To Crowdfund or Not to Crowdfund?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the new Swiss crowd-funding platform, In the post I suggested that this is a big opportunity for graduating students looking to strike out on their own rather than having to find investors for their idea. I still believe this to be true, but Don Lehman wrote two excellent posts over at Core77 discussing the pros and cons of crowdfunding.

Don launched a successful Kickstarter project for his Stylus Caps – caps that turn your favorite pen (Sharpie, Bic, Pilot) into a touchscreen stylus. In his posts on Core77 he shares his experience:

As I was literally knee-deep in boxes of Stylus Caps that were to be shipped to 1,796 Backers who helped me do something I never would have been able to do on my own. All I could think was, “People need to know what it’s like to do this.” There were a ton of surprises along the way that were unique to running a crowdfunded project that I had no prep for. To say that I would do things differently the second time around, would be an understatement.

The crazy thing is, every project creator is unnecessarily blazing their own trail. That’s because there hasn’t been much open talk about what its like to run one of these projects. Why or why not, you might want to crowdfund, how to prepare to launch your idea, how to communicate with potentially thousands of people who have pre-ordered your idea, how to run the project on a day-to-day basis, how to deal with shipping.

The second “Should I Do This?” post takes a sober look at what it takes to get a design idea actually made and shipped. Having the idea and sketching out the concepts and making a 3D rendering are the easy part. As always, ideas are easy, getting things made and shipped is the hard part. Crowdfunding lets you sell before you’ve even done the hard part, says Don:


The scary part is that instead of having one investor holding all the cards (probably not good for your morale), you have many people invested in your project and they’re all talking about it online.

The public aspect of crowdfunding development means that you need to keep your Backers in the loop of your progress. This can be alternately amazing and incredibly stressful. You’re not only dealing with the ups and downs of getting something made, but you have a large group of people invested in your success, watching and critiquing your progress in real time. Basically it turns the design process into real time performance art. Most will be fully supportive of you, but an extreme minority will be highly critical of every misstep (SPOILER ALERT: You will have missteps.) in a very public way. To put it more succinctly, its the absolute best parts of the Internet, mixed with a dash of the absolute worst parts of the Internet.

Nevertheless, Don and many others’ experiences of crowd funding suggest that it really is a great way to go, especially with a small to medium size idea that you know how to get manufactured. One key word of advice from Don is to really have had some experience taking a product all the way from design to launch. So, those of you also studying design with design management, for example, may be well placed to try out your chops.

Most of all, though, as Don suggests, this is uncharted territory. Even if you’ve done a crowd funding project before, as more people become aware of what it is and how it works, things are going to change and we need to capture the experience:

We need to build on what has been learned. Crowdfunding is still in its infancy and too important to the future of design for us to not be talking about it. So here is my mission: Describe what it’s like to run a product design project in 2012, the early, wild west days of Crowdfunding.

Social Edge

Social Edge is Social Edge is a program of the Skoll Foundation that was inspired by Jeff Skoll’s commitment to connecting people with shared passions. “Social Edge is the global online community where social entrepreneurs and other practitioners of the social benefit sector connect to network, learn, inspire and share resources.”

Social Innovator

Social Innovator aims to “bring together the people, experience and issues involved in designing, developing and growing new ideas that meet pressing unmet needs.”


blockquote>”This material is intended to guide and support the practice of all those who can contribute to this social economy: policy‐makers who can help to create the right conditions

Ninja Blocks


Ninja Blocks are a great Kickstarter project for anyone wanting to connect together their hardware world with Web services. From the Ninja Blocks blog:

How it all works

Ninja Blocks are simple but powerful open source hardware backed by an amazing web service called Ninja Cloud that allows your Ninja Block to talk to your favorite web apps.

Each Ninja Block comes with an RGB LED and built-in temperature sensor and accelerometer. Four expansion ports and a regular USB port allow you to add further inputs and outputs.

Ninja Cloud allows you to control your Ninja Blocks without writing a single line of code.


Ninja Cloud allows you to program your NInja Block by creating Tasks. Tasks are made up of Triggers and Actions.

You can tell your Ninja to perform tasks like:

  • Talk to Siri and turn on the light
  • Take a picture of your front yard and save it to Dropbox when movement is detected
  • Switch your lava lamp on whenever your friends are playing on Xbox Live
  • Get a notification on your phone when a package is left at your door
  • If your baby is crying turn on a lamp in the hallway

(Via Reto Wettach’s interaction design blog).

If… Behavioural Heuristics and Design

If… Behavioural Heuristics and Design is a excellent, long, but well-explained post by Dan Lockton on behavioural heuristics. Important for designers, because, he argues:

There are lots of models of human behaviour, and as the design of systems becomes increasingly focused on people, modelling behaviour has become more important for designers. As Jon Froehlich, Leah Findlater and James Landay note, “even if it is not explicitly recognised, designers [necessarily] approach a problem with some model of human behaviour”, and, of course, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”.

I always like Dan’s in-depth views on these subjects and how he relates them back to design so well. He also details a workshop he did at Interaction 12 Instapaper it up and read it at your leisure. There are lots of links to follow in there too.


Makego is a new iPhone app from interaction artist and designer, Chris O’Shea that turns your iPhone / iPod Touch into a toy vehicle.

The app is basically a little animation of a top-down view of a racing car, ice-cream van or a boat. You make a vehicle in paper, LEGO, etc. and then put the iPhone it it to add the driver character, animation and sounds. Colours, etc. can be customized and when you move the vehicle around, the motion sensors in the iPhone trigger sounds, such as the racing car engine roaring. See the video for more.

Touchpoint Observatory: Badly Hand-Drawn Signs = Ruined Branding


You have spent thousands on your corporate branding, you keep a tight reign over the usage of your logo, you ship out expensively produced marketing materials to your franchise affiliates and… they ruin it all by creating crappily hand-drawn signs and sticking them in the doorway of the shop.

This is a trend that I have seen all over the place in Germany. I’m not sure how it started, but it is an awful touchpoint. It doesn’t even have a bit of “human personality charm” to it. It’s simply bad branding and confusing (what does that bar graph mean?). Worst of all, it kills off any other brand coherency that all the proper materials might offer.


This one is for my local post office. Deutsche Post have a similar official and franchise model to mobile telco stores and despite the branding guidelines that I am sure exist, this post office’s opening times look like they were drawn by a 10 year-old. Even an awful Word doc typeset in Ariel would be an improvement on this – home printers are ubiquitous these days. Oh yes, don’t forget this is a bank (Postbank) too. Would you trust your money with them?

kooaba Shortcut

kooaba Shortcut is “a shortcut between real life and the Internet: take a picture of what you are reading in a newspaper or magazine and instantly get connected to the digital version. It also works with ads and billboards with the Shortcut icon.”

Pretty cool. I’m working on a project at the moment looking at trying to bridge the physical world back into digital streams and vice versa. Looks like this might help.

Touchpoint Observatory: Service Sold in a Box


When companies struggle to get their heads around service, they often end up marketing services as if they were products. The above image is for television delivery from a big German consumer electronics chain store called Media Markt. Not just service, you will note, but “power service.” I’m not quite sure what that means – we don’t just deliver, but we plug it in too?


Applecare is one of the most high-profile examples of this. You can buy a box of Applecare, which has a CD (pointless these days) and registration papers in it. The above photo from the amusingly named robotpolisher on Flickr has a caption underneath that says it all:

“Possibly the largest cost/weight ratio of anything I’ve ever bought . This practically weightless tiny cardboard box which contains presumably just a couple of scraps of paper set me back an astonishing $315 for three years of service.”

Surely there are better ways to communicate what a service is and the value of it to the end customer?

Andrew Hinton describing Path’s failure as a UX failure

Andrew Hinton describing Path’s failure as a UX failure:

This is in part what some of us in the community are calling the failure of “user experience design” culturally: UX has largely become a buzzword for the first list, in the rush to crank out hip, interactively interesting software. But “business rules” which effectively act as the architecture of the platform are driven almost entirely by business concerns; content is mostly overlooked for any functional purposes beyond giving a fun, hip tone to the brand of the platform; and interaction design is mainly being driven by designers more concerned with “taste” performance and “innovative” UI than creating a rigorously considered, coherent experience.

The whole piece is definitely worth a read. Apart from the insights into interaction design “lenses,” the “Huh? Wait a moment…” description of how he understood what was happening is enlightening.