance designers, and although Nishiyama and Masumoto studied Industrial Design at Kuwasawa Design School, Tokyo, they themselves do not get involved in the design process. The company's most successful product to date is the "Cigarro" computer, manufactured by ABA-House.