Turning a project into a product is the state of perpetually tweaking your idea to make it better, more economical, and more true to the vision you had when you set out. I’ve found that’s it really an endless task too – there is always room for improvement.
When I created my first Neverending Story cover for my Kindle, it wasn’t pretty. A barely right-angled slab of leather with some ink on it and an Auryn I’d found online. Undyed, using velcro to hold it together, and with some poorly scrawled letters on the front, it was a faintly hideous thing to behold. But it was a start, and a proof on concept.
Experimentation followed. We stuck with the leather “plate” method, which used a thick piece of leather riveted to a microsuede-wrapped piece of card. The two plates were then riveted together with two straps between them. It wasn’t perfect, but it could hold a Kindle in. It had an unwieldy look to it though, and was rather loose and floppy. The leather was extremely difficult to acquire in large quantity and to get consistent in color after dyeing it, and it dulled X-acto blades like there was no tomorrow. We gradually started moving over to a method similar to how real books are bound, utilizing a much thinner leather, incorporating a spine for protection and stability, and binding it all into one single unit, instead of multiple riveted pieces.
Each method required its own set of tools, and had its own set of quirks and problems that had to be worked around. There was a learning curve to each new material we worked with, each new tool we added to the mix. As things became more complex on each method, we started looking for ways to simplify and standardize so anyone could make them effectively. We eventually found our groove, just in time to find a whole new way to do things.
All of our projects are continuously undergoing revisions in how they’re made. Whether it’s in ways to make them faster, more efficiently (to reduce waste or scraps), to make them stronger or more durable, or to make it more pleasing to the eye, we’re always looking for new ways to do things. While seeing an idea come to life in prototype phase is in itself incredibly rewarding, it’s the incremental improvements that take a project and make a full-fledged product out of it, and constantly working to do it better. Our customers have been wonderfully supportive of our products, but it’s listening to some of the shortcomings of the product in their feedback that gives us a good idea of how we can improve each new generation. We want to provide the best, but we’re limited at times by our own imagination and capacity for learning and applying the new techniques we want to implement.
But how then do you decide where to draw the line? When you’ve brought your idea to life and there’s a long road of known future improvements to make, it’s hard to decide when it’s “good enough” to ship. There’s an intersection between being able to create a work of art, and being able to ship a product, and the line is fuzzy at best. We made an effort to stagger our new implementations into different generations of our products, but when some issues remain persistent across multiple generations, it’s hard to make the call of when good enough is actually good enough.
It’s a long road of thinking smarter about the things we do that leads to the breakthroughs of making them better, but it’s one that’s worth it in the end. Usually it comes down to asking yourself if it does what it was designed to do, and would it make someone happy to receive/use it. If the answer is yes, then it’s a good starting point. The rest can be worked out in time. Even in our more final revisions, we still have things we want to change, and so the road keeps going on, to everyone’s benefit.