Our journey started with a really a simple idea; to create quality and intelligent consumer electronic devices that would enhance our experience of the digital environment.
This became the mission statement for Dublin Design Studio, directing our focus towards Scriba; a stylus specifically designed for your hand.
We wanted to ensure that Scriba truly enhanced the user experience. So we asked hundreds of designers, illustrators, artists and architects to test and pilot Scriba. Their feedback was phenomenal. With a gentle squeeze of its flexible body, Scriba gives you unprecedented control, accuracy and comfort.
We now had rigorously tested, ground breaking product, with even better market feedback. Then we had to build it. Manufacturing hardware is difficult, especially for newly formed companies, as it requires a huge variety of expertise and experience. To tackle this, David began to assemble a team of a exceptionally talented people, ranging from product designers to software developers, and co-ordinated them so that they could work seamlessly together. As a result, Dublin Design Studio grew into one of Dublin's most exciting and viable start-ups. We are fiercely proud of our Irish roots. With entrepreneurial enthusiasm and ridiculously talented graduates, Ireland has become an enviable location for any start-up.
As we developed Scriba, we realised that simplicity was crucial. As Scriba's design is based on an inherent and intuitive gripping action, we wanted to create something that would feel natural to use. So we removed the complexities and distractions from the user experience. We shed the buttons and fiddly parts from our Stylus and incorporated an ability to seamlessly switch functions with a simple squeeze. We also got rid of the traditional clutter from the interface – like drop-down menus and colour palettes, and replaced them with a clear page. All the functions you need are now accessible with a gentle squeeze of your hand.
Tim Varian joined us to focus on the usability side of things. Tim has a background as both a designer and an experienced human factors specialist in automotive design for Ford . He got enthusiastic about the concept early on and helped guide us through shaping the product to sit nicely in the hand and to be a joy in use. He helped us run and derive useful data from the prototype sessions with users which crafted the design direction.
This input has meant that Scriba went through a large number of concepts and prototypes for validation. After 136 prototypes we had reached our final design! That means 136 iterations, 136 3D prints, and 136 rounds of testing and discussion. We strongly believe in testing as a means of "getting it right". This is especially true for a stylus, which by its inherent nature is personal and tactile. How it feels is crucially important.
We were able to test and re-test thanks to Blender 3D (www.blender.org), a brilliant piece of open-source software and as the project developed Fusion 360 from Autodesk (http://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/overview). Fusion 360, also free for startups and hobbyists, has remained central to our design development and iteration. We also had the availability of advice and expertise from the hackers and tinkerers at TOG (www.tog.ie). Cheers guys, for helping us always move forward.
A big boost to Scriba's development was being accepted on to the DIT Hothouse New Frontiers Programme. It meant giving up the day jobs, but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. The continued support of the mentors and advisors in the Hothouse team made that decision much easier.
We met Trevor Vaugh while he was advising another tech start-up in the NDRC, and we could tell by his immediate understanding and excitement for Scriba, that he could add valuable experience to the team. Trevor is a lecturer on the Design Innovation Programme at Maynooth University, and we certainly learned a lot from him. He gave us invaluable expertise and insights into Scriba's development.
We employed the lean methodology as a means of ensuring that Scriba would be grounded in customer value. Through testing and continuous feedback from hundreds of designers, illustrators and artists, we were able to get early validation and create a truly valuable product.
From the first concept proposal, the end user was the benchmark for discussing and identifying product requirements. These early discussions highlighted the need to remain close and listen to consumer feedback, effectively endorsing our users as key stakeholders.
In hindsight, by following consumer value closely, we were able to avoid the dangers of feature creep. This can be especially dangerous where hardware is concerned, as R&D costs can quickly mount up. However, by following the feedback from our core market, we remained close to our fundamental values, and didn't fall victim to technological embellishment.
Without question, Scriba would not exist if it weren't for Mike. A seasoned Kickstarter enthusiast, Mike was instantly fascinated by Scriba's concept and brought his extensive skills in micro-electronics and firmware to the team. With a background in Radio Pager designs from the 1990's, Mike has developed his talents and gained a deep interest in the "Internet of Things". In those days it was a real challenge to provide a six month battery life on power hungry hardware. To realise that ambition you have to be intimately familiar with the capabilities and limitations of the chips, the battery and the communication protocols. But thanks to Mike, Scriba has a battery life of over 200 hours continuous use.
The team at the Centre for Industrial Services and Design at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) were invaluable in assisting with the DFM (Design for Manufacture) process for the Scriba - including 3D CAD surface modelling. They provided input in the testing and verification of the materials for all components. They put a particular emphasis on the structural analysis of the form and the effects of repeated stress and deflection to ensure that the flexibility of the product won't deteriorate over time.
One of the main challenges we faced in developing the printed circuit board (PCB) for the Scriba was the size of the components required and the specialised surface mount techniques that were involved - there are no wires on this board! Some ICs measure only 3mm x 2mm and these required a placement accuracy of better than 0.2mm. To do this by hand is no small feat and necessitates a microscope and a steady hand to place them. Fortunately the specialised tools needed –such as a surface mount oven that cooks the components into place - are readily available and affordable for even small manufacturing jobs.
One of our biggest challenges was making the manufacturing process as efficient and convenient as possible, in order to minimise cost and risk of delay for our Kickstarter backers. Mike P, our hardware designer, worked tirelessly on DFM (design for manufacture) of the PCB to refine our prototype design.
Another of our goals was developing the SDK code, which allows any developer to embrace the functionality of Scriba within their own app. We worked hard to make Scriba tightly integrated with its creative app, however we firmly believe in the benefit of open-source software. Where ordinary technology ages and becomes outdated, open-source software continues to grow and evolve.
In July we decided to introduce Scriba to the world by launching it on the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. With the success of previous stylus campaigns, and as an active congregation of early adopters, we knew this was the appropriate way to raise awareness and the capital necessary for further development.
We spent nearly two months preparing for our campaign, and only with the power of hindsight did we realise the massive undertaking it was going to be. Aside from the heavy content preparation, a video shoot and a full PR engagement, coordinating a Kickstarter campaign means communicating with backers across multiple time zones. However, despite these hurdles, we launched our campaign and we were overwhelmed with the positive reaction. From backers to bloggers, it seemed that everyone was intrigued and excited about Scriba’s unique design. After the success of the first day, we received the coveted “Kickstarter Staff Pick”, which brought us international attention. The coverage we received in major design publications was phenomenal, and it was a real source of pride to be represented in some the magazines that inspired me to start this journey.
During the Kickstarter campaign we were invited to pitch at the Europass Pitching Competition, being run by the DCU Ryan Academy in conjunction with Startup Europe. The event was held in the Bank of Ireland branch in Grand Canal Dock (which is something of a startup Mecca as they actively support startups and provide free hot-desking.) Although admittedly nervous and tired from the exhaustion of the campaign, I pitched the product to a room full of people and, thankfully, managed not to fumble my words well enough to win! Needless to say, a few celebratory pints were had across the road and this began our relationship with DCU Ryan Academy. The prize from Startup Europe would also facilitate our attendance at two European conferences.
Back in the office, Scriba continued to garner significant media attention and a stream of donations, which culminated on August 13 when our goal was successfully reached. We sat as a group, stunned and elated, quietly getting our heads around what just happened.
Prior to launching the Kickstarter, Kevin Hannon joined the team fresh out of university and with international acclaim - he had just been shortlisted for the James Dyson Award. Together with a growing team of collaborators we got into the nuts-and-bolts of how Scriba would be manufactured. As I’ve said all along, Scriba is the product of a multitude of supporters, and we are extremely grateful for anyone who gave up their time to help our project along.
The realisation of Scriba relied on the supports of many individuals, whether time, mentorship, money or favours, each was essential to the realisation of our product. We are also very lucky in Ireland that the startup community has the backing of the state through Enterprise Ireland who provide both financial support and an international network. An opportunity to apply for the design focused Competitive Startup Fund seemed to be a very good fit for what we were doing, however needless to say the application process and interview coincided with our Kickstarter campaign - it never rains… As the name suggests, it is a very competitive application process with hundreds of applicants being short listed to about a dozen - however we were delighted to make the cut.
During this period, Ireland’s first hardware accelerator, Startup Scale-up, was run in conjunction with DCU Ryan Academy and Startup Europe. It took some of the most promising Irish hardware startups and provided intensive mentoring on the ins-and-outs of manufacturing, tooling and building a sustainable business model. We listened, we learned and, with world-class expertise, we got some incredible insights into the possible roadblocks ahead.
When Apple introduced their stylus, our immediate reaction was unexpectedly relaxed. We saw that they did a great job in integrating the Pencil with the iPad Pro and had validated the sector, however in our opinion Scriba still offered something unique.
Scriba’s design is more than aesthetics, it’s designed around and inspired by the human form. Scriba has been conceived as a new type of tool that heightens our interaction with mobile devices: our ambition was to design the descendent of the pencil designed specifically for the digital age. Scriba enables a more intuitive way to control on-screen activity and, while we were confident in Squeeze-Motion’s ability to change the expectation of digital design, there were a few niggling thoughts.
One of those was how Scriba and the device communicated with each other. The relationship was one sided and we looked to how this new tool might extend communications beyond the screen. The answer was haptic feedback - another first for stylus design. Scriba is able to provide discrete tactile feedback through gentle vibrations under the user's finger tips. Unfortunately this extra functionality came at a cost, but one which we were willing to pay. Our launch date had to be pushed out, but overall the end result is a better product.
During this time, Scriba was picked up for two major awards; Commendation by the Institute of Designers Ireland and the Silver Medal for Tech Startup of the Year. The former was a recognition by the design community that Scriba was something special, while the latter confirmed our progress as a budding startup. We were delighted and honoured with this recognition.
Making things is difficult. But, when you have the support of a company like Cartamundi, it becomes a little bit more accessible. Cartamundi (formerly Hasbro), have always maintained a focus on excellence in manufacturing. They’ve helped us at every turn with advice and expertise to help minimise the risk and costs of making Scriba.
Producing a product like Scriba has many challenges. Delivering a form as complex and curvaceous is particularly hard as there is no real back to Scriba. The mould design for Scriba involves two moulds with hundreds of moving parts. The defining of the geometries would have not been possible without the skills and experience of Conor Hayes in CISD Athlone University and the support of the development team at Autodesk Fusion 360.
Scriba has been an exciting, but oh so challenging, journey. With the difficulties that come with making physical products, we’ve had some low points along the way. From production delays and material challenges to logistics problems and financial struggles. However, the biggest low for us was missing our Kickstarter delivery date. Thankfully, we’ve been supported by some patient and understanding backers who have been more than supportive, but it still irks our team.
But every cloud has a silver lining, and we were able to use that time to further refine and test Scriba, to create new types of software that expand Scriba's capabilities, and to build relationships with partners and supporters.
Summer 2016, brought international recognition for the design of Scriba. We were runners up in the prestigious UK Design Week Awards amongst some of the biggest names in consumer design. We were also featured in the Irish Global Design Challenge exhibition, a showcase of the top Irish design, which ran through the summer in Dublin Castle and will be resuming in the Craft Council's headquarters in February. At this exhibition we were able to demonstrate Scriba to the public and even the Hideichi Misono, the head designer of Toyota.
Later in 2016, we were shortlisted and eventually won the Irish Times Innovation Award in the Creative Industries category. Not just an award for startups this award featured some incredible talent across a number of sectors of Irish industry. To close out an incredible year, we were also runners up in two additional awards from the Small Firms Association at the tail end of 2016.
Somewhere along the way, we must have learnt something, and people took notice. Based on the experiences of the past two years, we have been asked to speak at a number of events about the journey and the challenges we as a team have faced. In this way, we can share our knowledge and experience with the startup and design community.