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.

Core77 Columnista

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I’m very pleased to have been asked to be a columnist for the Core77 blog. It’s been in the works for a few weeks, but my recent trip to Ethiopia and our new daughter delayed my ability to get down to some writing.

I’ve long been a fan of “industrial design supersite” Core77 (now re-taglined with “design magazine & resource). They have consistently grown Core77 into a rich location for design articles and insights as well as providing great resources such as the Coroflot portfolio and job board and the Core77 Design Directory. They’ve managed some great scoops, such as their rare interview with Jonathan Ive on the design of the iPhone 4.

I have contributed to the Core77 broadcasts in the past (Nik Roope, Hector Serrano, Troika,Jason Bruges, and Matt Clark from UVA) as well as a few other articles, such as 19 Books Every Professional Should Own, A peek inside the Revo Heritage and Talk to the hand: Dan Saffer and gestural interfaces. So it’s nice to become a more regular contributor in the form of a columnist (a Columnista sounds more glamourous, don’t you think?).

With other columnists including Bill Moggridge and Liz Danzico, I feel I’m in far better company than I deserve.

My opening piece argues for access, not ownership of products as not only a more sustainable approach to production and consumerism, but also for a better customer experience.

Smart German Supermarket


The BBC has a video report about a German supermarket Future Store from German supermarket chain, Real.

Rather than use RFID tags to do the scanning of all the stuff in your shopping trolley (that’s ‘cart’ to you folks over the Atlantic), they’ve gone for a mobile phone solution. Basically you take photos of all the bar codes and their phone software generates one master bar code that you scan back in (very meta-media that) at the end in order to pay.

They do use RFID tags for their ‘smart freezers’, which know what meat has been taken out and sold. But the best feature, which requires very little in the way of tech, is the self-service wine-tasting. That’s a really smart idea.

My supermarket here in Germany doesn’t take credit cards, only EC Cards and Germany is a very paper and cash oriented culture I’ve found. I wonder how this will pan out… Personally I’ve really been enjoying the whole Richard Scarry small town experience with a baker and a butcher, etc., all of whom know me.

(Via Core77).

Podcast interview with Jason Bruges

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My latest Core77 Broadcast interview with Jason Bruges from Jason Bruges Studio is now online.

In a slightly echoing room in Jason’s studio, accompanied by the usual sirens and car alarms of London’s Shoreditch, he talks about his roots in architecture, the journey to interactive surfaces, sustainability and his thoughts about giving this emerging area a proper name.

Hope you enjoy it.

The next one, coming soon, is with Troika.

[tags]Core77, Jason Bruges[/tags]

Hulger Sale


My mate Nik, the man behind Hulger, just mailed to say that they’re having a sale and phasing out some of the older colours.

So if you want the super cool radioactive stylee yellow PIP*Phones or one of the elegant P*Phones (they were one of the first models and still cool) for 40% less than the normal price, head on over to Hulger.

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If you want to hear what the quality of one sounds like and hear a bit about the philosophy behind Hulger, have a listen to the Core77 podcast I did with Nik a while back. The recording is of Nik talking to me on one of the PIP*Phones via iChat.

[tags]hulger, core77, nikroope[/tags]

Moving Between Consulting and Academia

Jon Kolko’s article, Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire: Life lessons from consulting to academia, and back again over at Core77, was a particularly pertinent read for me. As someone who still operates between both academia and consulting (and working as a journalist) I find myself alternately frustrated and relieved by both sides of the fence.

Kolko breaks down several myths of academia and consulting, one of which being the amount of work (or not) that academics do.

On paper, two thirds of the year as vacation seems like a dream come true, and I suppose it actually is for a number of people. But upon reflecting on my five years of teaching, I realized that I was working harder, longer, and on more things than ever before. Between mentoring students, writing papers, grading papers, structuring classes, attending presentations and lectures, traveling for conferences, sitting on committees, and—oh, right, teaching classes—I was approaching the seventy or eighty hour work weeks that I was used to from my previous life as a software designer.

Now, it’s true that in every institution there are some academics who basically scam the system and are “dead inside” as Kolko describes. But there are a equal numbers of those that work very hard indeed, care about the students and their education as well as trying to build up departments, etc.

The difference is that it’s much harder to fire the slackers in academia (and that includes the students).

I’ve worked equally hard in the commercial world, but it is more bursty and less relentlessly grinding. Also, teaching takes it out of you if you do it properly. If you don’t believe me, try standing and painstakingly explaining how you do what you do to out loud for eight hours. Plenty of great, talented people are completely exhausted from writing and giving a one-hour talk. Once.

The best thing about Kolko’s article is that it highlights what both sides can learn from each other. Too often academics believe those working commercially are intellectually inferior sell-outs. Designers and consultants working commercially think academics are talentless eggheads. Yet if the commercial world had some of the ethics and rigour of academia and the academic world had some of the zest and speed of commercial decision making things would be much better all round.

It’s one of the reasons I like to do both.

[tags]academia, education, teaching, Core77, Kolko, design, consulting[/tags]

Interactive Wall of ‘Water’

Camera-tracking along with multi-touch seem to be unstoppable at the moment. This is an interactive wall of ‘water’ for Lenovo’s HQ in North Carolina.

I really like the simple interaction, but I think the leaping logo is pretty cheesy. (You’re in the HQ, for goodness sake, you need to remind people of the brand.)

(Via Core77 ).

[tags]camera tracking, interactivity, Core77, Lenovo[/tags]

Interview with Nik Roope from Hulger & Poke

Interview with Nik Roope

My first Core77 Broadcast with Nik Roope about Hulger has just gone online.

It should become one of a series of podcasts for Core77 and I’m really pleased because it’s one of my regular reads. Core77 started out (and still bills itself) as the “industrial design supersite”, though their remit has become somewhat wider, which I think is great personally.

So I thought I’d start with Hulger because it is product design, but with a very different philosophy to most gadgets.

I’ve known Nik for around 15 years. We were both members of Antirom and also used to do an interactive performance together with Joe Stephenson. Over the years we have had some really interesting conversations about emerging technologies and cultures and I’ve watched Hulger go from an amusing idea to being on its way towards being a design icon.

The interview also brings this philosophy to bear on his main job as one of the co-founders and creative directors of digital agency, Poke and it’s interesting to hear about how those two sides influence each other.

You can listen to the broadcast on the Core77 site and there is also a version on iTunes.

Let me know what you think and also who you would like to hear interviewed in the future.