Introducing the all-new Stylus Caps

Today, after a year of development, I am thrilled to announce the all-new Stylus Caps!

These new Stylus Caps build on everything we learned from the original. They’re lighter, more responsive, and more sustainable. Plus they’ll work great with the new iPad mini, the iPad, Windows Surface, and Kindle Fire.

Stylus Caps are now machined from aluminum, making them 76.2% lighter than the previous generation. That’s right. 76.2%. They feel great in your hand and are so light, you’ll practically forget they’re in your pocket.

More Responsive.
Not too soft and not too hard, people love our exclusive Firm Tips because they feel just right. Now we have dialed in the design to respond even quicker to your screen.

More Sustainable.
Everyday we ask ourselves, “How can we make Stylus Caps simpler?” Then we find new ways to use less materials and energy in our manufacturing processes. What remains is the most sustainable Stylus Cap yet.

We’re beyond excited with how great these new Stylus Caps turned out and hope you take look. The all-new Stylus Caps are available today and can be purchased at the redesigned

My More/Real Year

I had the idea for Stylus Caps just before New Year’s Day 2011. Perhaps because it was that time of year, something in me clicked. I had been a part of tons of development projects in my career, but never anything on my own. It felt like the right moment to take a leap of faith. On Valentine’s Day, I launched Stylus Caps on Kickstarter. Two days later I had achieved my funding goal.

Then came the hard part: actually making the damn thing. What started as a seemingly simple project turned into the hardest task I’ve ever attempted. Everything took way longer than anticipated. A few times I hit walls that made me question how I would ever get it off the ground. It was a grind from start to finish, but I was able to pull it off. In December of 2011, the last of my Backers’ pre-orders of Stylus Caps finally shipped. 

I now call 2011 my Kickstarter year. It was without a doubt, the most stressful professional year of my life. It was also the most rewarding. When I look back on it now, I can’t help but smile. 

This year I wanted to approach things a little differently. I had started with an idea for a product, but now I needed to figure out what exactly the company wanted to be. As opposed to running a Kickstarter project where I documented my every move, I decided to keep everything behind closed doors. Not to be secretive, but to have the space to think, try things out, and make mistakes.

2012 has been my More/Real year.

The only thing I knew was that More/Real had to play to my strengths and passions: design and technology. Understanding what I loved about design was easy. Simple, clean aesthetics. Great user experiences. Honest use of materials. Sustainability. Figuring out what I loved about technology was trickier. I’ve always been drawn to it, but I has never honestly thought about why. I knew that understanding why I loved technology would be the key to making More/Real work.

Back in May, while watching the most recent season of Mad Men, I got my first clue. It was Episode 8. The one where Megan gives Don a copy of the Beatles’ album Revolver so he can figure out what the kids are listening to these days.

Anyway, did you notice the Drapers’ home theater setup? It’s sort of like those awesome old wooden record consoles, but taken to the next level. The whole thing is built into a mahogany wood-paneled wall. The room-coordinated fabric-covered speaker and TV are recessed flush with the wall. The wood countertop opens up to reveal the record player. There’s storage for records with enough space left over for booze. The wall’s sole purpose in life is for music and entertaining. When it’s not being used, it closes up and recedes into the background. It’s completely seamless. It’s also the most exciting piece of technology I’ve seen all year, and yet the show is set in 1966.

That mahogany wall has been stuck in my head. I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why until recently, when I started thinking of other pieces of technology that has given me the same feeling. Polaroid’s SX-70 Land CameraOlivetti’s Valentine TypewriterApple’s iMac G4Naoto Fukasawa’s CD Player for MujiNest’s Learning ThermostatApple’s Smart Covers for the iPadNike’s Fuelband.

These things are less about being technology for technology’s sake and more about doing a job as simply and elegantly as possible. They are the designed application of a technological possibility. In other words, my two passions merging into something better than they could be on their own.

I think that’s why I had such a good feeling about Stylus Caps from the beginning. They transformed analog tools into digital tools in a seamless way. The experience was obvious, but the technology was invisible. That’s what I want More/Real to always be about.

Over the course of this year, I have continued development on creating an all-new Stylus Cap, taking the lessons learned from the original and improving on it in every way. This work has made its way through the final stages of production and is now ready to launch.

I can’t wait to show it to you later this week.

Don Lehman

Founder & Designer


The iPhone 5: The Best, for the Most, for the Least

This is the final part of my trilogy of iPhone 5 design reviews. Yes, I realize this has gotten way out of hand. I’m sorry.

Part I. The Unibody iPhone

Part II. The Foolproof Dock Connector

Part III. The Best, for the Most, for the Least

Charles and Ray Eames, the famous mid-century designers, had a motto: “The Best, for the Most, for the Least.”

How do you design the best possible thing? For everyone? At the cheapest cost? It sounds impossible, but that’s not what they were aiming for.

You start by designing for the most. That doesn’t mean literally everyone, it means most everyone. Still a tall task, but achievable by having the willingness to make tough decisions about what is essential and what is just nice to have.

Some people want a 5-inch screen, or a 3D camera, or a stylus, or a kickstand, or a slideout keyboard, or a projector, or a microSD slot, or a removable battery on their phones. Those things are nice to have. For some people, they can make or break their smartphone experience. For most, they aren’t essential.

Apple decided with the very first iPhone what they thought was essential for most people, and since then, they have worked relentlessly at making those features best in class and as affordable as possible. It may not always be the most exciting strategy, but it almost will certainly lead to the best possible product year in and year out.

More than any other product Apple makes, the iPhone represents “The Best, for The Most, for the Least”.

Shortly after the iPhone 5 announcement, Dustin Curtis said on Twitter

"Watching the iPhone manufacturing process video, it’s almost unbelievable that other phone makers are on the same planet at the same time."

I think he’s looking at it the wrong way. Other manufacturers live on our planet. They do impressive things. Apple is from a different universe playing a completely different game.

The fun stuff starts at the 4:34 mark.

For starters, they’re using friggin’ robots to measure 725 individual pieces to achieve fit tolerances that are measurable in microns. This is absurdly awesome. The only time I’ve seen technology like this used was in the manufacturing of very low volume, high end Swiss watches.

I don’t want to undersell this. Apple has figured out a way to bring Leica level quality to a mass produced consumer electronic that is puchased by 34.3% of the smartphone market.

Let me say that in a slightly different way. When you buy an iPhone 5, you are buying something that is comparable in quality to the parts made for the Mars Curiosity rover BUT THEY MAKE MILLIONS OF THEM!! As a designer who manufactures things, my feelings are a mix of awe and extreme jealousy.

Apple’s external antenna design requires a metal housing. A metal that is the perfect blend of strength, lightness, machineability, scratch proof, low cost, and able to be built at quality Apple demands doesn’t exist. (Yet.) Stainless steel and aluminum are the only real choices, but neither is absolutely perfect.

Stainless is extremely rugged and has a weighty, substantial feel. It’s also hard to machine and perhaps too heavy. Aluminum is very light, easy to machine, strong, and has the bonus ability of being able to be anodized different colors. However, it’s not quite as strong as stainless and more easily scratched.

You can only make this decision by prototyping both a stainless and aluminum version and seeing what feels right. Ultimately, you go with stainless if you value ruggedness above all else. Aluminum if you value lightness.

The Best, for the Most, for the Least.

Apple chose lightness.

You use more senses than you realize when you evaluate something like aluminum. The visual is important, but you’re also affected by weight, texture, even sound.

Apple uses aluminum on most of their products. On larger items like the MacBook Pro, Air, or iPad; it’s instantly recognizable as a metal because the product has weight from the rest of the components. They also feel incredibly solid as opposed to large pieces of plastic, which tend to flex and sound creaky.

On smaller items, it’s harder to read aluminum as being a metal. Once you remove as much material as possible, much like Apple has done with the 5, aluminum can have an almost imperceptible weight difference from a lightweight plastic. Couple that with a unibody design and an across the board part size reduction, you’re going to have people in disbelief over how light it actually is. This can actually turn out to be a problem.

Think about any high end watch or camera. They always have a satifying solid feel to them. The iPhone 4/4S had this quality. It wasn’t exactly a brick, but it had a weight that made it feel like it wasn’t just another plastic phone. It felt special. 

Lightness can make a product feel cheap. Plastic watches are light and cheap. Metal watches are heavy and expensive. Our brains get wired to evaluate new things taking weight into consideration.

Matte, anodized surface finishes, can be easy confused with a silver painted plastic. Small pieces of plastic can feel as strong as small pieces of aluminum. Once you pick it up, you can start to tell the difference, but the point is you want to entice people to pick it up in the first place. 

The first thing people say when they hold an iPhone 5 goes something like, “Wow, thats really light.” You want to make sure that’s a quality feeling and not a cheap feeling.

The trick Apple’s designers use with the 5 is to combine two finishes. Large swaths of matte finish for protection and then small, polished details to highlight precision. That’s why Apple places so much emphasis on those diamond cut, high polished chamfers. Besides being really freaking impressive, they let you know that the iPhone 5 is a high quality metal. 

Two other benefits to the chamfer: They make the 5 fit more comfortably in your hand, especially compared to the 4/4s, and they visually tie together the disparate materials on back of the device.

There is also a more emotive quality to combining finishes. Matte is practical and protective, but maybe a little boring. Polish is flashy and rich looking, but maybe a little too flashy and not that pragmatic. Combine them in the right way and you tell the story of a product that is smart, not boring. Luxurious but not ostentatious.

The scuffability of iPhone 5’s aluminum housing seemed like a big deal in the days immediately following the launch, but that worry seems to have dissipated. Either everyone’s scuff fears have been allayed or they decided to move on to the next thing to be upset about.

Apple protects its aluminum products by sandblasting and then anodizing the surface. Sandblasting is what gives it the matte finish. Anodizing is like the protective, hard candy coating.

Actually, anodizing is not a coating at all, but a chemical process that permanently alters the surface of the aluminum. It’s like getting a protective tattoo. Anodizing is a lot more durable than paint, which can flake, crack or peel off, but it’s still only skin deep. Any decent nics, gouges, or scuffs will reveal the silvery aluminum core underneath.

Both the white and black iPhone 5 are anodized. The white was clear anodized, leaving the aluminum silvery in color. The black was black anodized, tinting the aluminum black. In either case, when the aluminum is gouged, it will reveal the silver colored core underneath. Since black is a high contrast to silver, scratches will be more pronounced looking on the black iPhone 5.

My wife has a 5-year-old, second gen iPod shuffle that she uses for working out. It has a few little nicks, but they really only propagate around the sharp edges. For the most part, it looks great for a such a heavily used device.

Sharp edges always wear away faster then round or flat surfaces. Think of it like grating a wedge of cheese. If you grate cheese on a long flat side, it will take a while to get through it all. If you grate it on the edges, it will wear away quicker. Aluminum is far stronger than cheese, but the same analogy applies.

The difference between my wife’s Shuffle and the iPhone 5 are the chamfers. Each chamfer creates two sharp edges, meaning the 5 actually has four sharp edges, doubling the chances for nicks or cuts to propagate in those areas.

The chamfers are an impressive manufacturing detail. They look great, reinforcing the fact that the iPhone 5 is made of metal while visually creating a continuous line that ties the back together. They also make the iPhone fit more comfortably in your hand. On the flipside they will most likely be the first part of your phone that gets scuffed.

The best choice, for the most people, for the least cost.

In any event, I don’t think anyone should be too worried about scuffs. When you first hold the 5 in your hands you want to baby it. After a short time you’ll realize its actually pretty tough and and can withstand a bit of abuse. Aluminum may be softer than steel, but it’s still far stronger than glass or plastic. The 5’s closest relative in case design is actually the original iPad and it’s holding up pretty well after three years. 

What’s interesting about this to me is that most of Apple’s products are made of aluminum and can be scuffed. Will your iPhone 5 get scuffed? Most likely yes. Will anything you ever own get a scratch on it? Exactly.

So why the worry about the iPhone 5 getting scratched over everything else? Out of the box, the 5 is perhaps the most pristine and tightly toleranced mass produced device ever. People understandably want it to stay that way for as long as possible. The more you simplify and refine something, the more even the smallest imperfections seem like a big deal. 

Some final thoughts…

A thinner iPhone means thinner iPhone cases. If you’re a case person, the iPhone 5 will probably feel about the same thickness as a naked iPhone 4/4S.

I’ve seen an explosion in iPhone sleeves for this generation. They seem to be a good compromise for those who want to protect their iPhone, but also want to appreciate the design of the hardware. Dodocase, Killspencer, Makr, and Hard Graft, all make nice ones.

I’m curious why Apple decided not to make the front display glass flush with the aluminum frame. It seems like that would better protect the glass and keep the aesthetics cleaner.

I also can’t figure out how Apple is adding the polished logo and iPhone name details on the back. Manual polishing? Foil stamp? An acid etch that polished the aluminum? Either way, it’s impressive.

EarPods and the new Lightning connector are those type of seemingly insignificant design projects that actually take a tremendous amount of time and money to finesse. They aren’t as glamorous as the iPhone 5 itself, but they are little labors of love. Congrats to all who worked on them because they are terrific.

I already wrote at length about the Lightning connector, so let’s talk about Earpods. They are quite the upgrade over the old earbuds. If I do anything more than a brisk walk they fall out of my ears, but they sound better and feel much more comfortable than the old earbuds.

The remote on the EarPod cord has a little microphone graphic instead of a perfed metal hole. Come to find out via iFixit, that perfed metal hole on the old earbuds was just for show, only there to give you a visual cue that a microphone was built into the control. Hardware skueomophism. 

The plastic headphone case that the EarPods come with seems a little wasteful to me. Previous generations of earbuds came tightly wrapped in a small, thin plastic sleeve. Granted, the case is more beautiful, but is anyone going to use it after they take out the EarPods for the first time?

My theory is: 

1) The EarPods are new, they worked a long time on them, and they want them to standout as being special when you open the box.

2) They developed the standalone retail package and once they had the assembly line setup, it was more efficient to package them all the same way, regardless if they were standalone or pack in.

The inlaid pieces used on the back of the 5 are ceramic glass for the white iPhone and pigmented glass for the black iPhone. In other words, the inlays are not backpainted like the glass on the front of the iPhone, they are opaque. This should mean that scratches will be less noticable on those materials.

Between the special glass inlays on the back, Gorilla Glass 2 on the front, and the sapphire crystal lens cover, my guess is Corning will be have a very good two years ahead of it.

Which reminds me: Sapphire crystal lens cover. Sapphire. Crystal. Lens cover. Unbelievable. (Throws hands up in air and walks out of room.)

A Fully Working Android Phone Embedded in a Magazine.

Mashable tears down a Entertainment Weekly.

At first blush this is pretty cool right? A fully working Android smartphone embedded into a magazine! Showing a live Twitter feed! We live in the future!

But think about it: An entire smartphone, embedded into a magazine. It gets used for five minutes tops and then thrown away forever. Fortunately, this was limited to just 1,000 magazines in NY and LA. Still, what a tremendous waste of valuable resources.

The best case scenario is Foxconn had a pile of these boards laying around that were intended to go into a phone, but for whatever reason the job fell through. Instead of just sending them to recyclers, they repurposed them for this magazine. The worst case scenario is it was designed specifically for this issue.

They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

The Tech Block Podcast for 10.04.12

Abdel, Jon, and I talk about Kickstarter’s new rules for product design projects and our impressions of the iPhone 5 after a week’s worth of use in this week’s Tech Block podcast.

Download / Subscribe in iTunes

How Kickstarter’s New Rules Could Affect Product Design Projects: A Designer’s Perspective.

Kickstarter made some interesting changes to the rules Project Creators must follow last week. What’s really interesting about these rules, is that they mainly affect only Product Design and Hardware projects. 

Let me take you through each rule change, tell you how I think they will affect Product Design projects, and then finish up with something I think Kickstarter should consider.

Change #1: Risks and Challenges section

Located at the bottom of a project’s home page, this is a Creator written overview of the risks and challenges a project will / could face. It’s now in effect for all Kickstarter projects. 

This is a great idea. Backers should know upfront what needs to happen to make a project a reality and it reinforces the idea that Kickstarter is not a traditional store. 

Ultimately, this rule will be more beneficial to Creators than Backers. The more you think through potential pitfalls, the better prepared you will be. Many of the Creators I see doing product design projects on Kickstarter are novices and don’t think about this until it is way too late (crying to themselves at 2am, ten months past their estimated delivery date).

I actually think Kickstarter should take this a couple steps further, with Backers receiving more background information on the Creators. Things such as the number of people on the project team, how far along in development they are, what their professional/educational background is, and how much manufacturing experience they have, should all be made available for Backers.

One thing I want to note: The projects I’ve seen use this new Risks & Challeneges section don’t seem to have put enough thought into it. On one project I saw, the Creator wrote a three sentence description that boiled down to, “There are many steps to complete,” with no explaination of those steps. Perhaps Kickstarter could give a basic outline that would help Creators fill this form out and make sure they answer important questions?

Verdict on Change #1: A good change that should go further.

Change #2: Product simulations and photorealistic renderings are prohibited. Pictures of prototypes in their current state, technical drawings, CAD designs, sketches, and other parts of the design process are allowed. This only effects Product Design and Hardware projects.

The problem Kickstarter is trying to address is the right one, but the way they’re trying to solve it is wrong.

Here is what’s currently happening: When Backers see a hot looking computer rendering, they (understandably) think what they are looking at already exists and support the project believing that the project will ship with no problem. This is bad.

The problem isn’t renderings, it’s that Backers don’t know how to interpret renderings. Most of them probably don’t even realize they’re not photographs. However, you don’t solve this communication problem by eliminating renderings, you just create new problems.

Kickstarter’s solution is to only allow pictures of prototypes as they exist at the time of the project launch.

Prototypes are really important and should be required for all Product Design and Hardware Kickstarter projects. You learn more about how your design works and will be produced from making a physical mockup than you would from 100 renderings.

But here’s the thing, prototypes can be just as misleading as renderings. It’s easy to make a single prototype, just like it’s easy to make a photorealistic rendering. The trick is actually mass producing that thing. I can’t tell you the number of projects I’ve been on where we get what looks like a finished prototype back in a month but then it takes another year to get it through production. 

Eliminating renderings does not make manufacturing easier, it just makes it harder to describe to Backers what you are trying to do.

Here’s how I would solve the problem. Make prototypes required, but also allow renderings. The difference will be when Backers see images of those things, they need to be clearly labeled as to what they are with Kickstarter provided explanations of what a rendering is and what a prototype is. That way, Creators would still have the tools they need to tell their story and Backers would have an explanation of what they’re looking at and a better understanding of the level of development that has gone into the project so far.

Verdict on Change #2: This rule doesn’t solve the real issue: Backers need to be educated on what they are looking at.

My recommendation: Kickstarter should start requiring prototypes, but renderings and simulations should still be allowed. In either case, both must be clearly labeled as to help Backers understand what they are looking at.

Change #3: Offering multiple quantities of a reward is prohibited. This only effects Product Design and Hardware projects.

In the past, Creators were able to offer different quantities of a single product. Say my project is to develop a “widget”. I could offer a reward tier that would allow you to purchase one “widget” and another reward tier where you could purchase five “widgets”.

Kickstarter’s hypothesis is that by limiting the quantity of “widgets” that are produced, it will help make life easier for Creators. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how to streamline manufacturing. 

Producing large quantities of a single item actually helps Creators. It allows them to make larger purchases with their vendors, giving them more clout with that vendor, which keeps Vendors motivated to help the Creators. Smaller orders always get less priority, leading to delays. Larger orders can also mean more efficient use of a Vendor’s equipment. Once a production line is up and running, the difference between producing 500 and 5,000 can be minimal.

For Creators, large quantities of a single item can lead to bulk discounts. If 1,000 “widgets” costs $1.00/unit to produce, 5,000 “widgets” might cost $0.50/unit to produce. This is hugely beneficial to Creators, especially when the unexpected happens. It’s common on Kickstarter for shipping to end up costing more than estimated or a project turns out to need more development than anticipated. We shouldn’t punish Creators for things that happen all of the time in even normal product development.

The problem isn’t large quantities of one type of reward, it’s multiple types of rewards. For example, I’ve seen tons of design projects offer not just a “widget” but also a “sprocket”. Making two different things means the Creator has doubled their development work. Even something as small as offering a “widget” in multiple colors can add complexity to a project. In some extreme cases, I’ve seen Creators offer so many different things at so many levels, that their projects felt more like an eBay store than a Kickstarter project. 

The goal of a Kickstarter project isn’t to create an entire product line, it’s to get your project made. Adding something else to make on top of that, multiplies your work and increases the chance for delays and possibly failure. 

Kickstarter and Creators are both to blame for this. For Kickstarter’s part, they actively encourage projects to have unique rewards to entice Backers. Instead of focusing on the point of the whole project, which is to produce the “widget”, Creators get sidetracked doing things like making t-shirts or creating a book about the development of the project. They should just be focusing on the “widget”.

On the Creator side, our natural inclination is to try too much right out of the gate. Take my own project as an example. My initial idea was to create a cap that turned a pen into a stylus. In the end, I offered three different types of Stylus Caps (one for Sharpie, one for Bic, and one for Fineliner), in two different materials (stainless steel and brass). I wasn’t producing just one Stylus Cap, I was producing six different Stylus Caps. Essentially, I was doing six projects at the same time. I don’t know how I survived 2011.

In retrospect, this was the single dumbest move I made over the course of my project. This was a first run production and I should have focused all of my efforts into doing just one version of a Stylus Cap in one material. I probably wouldn’t have made as much money overall, but I’m positive I would have had a lot more Backer support centered around one Stylus Cap. It would have kept me focused, it would have kept my vendors focused, and it would have helped decrease my delay in shipping. If you look at other big design projects that have faced delays, it’s almost always because they tried to do too much and didn’t focus.

This is where I have to give a shout out to my cohorts over at Studio Neat. (You know them as The Glif and Cosmonaut guys.) I think one of the reasons they were able to run tidy projects even though they are a small team, is that they focused on making just one thing and doing it really well. This is a good model for the rest of us.

The other benefit to focusing on just one “widget” is it helps Creators make their projects more understandable to Backers. If you simplify the product offering, you simplify the messaging. This would be helpful both at the point of backing a project and while production is going on.

I would add an out clause to this focusing rule. Let’s call it “The Scott Wilson Clause”. The Scott Wilson Clause would allow “super” Creators who have a proven track record of high profile success either on Kickstarter or in their careers to petition Kickstarter for more flexibility in the way they structure their project. If someone like Scott, who has a powerhouse team at their disposal and wants to do something special with their project, no one should stand in their way.

One last point I want to make. Practically every Product Design project on Kickstarter has run into delays. In normal product development, products get delayed all of the time, however no one knows about it, so no one feels let down. Delays are an unfortunate, but normal part of the process for even large companies with unlimited resources which means small teams will almost certainly face this reality.

Those estimated delivery dates on every Kickstarter page are essentially promises waiting to be broken and piss off Backers. I’m not saying we should eliminate timelines or create projects with no end in sight. Creators must be held accountable. However it seems like we should think of a better way to keep accountability while preserving the Kickstarter spirit of the journey being part of the reward. That will go a long way towards reinforcing the idea that Kickstarter is not a store.

Verdict on Change #3: Eliminating multiple quantities doesn’t make development easier, it can actually make life harder for Creators.

My recommendation: Allow multiple quantities of single items, but help Creators focus on just one “widget”.

Let’s get down to the larger issues.

The problem, as I see it, is threefold:

1) We need to adjust Backers’ expectations of what Kickstarter is and provide them with better information.

2) Creators need to understand how to better plan for the differences in crowdfunded development as opposed to traditional development.

3) Kickstarter doesn’t fully understand product development.

Number 1 can’t be solved until number 2 is solved. Number 2 can’t be solved until number 3 is solved.

I don’t want that to come off as harsh, because I really, really love Kickstarter, but I think it’s true. The lack of knowledge about the development process is it’s Achilles heal right now.

I wrote Kickstarter a letter. (pulls out a folded note, written in Prismacolor on vellum, out of front jean pocket)  I wrote it on behalf of the entire Industrial Design community, which was rather presumptuous of me, but felt right at the time.

Here it is. 

Dear Kickstarter,

We love you.

You have upended our industry. You have radically changed our time tested practices. You have changed the way things are made. You should feel really psyched about that.

These new rules are meant just for us, meaning you realize there is something different from our projects compared to all of the other projects on Kickstarter. This is a positive development because we agree. Manufacturing something for the first time carries a high degree of risk with the potential for failure always looming in the background. But these new rules are… let’s say they feel a little off. 

If we didn’t know any better, we’d think you were a little weirded out by us. Which is understandable. We suppose from the outside, product design is one step away from product development, which is one step away from soul sucking corporations. You started Kickstarter to help creative projects you love, like mailing hand-written letters to an entire town, not to start the next mega corp. We like that about you.

Now here you are dealing with multi-million dollar projects, some of which are delayed, Backers are breathing down your necks, and the press is writing it’s first bad articles about you. What the hell? Amiright?!

It makes sense you would take precautionary measures to protect Backers. These new rules though… while the spirit is right, they feel a little knee-jerk and actually are road blocks for us.

We want to protect Backers as much as you do. However, removing the ability for us to show renderings and order things in higher quantities, is like like cutting off one of our legs. Sure, we’ll hobble around on crutches, but that’s not the point. We don’t want road blocks, we need guide rails.

That’s where you come in. While most of us have only done one project, or none at all, you’ve witnessed thousands. You know where we fail and where we succeed better than we do. But these new rules, lead us to believe that while you have the data, but you don’t know how to interpret it.

So here’s what we suggest: As far as we can tell, you don’t have any industrial designers or engineers on your team. This seems like a big problem. How can you give us guide rails if you’ve never manufactured anything?

For example.

There are several projects now on Kickstarter that we never would have approved because we can tell from the get-go that the Creators are in over their heads. We can take one look at those projects and think to ourselves, “That poor sap has no idea what they’re doing. Good luck getting that thing made. Wait. They said they would deliver in 3 months??? Try two years if everything goes right.”

Another crazy thing we’ve been seeing recently, projects get way overfunded, the Creator starts getting a little too chuffed, and then promises additional things to their Backers. (At $100k we all get flashlights! At $200k… LASERS!!!) It’s not a coincidence that those projects are really late.

It might be time to share our dirty secret with you. Those estimated delivery dates you make us commit to? Yeah, we pulled that out of our butts. No seriously. They mean nothing! 

Here’s the thing: We genuinely believe them ourselves. They’re based off of actual logic and at the beginning we feel confident we can hit them. But then, without fail, the shit hits the fan. We weren’t lying or being malicious when we gave them to you, but neither were our vendors when they gave them to us. Vendors always, always, always, underestimate how long it takes to do something. Truthfully, so do we.

In real life, and by that we mean life where projects aren’t crowdfunded, 90% of our projects are delayed in manufacturing. The only difference is, we didn’t do something crazy like pre-announce our idea and sell it to 10,000 people before it’s ready. 

Because you changed our process, it means we need to change the way we think about the process. We haven’t done that yet because we’ve been too busy fulfilling Kickstarter orders.

Look. Manufacturing is hard. No matter how smart or experienced you are, you run into the unexpected. Even Apple couldn’t ship a white iPhone for a while. These new rules won’t make manufacturing easier. No rule will.

But! We can do things on the front end, before a project launches, to help product design Creators figure out on their own what the heart of their idea is and focus on that.

This normally happens on our real world projects. We start with a big all-encompassing perfect gem of an idea, then figure out what we can accomplish with a reasonable amount of time and money. Your crowdfunding process made us forget this step. We have our crazy ideas, they get funded, and then we go, “Uh oh.” If we figure this out together, we can prevent the “Uh ohs”.

We’re not asking you to change your spirit. For the love of God, please don’t ever change that. But it might be time to think a little different about some of your strategies. That probably starts with bringing a few of our kind into your fold.

To paraphrase someone as equally crazy as the two of us, “There’s no going back. You’ve changed things… forever.” The crowdfunding genie is out of the bottle.

While you might be weirded out by spawning a mega corp, think how much better it would be if that mega corp was run by a designer who cared about all of the same things you do.

That’s the biggest change you made. You put power in the hands of designers. For the first time, the people who are the most concerned with beauty, simplicity, sustainability, local manufacturing, but above of all making people’s lives better, have the power to control our own destiny. This has the potential to remake great swaths of the economy. You may think this is hyperbole, but it isn’t.

We just hope that you and us are destined to do this forever.


Industrial Design

Continuing the iPhone Survival Thoughts

John Gruber responds to my “Which iPhones survive the 12th?" post:

I wouldn’t count the 3GS out. I presume it will indeed lose its spot as the free-with-contract phone in the lineup, to be replaced by the iPhone 4, and the 4S will take over the $99-with-contract spot. But what about the low-cost prepaid market? If Apple wants to start taking market share in that market, my guess is they’d do with the 3GS.

That’s a lower-margin market than what Apple typically targets, but otherwise, they’re ceding it to Android. In the PC market, Apple ceded the low-cost segment to Windows, so perhaps they’re willing to do the same thing with phones. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

A good point about using the 3GS for prepaid phones and something I didn’t consider. 

Matthew Panzarino, writing for The Next Web back in July, adds that because Apple is making the 3GS iOS 6 compatible and the iPad mini will potentially use the same ppi display as the 3GS, Apple has an incentive to keep the 3GS alive.

So. Prepaid phones, iOS 6 compatibility, and the same display tech as the yet to be announced iPad mini. Makes sense.

The thing I keep coming back to is this: Is Apple really going to continue manufacturing four generations, (3GS, 4, 4S, and 5) of the iPhone? Assuming that the 3GS and the 4 are only produced in black, what does that lineup look like?

  • (pre-paid) iPhone 3GS, black, 8GB, CDMA
  • (free) iPhone 4, black, 8GB, CDMA
  • (free) iPhone 4, black 8GB, GSM
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, black, 16GB
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, white, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, black, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, white, 16GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, black, 32GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, white, 32GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, black, 64GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, white, 64GB

That’s a lot of supply chain complexity to deal with. Could Apple juggle all of that? Absolutely. They have the best run ops team on the planet (other than Amazon) and their CEO is a genius at managing it.

Its more of a question of does Apple want to juggle all of that? Part of the reason their ops team is the best is that they make smart choices at the design, engineering, marketing, and operations levels to only focus on the essential and eliminate cruft.

That’s what makes me think that my hypothesis about killing the iPhone 4 might make some sense. Of those four generations, the 4 is the most…Complex isn’t the right word. Annoying? Let’s go with annoying…annoying to produce and manage if only because of the two antenna variants. If Apple could bring a lower cost iPhone 4S to their free tier, a model that they could send to any carrier regardless of signal, I have to think they would choose that option any day of the week over the iPhone 4.

After considering all of that, here’s where my baseless speculation ends up for the iPhone lineup on the 12th:

  • (pre-paid) iPhone 3GS, black, 8GB, CDMA
  • (free) iPhone 4S, black, 8GB
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, black, 16GB
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, white, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, black, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, white, 16GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, black, 32GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, white, 32GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, black, 64GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, white, 64GB

On a side note: Gruber rewrote my original post’s headline. The original was “Which iPhones survive the 12th?” and his edit is “Which iPhones Survive After September 12th?” I like his version better.

Which iPhones survive the 12th?

Let’s play the speculation game. Apple currently sells 11 versions of the iPhone:

  • (free) iPhone 3GS, black, 8GB, GSM
  • ($99) iPhone 4, black, 8GB, CDMA
  • ($99) iPhone 4, white, 8GB, CDMA
  • ($99) iPhone 4, black, 8GB, GSM
  • ($99) iPhone 4, white, 8GB, GSM
  • ($199) iPhone 4S, black, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 4S, white, 16GB
  • ($299) iPhone 4S, black, 32GB
  • ($299) iPhone 4S, white, 32GB
  • ($399) iPhone 4S, black, 64GB
  • ($399) iPhone 4S, white, 64GB

Even though there are 11 versions, customers view the lineup as having just three variants (3GS, 4, 4S). Then they get to chose color and storage size.

On the 12th, Apple will presumably start selling an iPhone 5 that would most likely take over the iPhone 4S’ position in the lineup. The 3GS will almost certainly be killed on the 12th. It was introduced in 2009, has been in service for three and a half years and has done its job well.

Assuming Apple continues with their strategy of moving previous generations of the iPhone down the ladder in their pricing umbrella, the lineup would look something like this:

  • (free) iPhone 4, black, 8GB, CDMA
  • (free) iPhone 4, white, 8GB, CDMA
  • (free) iPhone 4, black, 8GB, GSM
  • (free) iPhone 4, white, 8GB, GSM
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, black, 16GB
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, white, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, black, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, white, 16GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, black, 32GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, white, 32GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, black, 64GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, white, 64GB

The lineup would actually increase to 12 models and customers would still view the lineup as having three variants (4, 4S, 5).

Looking at the iPhone 4 has me wondering if Apple should kill it as well. For one thing, Apple has to produce four different versions because of the different antennas. That alone might be enough to kill it.

Then you start looking at the internal components. The iPhone 4 and 4th generation iPod touch are the last iOS devices to use the A4 chip. Variants of the 4S’ A5 chip are used in the iPad 2, Apple TV, and the new iPad. It’s been rumored that the iPad mini may use the same hardware as the iPad 2. Obviously that means that a lot more A5/A5X chips are in production than A4 chips. At a certain point, despite the fact that the A4 is older and perhaps cheaper, economies of scale kick in and it becomes more expensive to produce older stuff than newer stuff. Extend idea to everything else about the iPhone 4 that is older gen tech.

So what if instead of producing the iPhone 4, Apple created two pricing tiers of the iPhone 4S? One free with contract and one that would sell at $99?  

That lineup might look something like this:

  • (free) iPhone 4S, black, 8GB
  • (free) iPhone 4S, white, 8GB
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, black, 16GB
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, white, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, black, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, white, 16GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, black, 32GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, white, 32GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, black, 64GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, white, 64GB

To make this lineup work, I created a 8GB version of the iPhone 4S that doesn’t currently exist, but would be a somewhat easy change to make.

That would reduce the lineup to just 10 models and customers would see two variants instead of three.

For Apple the benefits would be huge. The production and supply chain would be simplified, you would be able to buy more in bulk for cheaper, it would be easier to explain to your customers the differences between the 5 and the 4S, and all of your current devices would be able to use Siri.

UPDATE: I originally and mistakenly had the current iPhone 4S and future iPhone 5 storage capacity at 8, 16, 32GB, when in reality its currently at 16, 32, 64GB. I changed those numbers to the correct ones. A dumb mistake.

If anything, correcting that discrepancy better proves my point: inserting a 8GB iPhone 4S into the entry level could make more sense than preserving the 4.

I should also point out that this is a very U.S. centric view of the iPhone lineup. I didn’t take into account pay as you go phones overseas.

UPDATE 2: draws up an alternate scenario that could also work:

  • (free) iPhone 4, black, 8GB, CDMA
  • (free) iPhone 4, black, 8GB, GSM
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, black, 8GB
  • ($99) iPhone 4S, white, 8GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, black, 16GB
  • ($199) iPhone 5, white, 16GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, black, 32GB
  • ($299) iPhone 5, white, 32GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, black, 64GB
  • ($399) iPhone 5, white, 64GB

This way also reduces SKUs, but not complexity. On the “free” iPhones, color is not the complexity you want to reduce. Different colors are easy. It’s the different antennas that are harder. The GSM and CDMA versions are different enough to be considered two different pieces of hardware.

If you want to simplify my proposed lineup even further, use seanblog’s idea to drop the white color from the “free” tier to take it down from 10 SKUs to 9 SKUs.

UPDATE 3: Daring Fireball responds. I respond back.

Sound Shapes

Sound Shapes (PS3, PSVita) is your basic side-scrolling platformer but with a key twist: music. Music from artists like Beck, Deadmau5, and Jim Guthrie directly influences the design of the levels. For example, in the video above, Beck has a background chorus that sings, “Ahhhhhhh”. When they are singing “Ahhhh”, a cloud platform is active for you to jump on. When they stop singing, the platform fades away. As you move your little orb character along, you try to pick up tokens that add beats to the song.

It also doesn’t hurt that the art direction is super nice. Steve Wilson from Pyramid Attack talks about designing levels to take advantage of the music:

Between Sound Shapes, Fez, Sword & Sworcery, amongst many others, we’re in a golden age of indie game development.