product design

By working together you are stronger & smarter

One of the most invaluable pieces of information I learnt before I went into business was this: "You can't do it all by yourself". The excellent Business Start Up book by Sara Williams (Financial Times Guides, ISBN-139781292175867) reinforces this point. Very early on in the process of starting my own business I had to sit down and do some evaluation of my own strengths and my weaknesses. Don't underestimate the value to be gained in such an exercise. It's far better to be honest with yourself at the outset than to struggle on with things that are not your domain or particular skill set. I am very grateful that I was introduced to a great accountant at the beginning of my small business venture. The investment has already proved worthwhile.

Credit: Alex Read, Bamb Creative

Credit: Alex Read, Bamb Creative

Anyone developing a new product shouldn't underestimate the importance of having a cohesive brand identity and social media presence. That's where it becomes useful to work alongside people whose business it is to do that kind of thing. Luckily for me I just happen to work alongside some very talented creative media professionals at Cohub at Eastbourne.

 

Credit: Phil Burrowes, Avant Photographic

Credit: Phil Burrowes, Avant Photographic

Just recently I have had the pleasure to do some work on product branding with Alex Read from Bamb Creative. Branding and product naming is something I have been involved with in the past but I have to confess its not my area of real expertise. This is when it pays to recognise your own strengths & weaknesses. By engaging a person (or team) whose specialty is the area in which you are needing assistance you will unlock many different approaches and skills that'd simply take too long to develop on your own. Expertise of course does come at a price but you have to see past the initial cost and see it in terms of the 'value added' to the overall project or product. See it as more of an investment. A great product design or a strong and cohesive brand will pay back your initial investment many times over once your product(s) starts to sell.

Working together over the course of a couple of hours Alex helped me to map out a whole range of words connected with the product I'd been working on. Some were quite direct and literal, others were more abstract. Over the course of the session it became really useful to focus on products key attributes and words associated with those attributes.

Following Alex's advice we concluded the session after a couple of hours, took numerous photos of the scribbles we'd made on the Cohub writing wall and headed home. Over the course of the next few days Alex kept me up to date on the progress of the design. Effective communication between designer and client is so important in any collaborative process. Most of the ideas were exchanged on Slack (I recommend you check it out) before the next meeting to finalise the small, but all important details.

The finished product, seen below, captures what the new product is all about. It is condense, simplified. The dropping of the double 'd' in Puddle is a subtle but deliberate shortening of the word giving a clue to the stripped back form of the new product we were working with.

Just by engaging with Bamb Creative it was possible to quickly formalise a new product brand and identity. Establishing an identity early on in new product development is key in these fast moving days of multi platform social media. We consume far more visual / digital content than ever before so having a strong & memorable identity is crucial to helping to develop brand awareness or attract potential investors in your idea. Pudle is now out there on Instagram and Facebook circulating and creating interest. As the Pudle project progresses it'll now become possible to add content and build upon the story that has been started. It was an invaluable experience for me to learn some new tips & tricks from a fellow designer. I certainly learned a lot, I hope that Alex & Bamb Creative in turn picked up a few benefits in return. It can certainly be said that by working together you are both stronger & smarter.

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Boring? No. Why you can’t ignore Elon Musk

Almost anyone that has ever heard of Elon Musk seems to have formed some sort of an opinion of him from the various stories they’ve heard about him or from the Tweets he’s made. In the internet age a multi-billionaire CEO can't stay in the shadows. The recent claim that we’ll one day be able to fly anywhere in the world on a rocket in 30 minutes might seem like a stretch of the imagination for most of us I'd say. You'd have to ask yourself though why someone as high profile as Elon Musk would say things like that if he didn’t intend to deliver. He simply wouldn’t do that, would he?

As a designer I admire many of the products Musks companies have already designed – and some of those that he’s committed them to. Some of his ideas might seem farfetched at first but when you dig a little deeper* into Musks past you begin to see that he means what he says. *not intended to be a pun about The Boring Company, one of the latest ventures…

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Inventors and entrepreneurs have always fascinated me. The stories of Howard Hughes, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, James Dyson, to name a few, all make for interesting reading. The story of Elon Musk makes for an equally interesting read. The latest book I read by Ashlee Vance details Musks rise to the super CEO we know today right back to before his troubled childhood in his native South Africa. I’d thoroughly recommend it.

It turns out that some of the ideas (that many have scoffed at) have been whizzing around in Elon’s brain since he was a young boy. Vance writes in his book that as a young child Elon would zone out of goings on around him, seemingly deep in thought. Sometimes young Elon would read two books a day to fuel his mind. A vivid imagination and the ability to seemingly dream in 4K detail have propelled Elon to become one of the richest men on the planet (that’s if you measure riches in terms of monetary wealth). The electric cars we now know as Teslas (disputes about company foundation aside) were part of Elon’s agenda a long, long time ago. Space travel was another fascination. When the opportunity to start SpaceX came along it wasn’t on a whim that Elon embarked upon a rocket building programme, it is part of a lifelong mission to get to Mars. In fact, it seems that dying on Mars is a goal for Musk (not in impact he insists). Elon wants to make humanity an interplanetary species.

Credit: Maurizio Pesce

Credit: Maurizio Pesce

Besides his amazing mental capacity there also seems to be a huge reserve in terms of physical capacity too. When you see the demands Musk puts on himself in terms of his schedule its quite sobering. He’s a driven man. It seems that the drive to make cash doesn’t simply seem to be to get rich, it’s about delivering his mission and making a significant change to humanity. You could say that Elon seems to be well set on the path to doing just that based upon his past achievements and those he’s aspiring to. During its lean start-up phase Tesla might have been considered something of a joke in the established auto industry. Then Tesla launched the Model S, the Model X and now the Model 3. Who is laughing now? The auto giants have had to sit up and take note of the shiny newcomer who sells direct. Musk’s ability to disrupt the establishment by doing the improbable seems to be working so far. How would a start-up ever get into the rocket business dominated by huge US corporations? By being innovative, achieving a lower launch costs and being alarmingly quick (by comparison to the conventional standards of the space industry). SpaceX has made the establishment look stodgy, expensive and slow. Another victory for the visionary against the odds.

Not simply content with shaking up the auto industry or rocket building business Musk wants to cure us from our dependency on fossil fuels and move us to solar energy. As with most renewables, whether it be solar, wind or wave you need to be able to smooth out the peaks and troughs in the supply. That’s were batteries come in, a means of storing and supplying the energy. Using the Lithium Ion technology developed for the early Tesla cars Musk is now in the process of building his first Giga factory not only to supply batteries for Tesla but for his energy projects. There are supposedly another four Giga factories planned, not all in North America. The push into solar has also been assisted by the work done by Musks cousins Lyndon Rive & Peter Rive. Their own start-up SolarCity (with Musk on board) grew at a furious pace and has followed a similar vertically integrated model that Musk has used to great effect at his other businesses.

Credit: Tesla, the Giga factory

Credit: Tesla, the Giga factory

It’d also seem that Elon Musk has an uncanny ability to find exactly the right combination of people and talents for the given moment. It’s not simply enough to have the cash to get started (that helps of course), Musk brings the right ingredients together and keeps track of it all somehow. In order to make these key people deliver Musk sets incredibly hard time and cost targets. Saying no doesn’t figure in Elon Musks vocabulary it seems. The mediocre needn’t apply. Those who can’t hack the pace soon whither. People have complained of harsh treatment. The truth is that without the unforgiving drive & focus of someone like Elon Musk to make things happen you have to ask yourself if any of these seemingly fanciful ideas for projects would ever get done. Opinions will differ. It’s an underlying passion to deliver his vision. You can’t deny it - based on results from SpaceX and Tesla that people deliver. Who’d have thought a company with not even two decades of history could make a re-usable orbital stage that could land back on earth? Sure, it’s made some people uncomfortable, but rightly so.

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

So? What next? Electric cars are not new, space rockets are not new, solar energy is not new, digging tunnels is not new either – but doing them the Muskian way is. How long will it be before ventures like Hyperloop or The Boring Company make any money? Who knows? (I guess that Elon Musk does… mind you he has been known to take the odd risk or two). You can be sure that Elon Musk and his businesses will learn a great deal along the way by pursuing these seemingly frivolous ideas and put it to good use. The very nature of pressurised and intensive Research and Development means that they’re sure to find a couple of interesting avenues to explore along the way.

It seems that Elon Musk is one of the few people in the manufacturing business that really truly understands and exploits the real value of synergies, and vertical integration, they are not just a buzz words to him. Elon’s vast & complex mind is mapping out his visions, creating synergies between his businesses and taking us places faster & sooner than we might have thought possible. It all happens fast! Anyone in an established industry should start having nightmares if Elon Musk even dares to dream about getting into their industry. History shows us that if he says it, he means it. 

Sleep well.


So... you've have an idea for a product... what next?

So, that eureka moment comes along once in a while. You get a great idea for a new product but you struggle to do anything with it because you don't know what to do next. You have two choices: forget about it (and regret later) or do something about it. Some new product ideas will hit road blocks or obstacles along the way but how will you ever find out if you never begin that journey? Here's my advice on what to do next.

Take 3 simple steps to make your idea happen:

DO SOME BASIC RESEARCH

It's always a good idea to do some basic research and the web is a great tool for this. Ask yourself "why hasn't it been done before?" Or alternatively if your idea is an improvement "what makes my idea better?"

"Any new product wishing to secure a patent will have to prove itself to be a new idea or be able to offer an inventive step over an existing one. It's good to be clear on what benefits your product offers from the start."

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SKETCH, DOODLE, DRAW - GET SOMETHING TANGIBLE ON PAPER

Don't worry if you haven't sketched before. Even the most awkward doodles will help you to rationalise some of your own thoughts. Even if you feel you can't sketch try and capture as many ideas on paper in words. No one should laugh at your attempts - communication is the key. 

"Sketching out ideas or capturing key words will help to solidify your idea - if you are going to consult a product designer this will help kick start the development process.

 

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GET SOME PROFESSIONAL ADVICE

This is where you need to consult a product designer. Be mindful of the fact that you should have an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) in place before you divulge any information about the key points of your idea for a new product.

Using a product designer at an early stage of development could be key to securing funding or finding partners to buy in to your idea. 

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See the links below to learn more about product development packages or to download my NDA.

"By offering Product Development Packages a client can choose when to engage my services whether it be at the outset, Stage 1 or further down the development path."