I’ve been asked to write more frequently about building gadgets, so I’ll be putting together posts that reflect the variety of experiences and advice I’ve gleaned over the years. To get this party started (yo), I thought I’d share what I consider to be a fairly amusing, yet quite real, topic: the FlowerPot Gadget Design. The story goes something like this…
You’ve conceptualized some new gadget. It’s going to revolutionize the long-sought-after convergence between microwaves, WiFi routers, and doorbells. The technology is mostly figured out, the first rev of the board design is mostly working, it’s time to start thinking about the actual product now. You hire a top-notch industrial design firm (probably the one who used the coolest method of binding their sketches and/or presentation), share your vision, and await your first concepts.
A few days go by, and their team shows up with a cleverly bound sketchbook, all parties very excited about the upcoming ‘reveal’. Anywhere from 6-12 concepts are shown, some very simple ‘boxes with a mild twist’, some ubercool concepts that are obviously impossible to actually manufacture, and then, there on one of the pages, it is. The flowerpot. You look at it a couple of times to make sure the synapses are firing properly and that you are in fact seeing a flowerpot. And it’s true, you are.
Now I don’t know if the flowerpot originates in design school, or if some legendary designer once waxed poetic on the flowerpot as ultimate incarnation of designing gadgets. I can say I’ve seen the concept presented many times in my career, a surprising amount i’d say. Even last week when meeting a new (and very cool) gadget company when discussing their product strategy I explicitly asked the question if their ID firm mocked up a flowerpot. They showed me the molded sample.
I’m not a designer, but I believe I have a good eye for products combined with a healthy respect for the design process. I know there is often a healthy ‘battle’ between design concept and real world implementation. But I am pretty sure we aren’t going to see very many flowerpot gadgets actually come to market anytime soon, well maybe with an exception here and there.
And then again, maybe the FlowerPot Gadget *is* the future….
Yeah, I’ve seen a few variations over the years as well. These bendy, hanging, draping designs don’t work for most gadgets. These guys are often too clever for their own good. The upcoming Boxee box *may* be the rare example of divergent design that works. It won’t fit into a normal rack of gear and the reflections could be a problem, but it’s mostly small and pretty cool looking. Our Slingbox seemed to excite as many people as it turned off. I’d say the Solo was my favorite rendition – it was dark enough to blend into the cabinet, but still unique. The PRO was the worst with the red plastic enclosure and crazy not-HDMI dongle. IDEO was hired to help us at Dash and I was really disappointed with what they produced. The rare case of a too conservative design actually.(The product never made it to market, the company was acquired by RIM.) I guess it all emphasizes that good design is hard. It’s also potentially expensive – the design process and increasing the BOM. The remote Sezmi shipped with isn’t anywhere as cool in appearance as the early renders. Turns out it was too costly to build.