In my last blog post, I mentioned how important good design and high construction quality are in a physical consumer product. So it shouldn’t come to you as a surprise that the design was and continues to be one of the top things I think and care about while starting this company. Oh yeah, I’m going to pause here and say: if you have no idea what I’m talking about… I’m starting a pen business, feel free to check out my first post in this series.
It’s insane how many things go into good product design… I continue to be baffled by how many steps I needed to go through to finalize a design and get a prototype made. For the last eight to nine months, I’ve been iterating again and again to get to a design that I feel works for most people. I emphasize most because I’ve definitely noticed that I cannot make everyone happy as it relates to design, it’s too subjective. Funny enough, I’ve learned to lean a ton on the simple question- do I personally like how it looks?
Anyhow, I wanted to show you guys a bit of a the early process of designing my pen, and the reasons I chose to end up where I ultimately ended up.
Question #1 - Fountain, ballpoint, felt, or rollerball? Many of you might not have a clue as to what the differences are between the various types of pens, but suffice it to say, there a many reasons why one would choose a specific design over another. At first, the choice seemed clear... Fountain.
Here was the first fountain pen design, designed by my buddy Ryan who I worked with at Foursquare. Sleek, slightly modern but still classic, and with both a black and silver colorway and a white and gold one.. I thought that a red stripe and/or button would ultimately be the best way to distinguish my pen from the crowd, since it looked sleek and sexy (think Leica's red dot), and that the letter M would be the mark of the pen (didn't know what it should stand for yet).
Ultimately, this design had multiple problems with it. First, it was too fat. People saw it and were immediately asking why it was so thick. Second, it was too reminiscent of an old design, like Montblanc or Cross. I wanted something more modern, something that today's hip young urbanite would enjoy, and this design wouldn't cut it. So the design graduated to this:
A little sleeker, a bit more modern, and thinner, right? Felt pretty good about this design for a while until I realized a couple things. First, the red stripe, however unique and cool I thought it was, seemed to already be patented (or registered or whatever). A company called rOtring that sells writing instruments for designers already had that idea first. It's even in the logo!
Second, it seemed more and more that folks were interested in a fountain pen, but did not actually want to manage and maintain a fountain pen for everyday use. And I don't blame them - it is indeed a ton of hassle. Fountain pens spill all over, they can't be taken on airplanes readily, they bleed a ton, need to be refilled using technique, etc.
So after all that time, I was back to square one. At least I knew a couple things after the first couple rounds of design: don't go with the fountain pen, use a different distinguishing mark than a red stripe, and keep the shape thin. Design (part two) will cover where I headed to next.