Tue 22nd Apr 2014, by Anne Pogoda | Readerproject
With his very successful crowd funding campaign coming to a close Darren Yeow shares some of his experiences in product development and setting his course to produce an exciting new tool for artists.
I'm a self-taught freelance concept artist/illustrator who has making a living in the creative field for about a decade.
For the first half of my career, I worked primarily in games as a senior concept artist and art director and now I'm an independent artist who freelances their services to various clients and also develops his own projects on the side.
The Nomad is one of these projects.
Sure! My product is called the Nomad Art Satchel, which is a niche product specifically designed for creative people who need to record ideas or sketch on-the-go (writers, designers, entrepreneurs, artists). As a creative, I often have many great ideas that seemingly pop out of the ether at the most inopportune of times - when I'm walking to the bus-stop, when I'm waiting for my take-away, when I am miles away from my drawing table. As it is a hassle to take out all my tools and paper pad from my bag, I'd usually try to record the idea later on when I got back to my desk, but I would often forget all about it by the time I walked in my front door.
One day, I thought to myself: "I wonder how many world-changing ideas, cool pieces of art and writing are being forgotten because it's a pain to record these ideas on the fly?" Soon after, I started a local artist sketch group with a friend - we'd meet up every month, go to various places such as the zoo or museum and sketch together while enjoy each other's company.
It was during these sketching sessions that I also noticed all my other artist friends suffering through the same kind of sketching-on-the-go pain and thought, maybe I should look at making something to make life easier for myself and my buddies? I started by listing all the features I wanted in a "dream bag", then started emailing some great artists and designers I know and asking their feedback on what I was looking to do. It really helped me to simplify the offering to only the most important things other artists would care about.
I then searched and found manufacturers through Alibaba and contacted them to see if they would be interested in bringing my satchel to life. While this seemed like a perfectly legitimate solution at the time, the truth was it ended up as months of wasted time and effort as there are literally thousands and thousands of bag manufacturers and only a small number can actually produce high quality products like what I was attempting to create. 14 months, endless testing and marketing, changing manufacturers three times, a million design revisions, the help of a manufacturing consulting company, recruiting the skills of one of Australia's top Industrial design firms and $15,000 worth of developmental investment later we were ready to launch the campaign.
Of course, before that could happen, I still had to finalise a realistic timeline and a financial goal based on months of research with various consultants and development partners. Then, I had to book models for the pitch film, learn how to shoot video footage at a professional level, record sound, learn the art of film editing, learn new software, write the script and record myself on camera without any prior experience. I also had to content with a concrete Kickstarter deadline, dwindling finances, a full client workload and a 9 month old son that would not sleep. I would probably consider this one of my more stressful periods in my short life! I remember there were periods of recording the audio when I had to record audio takes between my son crying!
I managed to get through it all and launch on the due date to a lot of anticipation in the digital artist community and ended up hitting our funding goal of $30,000 within 3 hours. We've raised over $100,000 (300% of the goal) and have 2 days to go.
It was a combination of factors. Firstly, I have developed a decent following and made quite a lot of friends on social media in the commercial and digital artist realm. I've been part of the digital art community for quite a while and I love it - it's vibrant and full of cool art and people supporting each other. About 4 years ago, I signed up to Facebook and before that had never really used much social media apart from art forums around the web.
Social media has opened up many opportunities to chat with and communicate with many of my favourite artists as well as opportunities to give back too. I've been a professional artist making a good living solely from my art skills for the greater part of a decade and seeing as it's a notoriously difficult field to make it, let alone prosper, I thought I'd start posting business tips specific for artists.
Over the span of a couple of years, these hints and tips had built up a decent following - I have about 5000 friends on my personal Facebook account and about 3500 followers who have all added me organically because they like what I write and the art I post and share.
I've also made a lot of friends online in big companies like Dreamworks Animation, Disney, Cartoon Network and Blizzard Entertainment as well as many world class educators with much larger followings than myself (some people have 24,000 followers for instance!). I've supported a number of these "tribe leaders" on their own Kickstarter projects and they've done the same for me.
6 months out, contrary to how designers often like to work, I was already showing early samples of internal components as well as ugly functional prototypes and getting suggestions and ideas from other artists in what they'd love to see in a sketching bag as I went along. I truly tried to involve the art community for 6-8 months, not consistently obviously, there were stretches of time when I wouldn't show anything for a while, but I'd tease pictures and designs and 3D renders over the course of that period, post nice photos of the bag as it was being finalised, pictures of the item with attractive artist models, pretty standard types of marketing. I also involved top tier designers and artists in my video campaign, so I had people like Nic Hogios who is the design Chief of Toyota giving his own endorsement and Ben Last who is a car designer in Germany at Volkwagen, these guys are highly paid design pros who's pedigree lends a lot of weight behind the Nomad brand.
As a result, a week out, we started having a daily count down, new photos and art was released on a daily basis to the point where people were just begging for the product to be released already! On launch day, I did an hourly count-down and people in the US and other parts of the world were staying up at like midnight to make sure they got their early bird specials.
Hitting the launch button is one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever done - the moment of truth had arrived and I'd truly know if I had people's backing - I was also worried as the cost of the product for many people would be AU$185 which is a very substantial price for a bag and bordering on a major purchase for many artists. I felt nervous about whether people would find the price too high (it's actually quite an expensive product to manufacture) - I did a lot of price testing early on, but it's not the same as asking people to pull out their wallets and pay for it.
Once launch happened, it was a very surreal flurry and my pricing fears were allayed - I think we crossed the $15,000 mark within 20 minutes. I went outside to the backyard to chill out for a while under the warmth of the sun...it was such a great feeling. I ended up running the campaign's early with only a few hours of sleep and crashed out exhausted on the fourth day.
The actual designing of the product was actually quite easy, for the most part, it felt well within my concept art skill-set to pull off and a very natural extension of what I do for my bread and butter every day.
A major difference of course is that every element you add or subtract, might mean it saves or costs you a lot of money in production fees and of course there are also real world physical considerations you need to think about like wear and tear.
Personally though, I found the hard part was everything else besides the design stage / iterations - designing the Nomad was maybe 10% of the work!
I had to learn about finding trade consultants who could help with importing and exporting, finding reputable manufacturers, finding a way to fund the development, thinking about logistical issues, learning about different stitching methods and materials, different material coating treatments and their tradeoffs, international postage, interfacing with industrial designers and coming to grips with developmental costs, figuring out retail pricing, how to build buzz and market an expensive product...all of these things were way outside my own level of knowledge and the learning curve was pretty steep.
But I found that because I and many other artists believed in my product, I had the stamina to keep learning and growing. I think that's really important, to keep gathering as many experiences as you can so that when you come across future hurdles, you have more tools to overcome them as well as the experience and confidence to seek out new knowledge if needed.
Try to get the community behind your idea, if it's genuinely good, people will tend to be able to tell and the support will be palpable.
Also, if you have done your research and it came across as a good idea, stay the course, there will be many many time you'll want to give in and say it's too difficult - resist that urge and see the product through to the end. If it doesn't succeed, you'll have grown immensely. If it does succeed...it's hard to describe, but let me tell you - you'll feel absolutely amazing. I guarantee it.
Well, I want to spend most of my energy increasing awareness till the end of the project, so that it finishes strongly - for artists reading, if you're curious about it, please visit the Kickstarter link here:
Once the campaign has finished, I'll be concentrating on entering production and ensuring the quality of the Nomad units before they're sent to my logistics fulfillment houses and forwarded to all the backers of the project. Once that's done, I'll be looking to get the Nomad into art stores world-wide and refining the design as feedback from users come in.
The next project I'll be looking at is something for the Companion tablet.
I'm a big fan of the Wacom Cintiq Companion as I use one myself all the time, so I'll be working on a Nomad variant at some stage specifically for this device.
"Does the Companion fit in the Nomad?" has been on of the most asked questions, and the answer is unfortunately no. The design was finalised as the Companion came out, and so the dimensions were incorrect. But I also think there are some form changes that need to take place specifically for the Companion and it's efficient use - for instance, many Companion user still use a keyboard a significant amount of time - there are so many short cuts in programs like Photoshop, Painter, Z-brush, that without a keyboard it is difficult to be as efficient - this is not something that was taken into consideration for the original Nomad.
There is also the issue of weight - the Companion is significantly heavier than most other consumer tablet style devices like the iPad and so the slinging method would need to be redesigned from scratch. Sun glare is a final major issue for Companion users and I'll need to look into perhaps incorporating a hood to block out ambient light.
In the long term, I would like the Nomad brand to become synonymous with high grade and stylish art tools.