Friend work

I’ve been insinuating myself into my friend’s businesses lately. Nothing rude, just poking around into their projects here and there.

Every so often I get stuck analyzing my own work, and one of the easiest ways to break out of that is to ask my friend’s if I can do something with their projects.

Honestly sometimes I don’t ask, I just do it.

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Above is one of the notes I made on a friend’s work.

Gerimi Burleigh is a friend and comics maker with whom I collaborated years ago on a version of the story of John Henry. I wrote, he illustrated. I told him once we should turn those roles around as I think he’s a good writer.

As an artist, Gerimi admits his struggles with his own work and I chose to make some notes on his latest Morningstar cover. Actually, I made a version of my own after one of his blogs. A few rounds of notes and he was happy. He tells the story better, of course.

Soon, I’ll be back on my own projects.

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Comedy of values

One of the questions I keep asking about 3d printing, many people ask as well, is how do you make money.
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Sell 3d printers is usually the answer. BAH dum bum. Tsh. These are the jokes, right?

A more important question starting out is whether or not what you are printing has any value.

Here’s the comedy.

I went to lunch with a group of 5 people one afternoon.  All visual effects artists, which means they can very often have trouble deciding WHEN let alone WHERE they ALL want to go to lunch.

They’ll debate the expense, the distance, the service,  at least once I have endured an argument over decor.  But once agreed, the group set off, conversations brewed and orders were made after seating.

When you want to observe people’s values in an instant, watch them react to their food as it’s brought to them and compare it to their mood when the bill comes.

Jason, sitting next to me recoiled with a visible and audible lurch when he realized how much he’d just spent on lunch. Jason is an odd duck. Like many artists, he was desperately impractical in some ways.

I noticed that he was wearing Prada sunglasses and complaining about the cost of his lunch. Something about value lessons really grabs you in a moment like that. Sunglasses are usefull all year round but a market priced ahi tuna burger can just bowl you over.

At the time, I though it was funny someone who likely paid a few hundred dollars for sunglasses wouldn’t be so upset by a pricey hamburger. But our domains of value often have little crossover or relevance and making assumptions because of perceived similarities is, well, unfounded.

One of my favorite metrics of value is so simple it bears repeating – if you want to make something, tell ten people. If they tell 10 more, you have something of value. If they don’t,  you either told the wrong people or you didn’t make good enough stuff.

That’s paraphrased from Seth Godin whom I mention a lot, and still writes one of the two blogs which I consider to have real value.

By Seth’s and even my own metric, the pencase has had a slow start. But I am not concerned about momentum yet. The people who tested the pencase have all cooperated with the guidelines I set and the questions I asked. Few products are bought so many strings attached. That level of participation impressed me.

At least half shared something on various social media channels – you remember what I said about the 10 telling 10 more? Well, the math got weird, but I was satisfied that there was enough emperical value to keep going even BEFORE the internet got involved.
I still have yet to make a sale, but I’ve got some people talking. That’s worth something.

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Breaking Creative blocks

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I like the Seth Godin quote about writer’s block. “No one ever gets talkers block.” If that makes sense to you, I like you. Lets get coffee.

I learned the term “non linear thinking” in high school. I never really fit in during high school. Not that I hated it but like plenty of guys, i just couldn’t wait for it to be over. So the idea of creative thinking sat well with me. Redirecting or even outright distracting yourself can yield some interesting results.

I actually tried explaining the concept to my friend Leo. Leo was an everyman in high school, average grades, went on to a military stint, then a wife and two kids later in life.

But in college, I saw him on campus before he left for his duy station trying to get back into his car. The keys were locked inside and he’d managed to find some wire to slip thru the window to try and flip the lock while we talked about the good old days.

As I was explaining the concept of non linear thinking to him, he lost sight of what he was doing to the car. For a second he was actually focused on trying to remember an instance where he had experienced something similar to what I’d mentioned.

Then, not without irony, the wire found its mark, popped open the door and stopped our conversation cold for a second before we both realized the punchline.

So there’s a bit of art, a goofy story and a blog post before I settle into a pretty rigorous Phase 3 of e Pencase project. Thanks for watching.

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Beta end, back to beta

The most interesting comments about the pencase beta came from two completely different sources.

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The first assemble, still going strong.

One of those sources is a fellow Long Beach Con artist alley table neighbor Tony Brescini. The other was a six year old boy.

Tony mentioned that the pencase might be a little bulky for the amount of stuff it actually carries. He’s very right in that I designed the original to carry very little.

That came from years of watching the artists around me. The 80/20 rule with regard to artists tools doesn’t apply at all to the studio. But outside, at the coffee shop, at lunch, on a smoke break – artists are one tool dominant. Sure, some artists brag about how many tools they lug around and use.

At that point you’re I’d encourage you to seek therapy as it sounds like hoarding syndrome.

One of the biggest compromises I made designing the pencase regarded the belt clip. I had thought about making it detachable which would make the pencase much slimmer overall, but also a bit less convenient.

It’s interesting to note that the pencase was used as part of most people’s already crowded carryall strategy – backpacks, toolpacks, pencil cases and knick knack cases. I think fewer than half of beta testers used the belt clip even though one of the first surveys indicated nearly every tester wore belts.

The other tester, unofficially at least, was 6. The best test of any product is whether it survives a 6 year old. This one instantly opened it, and tried to pour put its contents on the floor. Perfect. Test.

I really wanted to use a cap or latch to secure all the slots in the case – something to prevent 6 year olds from flinging myens everywhere, but also totally mature people as well.

This morning I had a few ideas about where to go next with the design. The primary goal is still to get to a design which carries two pens or pencils and their respective refills or helpful accessories.

Lastly, I delivered the last beta model unassembled to someone I know has good finishing chops. This was always a possible delivery strategy for people who wanted to customize the case but in a way I didn’t have to print or redesign per user.

I also used a unique filament from Protopasta which can polish to an almost steel like quality. Really interesting stuff and very clean results. I will definitely keep this stuff in mind for future projects.

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Talk is cheap, but good conversation is priceless

The Pencase project might need to take a sharp turn.

I was joking last week that the price range for the final product would likely need to take a huge drop because, well, artists are broke most of the time. I know. I am an artist. I was young and broke once.

Part of me has to call bulshit. But that’s too harsh a word. Let’s say I have to call put a mistake in the judgment of value.

It’s a classically argued economic idea – what value does and object have to a market? If it’s a new product, the answer the prof says, lies in its ability to solve a problem, fill a need, or create more value, etc.

Elegantly ambiguous. Kind of like tautologies, that came around in a big fat circle of logic. I kind of like the idea that the value of any object lies in the story it has.

A US treasury note only costs a fraction of the paper and materials it’s printed on, but the number printed on it makes the difference between eating a steak or cereal for dinner.

What’s the value of the pencase? To me, part of it lies in the conversation it starts. Last night, I met with some old friends and made some new ones. Even in a technologically astute crowd as it was, they still get a kick out of seeing something 3d printed.

What does that have to do with printing money? Its 3d printed, right? Kinda.

I asked a particular question on a survey to some beta testers. Did anyone ask you about the pencase while you used it? It was meant to determine if, as an object, it had value outside of purpose.

What am I more curious about is the content of those conversations. There’s value there. The more you talk about any object, the more valuable it can become to you, even when the first one was free.

Now, how much would it be worth to you if you wanted to replace it?

If the pencase wasn’t worth enough conversations, maybe it isn’t worth 25 bucks. But if it keeps people talking, I think it’s proven it’s value.

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The dropoff

I realized this would happen.

The analysts always break down the various statistics of business failure with restaurant stories. Appropo since everyone needs to eat but stupid because no one NEEDS to always eat out. But hey, in popular culture, it’s as relevant as breathing.

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One line and already a classic, the first and basic material cost analysis cor the pencase.

The saying you know goes that X number, percent or whatever of restaurants fail within X amount of time. But a lot of them fail to record the relationship between what kind of restaurant, when it started, other similar restaurants that DIDN’T fail in the same time period, and other relevant qualities.

Remember when they said an eye for detail was important on that job posting? Too bad an eye FOR an eye for detail is what’s missing.

More importantly, the statistics of customer interest and behavior around new products or ideas are, well scarier. Just the basic statistic of media should be enough to scare off anyone from trying to sell something on the internet.

At least one popular Internet marketing agency states that open rates for emails, clicks on banner ads, and “likes” on anything that is obviously an ad or business has fallen into less than 1 percent figures.

Think about that in terms of small projects like the pencase and you would be right to think that every popular metric is very low. And that’s before I’ve even technically made 1 sale.

The truth is I had made a simple calculation. I knew the pencase was not a mass appeal object. I knew the potential customer had two qualities which frustrate marketers – they were very high in interest and engagement but also highly frugal. That’s their polite way of saying cheap.

That’s not meant as an insult but I did make a bet on the highest possible qualities of that audience. I might publish the spreadsheet I made of the variables I knew I could calculate to make the pencase a worthwhile product. Right now, its tipping into my worst case scenarios – high engagement, but low budgets.

I know many a stalwart designer has butted against this wall. People like Jobs would have said they don’t know what’s what but I got some really smart folks to sign up for this program. I set a path for the pencase into the wheelhouses of a particular kind of person I like to think.

The next step if to make sure that the qualities which make the pencase an interesting and desirable object aren’t lost in the search to make it profitable.

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Program stall, aka tax time

So. Tax time. Fan? Yes? No?

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Two prints, different printers

Depends on the refund? Yeah, me too.

But when it comes to living as a creative, people I have known tend to completely miscategorize their expenses. I get it. You want to get as much as you can back from the government. Fair point.

I feel the same way, and recently I have added the many varied expenses of 3d printing to my tax deduction list. Its not a lot of money, but it has added up over time.

Between simple materials, filaments, tools and other consumables I spend a few hundred dollars every year on things related to 3d printing.

Since I can write off a small portion of my power bill, the increase in electrical usage over time has been noticeable. During the late summer months,  when I am prepping for Long Beach Comic Con, I have always tried to have a new figure or project done. The power bill during this time will increase at least 10 to 15 percent if both printers are running.

Again, its small, but I have plans to increase output in the future – both in capacity and quality. So tracking some of these numbers even a little bit is going to be more important financially.

Anyway, onward and upward.

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Carbon 3d and me, I hope

I’ve never liked resin printing.
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I know it’s higher quality and resolution in many respects to fused filament which I am now very comfortable with.

The truth is I can be a terrible clutz. Too many resin printers require a resin bath system that begs my more tremoring moments of un-coordinated-ness to crash and burn. Or splatter and splash.

All joking aside, I love the Carbon 3d technologies. If you have never heard of them, one of Carbon’s chief advantages comes frome speed. The system doesn’t require the requisite peeling and settling issue of many DLP and SLA printers.

Put very simply, Carbon’s method brings resin printing closer to the image many people have in their heads about what they would LIKE 3d printing to be – something close to the speed of printing in 2d.

But as close as we’re getting to something the public has the patience to endure, the more it feels as though people are waiting for something new when it comes to 3d printing.

A few companies like Stratasys, Makerbot, and Pinshape have all announced cuts, layoffs or even closures. Carbon’s promise is balanced by its cost, the main barrier to buying a 3d printer even for fun to many on the cusp.

But I can hang in there. I want to see where all this goes. It’s a physical world, and even though we have way too much “stuff” already, I want to be a part of the story of making better stuff tomorrow.

No you can all go back to watching House of Cards. 🙂

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What’s my name? It said.

For the longest time I have wanted to call the Pencase, T.I.K. – the Tactical Inking Kit.

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I even had a nutty idea for a video with explosions and people running through enemy fire with TIK in tow, screaming combat maneuvers. It was epic. It was Saving Private Renoir basically.

In the last shot, an artist pulls out a brushpen from the kit, and says in the most serious of soldier voices, “… I’m going in.” Leaping over bollards and barricades, the soldier of art reaches the sketch pad and begins to draw.

Well. I thought it was hilarious. And it’s never going to happen. It has ZERO. NADA. Nothing to do with product design and business.

At heart and by so much practice, I have been a marketer as much as a designer. A salesman of images using images. As fun as it would be, as effective as it might have been, I don’t want to focus on it. It put the kart before the horse.

Right now, the bulk of beta models are in testers hands. The real work of integrating their feedback is more important than making funny videos.

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Not pausing, adjusting the Pencase

I blew it.

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Interestingly, I think I made a packaging mistake before any actual products have shipped. Sure, the betas were mailed, but they were mailed as simply as possible with a rather long letter that I think some people didn’t read.

The reason? I folded it the wrong way. That made me laugh. It was actually encouraging, since as people got the beta it meant they ripped into the box and just started playing.

One of the missions I had with this product can be wrapped up in one description: make something people couldn’t wait to use.

At least one user reported already having broken a part, but also immediately reported they had fixed it. This was at first, scary. I had mentioned in the letter that this wasn’t a durability test. But if no one read the letter, it would be easy to write off the pencase as a cheap toy and a failure.

I’m not really deterred by that, since no one paid for the beta no one is cheated of anything. And I am sure adjustments can be made so that during an actual durability test, the issues will be addressed.

The marketers and wonky business assholes of yesteryear would already be saying I’ve expended the trust of the audience. Not true. The only time I think anyone has to truly work at that is if they DON’T fix it.

The real value is that people are participating not so much consuming, and that is encouraging.

So there’s the next phase, the fun but expensive phase of material choices. See you then.

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