Introduction: Sparklab - Reinvent the Shopping Cart

About: Spark!Lab is a hands -on invention studio in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Spark!Lab activities communicate that invention is a process, rather than a single “Aha!” moment; provide vi…

Welcome to Spark!Lab digital. This is an online invention space where you get to be the inventor. There are no wrong answers, and you can create an invention using the pieces provided — or create some pieces of your own. Think like an inventor: how does your design solve a problem?

Reinvent a shopping cart with these virtual materials — or create your own parts and pieces. Using Tinkercad, you can delete, reshape, and duplicate elements - and you can create new parts, too.


  • Free Tinkercad account
  • Inventive creativity
  • "Reinvent the Shopping Cart" parts from Spark!Lab's Tinkercad designs

Step 1: Invention Is a Process

There are just two things to keep in mind as you redesign the shopping cart:

1. The invention process is not always linear, but inventors engage in these steps in some form or another:

  • Think it: Have a great idea for an invention
  • Explore it: Investigate inventions and ideas of the past
  • Sketch it: Draw pictures and diagrams to figure out how your invention might work
  • Create it: Build a prototype or model of your idea
  • Try It: Test your invention
  • Tweak It: Keep improving your idea
  • Sell It: Market your invention to people who might buy it

2. We also know everyone is inventive — and we do mean everyone! Today, you become the inventor. You will try new ideas, take risks, and learn how to keep going when things don’t go as planned.

Step 2: Think It

The first step of the invention process is to "think it," meaning to identify a problem you would like to solve and begin to imagine your solution.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

Shopping carts come in many different shapes and sizes. What do you think the shopping cart of the future should look like?

Step 3: Explore It

The next step of the invention process is to "explore it.” Inventors ask: “How have inventors solved this problem in the past?” and then conduct research to learn more about the problem they want to solve or to understand solutions that already may exist. They learn from what others have already tried and make sure that their solutions are new or different.

The first wheeled shopping cart rolled into stores in 1938. The shopping cart inventor Sylvan Goldman wanted to make it easier for customers to carry their items in the store, so he created a rolling cart that held two baskets, one over the other. The carts were great for gathering merchandise, but they also created a new problem! When parked, they took up a lot of space in the store. In 1946, Orla Watson improved on Goldman’s design by creating the telescoping shopping cart we know today. Watson’s shopping carts were able to fit inside of each other for storage, taking up much less space when parked.

Discover shopping cart-related objects from the Smithsonian's online collection:

Click here to explore the invention of the shopping cart on Learning Lab.

Click here to browse shopping carts in the Smithsonian collection.

Click here to find out more about how supermarkets transformed the food shopping experience.

Step 4: Sketch It

Inventors use sketching as a way to organize their ideas.

Drawing an idea allows inventors to imagine what their invention might look like and how it will work. Try sketching out your invention before building! Take some time to sketch your ideas, images, and thoughts about how shopping carts could be improved.

You can sketch your ideas with paper and pencil, or you can try using a digital format. Remember! Inventors rarely get it right on the first try. Whatever the method, you may need to erase and re-draw your invention as you continue to think through how you want to solve the problem.

Click here to learn more about inventors' sketches in the Smithsonian Collection.

Step 5: Create It

Now it is time to build a prototype of your invention idea. In this step, inventors get to see their idea turn into something real. Building a model can also help you learn about any issues there are with their invention design. Your prototype will show the size, shape, and form of your new shopping cart.

How can you use these virtual materials to reinvent the shopping cart? Can you invent a better way to carry your food purchases through the store? What will the shopping cart of the future be like?

Click here to go to the Tinkercad site where you can reinvent the shopping cart.

Once you have created your design, move on to the next step in the invention process, Try It!

Step 6: Try It

Now that you have created your 3D model take some time to imagine how your shopping cart would function in different stores and settings.

  • How much weight can your shopping cart hold?
  • Is your shopping cart easy to drive or control?
  • How big is your shopping cart?
  • What type of store or stores with use your shopping cart?
  • Is there a way to protect delicate items in your shopping cart?
  • Is there a place for young kids to safely ride in your shopping cart?
  • What are the special features of your cart?
  • How is your cart better than the ones currently in stores?

Share your 3D model and ideas with others. Ask them for their input about your design.

  • What did they like best about your design?
  • What did they think needed improving?
  • What new ideas did you get by sharing your idea with them?

Step 7: Tweak It

Now that you’ve created your shopping cart, thought about how it would work, and shared your idea with others, it’s time to tweak your invention! Now is the time to ask yourself, "What changes can I make to improve my shopping cart?”

Inventors typically don't succeed with an invention on the first try. Inventors make changes to their prototypes to make them work better. Usually, they tweak their idea many times before it is finished. Once tweaks are made, inventors test their inventions again. It can take many tries to get it right.

Go back to your design in Tinkercad and tweak it to make it easier for someone to use.

Step 8: Sell It

The final step of the invention process is to sell your idea. Selling your invention is not only about putting it up for sale. Selling an idea often happens when you share your idea with others after you have made your final tweaks.

Tell us about your invention on social media:

  • Who will use your invention?
  • What makes your invention unique?
  • How does your invention work?

We want to hear from you! Follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @si_invention or Facebook @lemelsoncenter and use the hashtag #sparklab on your posts.