New product development is hard. Maybe for some, it comes naturally.
Not me. Every time I want to try to make something new, I have to struggle with it quite a bit to get it just right. The first Fractal Filters were basically a set of beads, and slowly worked up to what they are today. There definitely wasn't any pure genius in the invention—just a lot of thought, trial & error, and hard work. Today, I'm incredibly happy with the product. But, it took a long time to get there.
So when a certain company—let's call them Acme Corporation, contacted me to design a mobile filter they could give out to their consumers, I was a bit hesitant. Not only would it force me to create a product unlike one I had created before, but it would also pit me up against a tough deadline. They wanted a new product developed by December. It was Feburary, 2016, but I never shy from any opportunity, so I told them I'd get to work.
The terms: Acme wrote me a soft order for 100,000 units that they'd need me to ship to them by December 2016. COOL. An order of 100,000 units means that practically any of the factories I worked with would happily get on board with the project. All I needed to do was design something awesome, prototype it, source it, and ship it.
First, I needed to design it. Acme wanted prism filters for mobile photographers that would be good for a party setting. It goes without saying, but the product needed to look hip. The existing Fractal Filters for DSLR cameras are made for professionals and semi-serious amateurs. They look pretty neat—but a product targeting any consumer would have to look much cooler. I sat down at the drawing board, and...
This was part of the first proposal I sent to Acme. It was about twelve pages long, but I should have spared myself the time and kept it shorter because they kindly rejected it outright. "How would partygoers mount this lens onto their phone when they're drunk?" "How compatible would it be with different phone models?" "How cheaply could it be produced?" All were valid problems with this design. Not wanting to lose them, I promised to deliver another solution that could satisfy these problems over the next day or so. Back to the drawing board.
Woo! Iteration 2. In actuality, this was probably iteration 20, but first big significant change that I was happy enough to show them. The idea behind this piece was that the embodiment could take the form of a necklace, which would have a prism component that users could take off the necklace and put in front of their phone to take images.
In March 2016, Acme liked this design, and it was accepted! I smiled and gave myself a congratulatory pat on the back, but didn't get too smug as the hardest part would soon arise.
Prototyping new products is hard, especially on tight deadlines. Acme informed me that they'd need 5,000 units by June to test the units in front of actual consumers before making the gargantuan 100,000 unit order. At the same time, I'm still trying to iterate on the design, convinced that we can do better than the current.
By the time I've created a design I'm comfortable with, it's early April. We've now been in contact for about 3 weeks, and Acme is expecting 5,000 units of a final good in 2 months. A tight schedule, but doable. (One month for finishing prototypes, and one month for manufacturing everything). Time to do some rapid prototyping.
3D printers have made prototyping for plastic goods simple, but for metal goods things quickly ramp up in difficulty. The options are CNC milling, casting, or metal injection. Metal injection is the most feasible for creating goods in large quantities, and since we assume the mold can be used in the future, I go ahead and get a mold made in China.
Sample 1 is done by mid-May, but is rough around the edges. The glass isn't completely polished, and applying the powder coating (i.e. paint) will require a few additional setup steps. Nothing that me or my team in China hadn't done before, but doing it on a deadline would add an additional step of complexity that could quickly become a problem. Worried about the timeline, the factory and I decide to send unfinished samples to Acme as they are and hope they can infer what the final product will be like.
The most important lesson I've learned in new product development is that you cannot expect consumers to share in the vision for your product. Provide tangibles, and give them something to stick their teeth into. Never assume that your 'grand vision' will excite them. Everyone has a grand vision. Making that grand vision into a tangible product is a whole other level of difficult.
Unfortunately, the mediocre samples I was able to send to them were unable to convey the vision I had for the product. Without the time to produce a more representative version, the project was cancelled.
A few weeks have since passed, and I've continued to develop the product, cause, well, I like it. The pieces have progressed a bit, too.
Getting to develop it on my own schedule is awesome, too. I can now test and share prototypes with others that are really representative of the vision I had for the product from the beginning. Though there's still room for improvement, initial results with the product have been exciting!
Another cool side effect of having way too much time on my hands means that the filter looks much cooler now too, and I've been able to crank out some neat-looking renders. Let's just say this project forced me to be a software & hardware developer, which was fun. :-).
Here's what I'll do. I'll create a progress bar on this page. If you might be interested in the product, you can go ahead and give it a "thumbs up". If we reach 1,000, I'll go ahead and do a small production run and start taking orders. If you leave your email, I'll give you 10% off when they're ready.
There are 3 different glass patterns, which create 3 different effects. I'll only produce one set of colors. You can vote to choose which color set is produced.
I humbly think they're the coolest mobile prism filters on the market :-).
Fractal Filters for Mobile
- 3x filters with 36" leather necklaces attached
- 3 different patterns for different prisming effects
- Rugged, shiny aluminum
- Perfect for Instagramography
- Built with a bucket of love and a sprinke of hard work
Which color scheme is best?
How much should a pack of 3 cost?
Thanks for reading. Leave some love below if you'd like.
Published by Nikk Wong