Monthly Archives: July 2008

Design classics – the Bic Crystal ballpoint pen

Often when talking to innovative designers and inventors in the Business & IP Centre, I discover they have a great fear of having their intellectual property stolen. Of course there are many examples where this has occurred. Our very own inventor Mandy Haberman had her idea for the Anywayup Cup copied, and had to win a legal battle to regain her rights. This experience has turned her into something of spokesperson on the topic.

However for many new products such as the Wattson mentioned in a previous blog post, the key is being first to market, and keeping ahead of the competition.

The other winning approach is to produce a design classic first time out. A case in point is the Bic Crystal ballpoint pen. Designed by Marcel Bich, more than 100 billion Bic pens have been sold since 1950 – enough to draw a line to the moon and back more than 320,000 times, according to the Observer newspaper. The only variation on the original design was to create a hole in the cap to prevent choking.

The pen has even become part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and has been reinventing in various guises.

Re-design your world with RedesignMe

For those of you who get as frustrated as I do with poorly designed products, you will be pleased to know there is now a place you can go to air your grievances. There is even a chance that the product manufacturers will take note and listen to your improvement suggestions.

Just pay a visit to RedesignMe and start a new topic. Or add you comments to the hundreds of suggestions already on the website.

For those of you who are a source of new ideas the site could even pay you for input into new product suggestions.

According to SpringWise, product manufacturers pay RedesignMe to establish “RDM Challenges,” through which a new product concept is presented and the site’s 1,000 or so active members are asked to react to it. Currently on the site, for instance, is one from the international DECT Forum, a group of wireless communications companies that are seeking product ideas based on CAT-iq (short for Cordless Advanced Technology – Internet and Quality).

Beginning with an initial proposed concept, users are free to modify the current design or upload their own ideas, using any combination of comments, sketches, pictures, mood-boards, movies, prototypes or total redesigns. In exchange, they are rewarded with RDMs—RedesignMe’s online currency, which is convertible into products in the online RDM Shop such as mp3-players, game consoles and gift cards. RDM Challenges can be open to all users or only a select few. Ideas generated on the site are then used as input by the manufacturer’s R&D team or professional designers, who decide on the final concept.

A friendly version of Dragon’s Den?

The Pitch

BusinessZone.co.uk has joined forces with the Bristol Design Festival 2008 to organise The Pitch, an opportunity for up and coming entrepreneurs to sell their idea or existing company to a panel of specialists who have their finger on the pulse of business.The UK’s next generation of successful entrepreneurs are being invited to pitch their lightbulb moment to a panel of leading business experts and win a prize package worth over £1,000.

Having watched Douglas Campbell present his Project Hold Me (a unique and innovative egg-shaped incubator aimed at nurturing the bond between mothers and their newborn babies during their stay in hospital), I a would say that the ‘Dragons’ in this instance are a much more friendly and constructive bunch than seen on BBC television.

Have a look at the others and see what you need to do to develop your perfect pitch.

In search of the perfect mouse

I’m sure you are all familiar with the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” There is even a book by Graham Barker & Peter Bissell called A Better Mousetrap: the business of invention.

However, as a computer addict for over 30 years (anyone remember the Commodore Pet) I have suffered from repetitive strain injury (RSI) for many years. The introduction of the mouse in the 1980s only made matters worse for me. Consequently I have spent much time investigating new and improved hardware and software.

For over 10 years I have been using my left hand for mousing at work and my right at home to spread the strain. When the pain was at its worst I experimented with auto-mouse-click software. (When the mouse pointer stops moving, the system counts down a fixed interval and triggers a mouse click.) However this was very tricky to use, especially for moving items around the screen.

A more successful approach has been to upgrade my mouse, first from the type relying on a physical ball for positioning, to infra-red, and more recently to laser powered. Also the introduction of a scroll wheel significantly improved the ergonomic experience, especially for those long hours surfing the web for information.

I briefly experimented with a track-ball mouse but couldn’t get on with it.

However a couple of years ago I saw the the answer to my prayers (and started saving the £70 required to acquire it). This particular example is from Logitech (although I’m sure there are similar ones available now). The key factors are its ergonomic shape, which comfortably fits into my hand, a high precision laser beam leading to less hesitation on the screen, and a wireless USB connection preventing snagged cables. It also has a scroll wheel with a needle roller bearing (something of an engineering anachronism in these days of high-tech). When the wheel is set to ‘free scroll’ (my default setting), I can whiz up and down fifty screens worth of information with one gentle flick of my finger.

I understand that thought controlled computer interfaces are being developed, but until that day I think I will be happy with my digital mouse.

See my pitch

Once again Springwise have come up with an innovative service for budding entrepreneurs.

cmypitch.com describes itself as “Dragons’ Den meets YouTube“.

Those in search of funding can pitch for investment by uploading a short video supported by a summary business plan, for a fee of £200 for a three-month listing.

Unfortunately due to UK financial regulations, viewers need to register and self certify as an investor before they can see any pitches. I can see this being a barrier to widespread take up of this service.

As seen on Dragon’s Den

I am aware that the producers of Dragon’s Den select some of their ‘victims’ purely for their entertainment factor, rather than as a serious business proposition.

The couple who ‘invented’ the idea of the Layline must surely fall into this category. I have to admit that the idea of buying a sheet with a tactile line woven through the middle to avoid arguments about who has taken the lion’s share of the bed does seem somewhat nutty.

However, despite being dismissed as “ridiculous” by the fearsome dragons it would appear that Ros Adams and John Foster-Smith had the last laugh. According to Real Business they were knowingly using the show as a way of publicising themselves and their serious business, FilmCircle – a DVD website.

But even their website for the Layline product shows how they have been able to use their opportunity to maximum benefit. For a start they have used the classic “As seen on TV” quote on a nice red banner in the top right-hand corner. Even more cheekily they have used used the following quotes out of context: “Television gold”, The Daily Telegraph – “This pitch..is a gem”, RealBusiness.co.uk.

I have to say I admire their chutzpah.

The Dragons are back

Have just finished watching the first of the new series of BBC’s Dragon’s Den in the hope of catching Ed Wray one of our success stories. He mentioned his BarbeSkew product was going to be appearing in the series but wasn’t allowed to say whether he got backing from the Dragons.

In this evening’s episode I was surprised by Peter Jones investing £75,000 in rock group Hamfatter with an unproven track record of sales, in exchange for 30% of their future royalties. Note – their website was down this evening due to too many visitors.

Since the last series I have begun giving business advice sessions myself, and I have to say that I am not a fan of the way the program turns entrepreneurship into entertainment. In particular I find the flippant comments from the Dragons to the enterprising inventors and business people annoying.

However, despite these criticisms, the questions they ask are often valid, as are many of their observations.

But Peter Jones came out with the quote of the show when referring to a product with a small potential market. He said there was a niche in the market, but no market in the niche.

Sadly I have come across several business ideas that fall into this category.

Healthy marketing goes bananas

As a regular commuter and walker through London I am used to having flyers and more recently newspapers thrust in my face. Even more annoying are the chuggers (charity muggers) who seemed to have resisted attempts to control their behaviour.

So I was somewhat surprised to have a banana proffered in my direction as I was entering St Paul’s Thameslink railway station on Wednesday morning. Admittedly there was an accompanying leaflet promoting a special offer at L A Fitness, but what caught my eye was the sticky label on the banana extolling me to enjoy the healthy snack on them.

Associating a free healthy snack with a similarly healthy product or service makes good sense but is all too rare an approach to ‘bribing’ customers.

Friday fun with Leonard Cohen

Having read a recent Guardian newspaper Great Lyricists supplement on Leonard Cohen, I was reminded not only of the genius of his songs/poetry, but also his sense of humour. I know he is widely considered to be one of the most depressing singers of recent times, and his music is often unkindly referred to as ideal to commit suicide to.

However there is a lighter side to Cohen as illustrated by my one of my favourite lines at the very beginning of First We Take Manhattan, his hit single from the 1988 album I’m Your Man; “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, For trying to change the system from within”. And in “Tower of Song,” Cohen sings ironically that he was “born with the gift/ Of a golden voice”

It would be a mistake to pretend that it is all sweetness and light. A listen to Dress Rehearsal Rag on Songs Of Love And Hate from 1971 is not for the faint hearted.

But Cohen is also something of a romantic, as proved by my favourite line of all from Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye on the 1967 album Songs Of Leonard Cohen, “Your hair on the pillow like a sleepy golden storm”.