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.

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.

One size fits none well

I knew the pencase would not be a one size fits all solution. I had been somewhat amiss in at least one aspect of developing the pencase in some people’s opinions.

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I had been mostly clear about certain items that would fit in the pencase, but I also knew inherently that there are as many pens as there are artists. Many people’s favorite clutch pencil will simply not fit in the current design.

But something of a balancing act had to occur. I chose simply to define some ideas about who this pencase is for and for whom it is not intended. And it is in no way an insult. I simply think the one size fits all idea serves no one well.

I think one of the more obtuse by-products of consumer culture is the thought that all business must conform to consumer will. I think it more appropriate to say business must understand consumer feedback and act responsibly.

This is an interesting proposition, but like all semi prescient optimism, it has to be weighed against the reality that something unexpected always occurs.

My favorite stories in 3d printing are those where people in need of printers find them and apply them to problems that have needed to be solved for longer than 3d printing has been a “thing.”

One of my favorite recent examples is this story fro  the Ultimaker website. It is a fantastic project which embraces the speed and flexibility its design process which 3d peinting enables.

Now that I habe experienced much of that design flexibility, we’ll see how long it takes for the pencase to evolve.

Thinking about CAD

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I admit, I am new to CAD. Well, in a way I am very familiar to CAD. I’ve just never taken the opportunity to use it in a context like I have recently.

The Pencase was one of the more complex projects where I used a dedicated CAD package and NOT  an entertainment related and focused bit of software.

I’ve said before that anyone serious about 3d printing should get serious about 3d modeling. Old news. But CAD is a deeper profession and calling – and when you design everything as well, cad is just part of design.

There are many roles in design and engineering just like entertainment. And in the biz, I’ve always been considered a generalist, someone who can do many things when the job calls for it.

I have always hated the accusation that generalists are “masters of none” following the old saying. But what’s the alternative?  Sometimes that means the job won’t get done at all.

So CAD is yet another methodology and skillset I am definitely working at integrating into everything I design for 3d printing. 3d modeling skills have already given me a huge leap forward in that respect in that so many of the software elements are so similar.

What really has made a difference has been an old carpenter’s saying “measure twice, cut once.” Or in this instance, measure many times according to tolerances and environmental co ditions, and print again and again until it comes put just right EVERY TIME after.

Thats been a key diference and challenge with the pencase. Whereas before I would print single useful object as one piece, like my inkwell and pencil/brush holder, the pencase had moving parts that needed to work over and over.

Having an Ultimaker 2 to work with has been one of the saving graces – the reliability and cleanliness with which it prints makes the difference between this being just an expensive hobby and a viable business in then future.

I still stand by Google SketchUp for now, but as the future projects are more in need of component and electronic pairings, there will be a day when I part ways with it.

Until then, the pencase testing phase is well underway with 70 percent of the beta testers their getting their test models soon. I hope to get additional models in pipeline soon.

Is 3d printing still “special”?

Its kind of a silly question. For me there has been nothing in the past 20 years that’s come as close to this interesting and rewarding creatively.


Professionally, that’s a tougher proposition.

I usually get a table at Long Beach Comic Con where I sell my comics (check me out on Comixology under Jesse Mesa Toves – blatant plug over haha). For the past few years, I have displayed some of my prints there to some very enthusiastic reactions.

But one of the constants has been how few people have actually seen something which is 3d printed. Sure, some kids have printers at their schools – it’s actually kind of encouraging given all the STEM efforts of late.

But for the vast majority of people, when I hand them a print,  it is the VERY first time they will have touched something 3d printed. It’s interesting to gauge their reactions.

So making the step to buying something 3d printed is also oddly confused. So much of the hoopla around printing reminds me of the first laser printers – everyone was amazed right up until you showed them a price tag.

To add to the confusion is the animus around plastics of any kind and the constant effort to make things more sustainable. The plastic filaments I use were developed to be biodegradable and I will never use ABS which is an option on the printer I use.

I’ll be perfectly honest. I think ive succombed to the most obvious temptation of 3d printing for artists like myself. I have spent so much time making 3d models for entertainment or commercial uses, that finally getting to see them in the real world is enormously seductive.

What’s more seductive to artists is the thought that someone will want to buy these things. But the promise of 3d printing and it’s infinite level of customizability has likely stunted the success of artists printing their works for sale. Or it could be the broader cultural change at some level to simply own less STUFF.

When I see people who profit from the ubiquitous unboxing channels, you can see this sort of thing happening. Its a vicarious consumerism where it becomes temporarily gratifying to merely watch someone obtain an object rather than actually own it.

I made a pretty consious change with my creative process on the Pencase, not meaning to sound so pretentious. I wanted to design something that satisfied some simple criteria.

One, I had to design something I actually would use.
Two, I wouldn’t finish it until a predetermined number of people wanted it as well.

After that, I am guessing I’ll need some new criteria.

More data, more problems

Actually that isn’t the issue I really have. I wanted from the beginning to target specific peoplw with the pencase and for the most part, I have exactly the contingent I wanted.

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The serial numbers were printed instead of engraved.

After the initial questionaire went out the one thing I was most concerned about seemed to be unfounded. I was actually worried about whether the testers wore belts!

I had made the pencase with a fixed belt clip which I actually use on my pocket in the field. I wear jeans usually so they are tough enough to handle the clip.

But I realize the belt clip might be a little narrow for heavy leather belts. I honestly feel the case works without the clip which might be a subtle change derived from the analysis of the data.

Since many answered that they don’t often draw or work in the field, they might be open to a version without the belt clip.

Interesting way to read the data.

Going against Ideo

If you know the name Ideo, you know I am not a competitor to them in any way.

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But one of their tenets of product design is that testing should be as genuine as possible. In part I agree.

But for pencase, I have different agendas than Ideo.

Typically, they are a gun for hire, and as such have to engage with clients as well as consumers.

I’m going about this a little differently because my clients ARE the customers. At least that’s the hope.

One of the key product testing tenets is that developers not taint the testing with too much story,  interference, or instructions.

In the case of my product there is almost nothing BUT story. It’s an object with a catered and curated narrative and without it, there would likely be less interest in it.

Starting this project, I merely wanted tomake something which grew out of my art organically. I love the idea of full employment which is the maximum engagement of my cumulative skills. Needless to say, that can be a tremendous high. It can also be bloody tiring!

Brave beta testing

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So the beta model in Ultimaker blue is looking clean and strong. But since this is the beta, it will have to get through the users brave enough to volunteer.

Watching viewer reaction was a beta test in itself. One which bears out many of the crowd dynamics research people have made for decades.

People will watch things sheepishly but paying great attention until some breaking point is reached and they make up their minds to participate.

I initially formed the beta program by asking very simply – who is interested. No reaction.

Then I offered users the chance to KEEP the model. A trickle of volunteers.

Then I started to close the program, and I filled the remaining spots in seconds. I had to turn some people away because of production capacity issues.

See a problem? I do. You can say it’s because I should have just jumped to that last step, but it’s a consistent problem of fear and credibility that marketers deal with all the time.

I don’t want a mass market, I simply can’t make that many products right now. But the measures you have to go through, no matter your skill level to break though the collective fearĀ of a crowd when you are making something, anything, is truly an exercise in stoicism.

The Pencase Project

So I am printing the beta models of the Pencase. And it feels like a real thing now – and its been tentatively branded as the TIK for Tactical Inking Kit.

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So like any artist, I try to get my work out there. Digital, traditional whatever – sometimes you just want to draw. In fighting the war of art, you need weapons, or so went the joke when I came up wi the design for this pencase. It fits two pens or mechanical pencils and refills for both plus an eraser.

Artists argue about tools all the time, but today for me, it feels like making the tools IS my art. And that has been far more fun these days.