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 friend 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.

Firefly Tonics at Westminster Reference Library

Firefly bottleLast month I went to a great event at Westminster Reference Library to hear the story of Firefly Tonics from co-founder of the business Harry Briggs

Harry and Marcus Waley-Cohen were friends at school and “We’d always thought one day we’d start a business – whenever we had A-level coursework to do, we found ourselves bouncing (mostly silly) business ideas around instead.”

After university they were both working for large consulting firms when they were given the opportunity to market at Japanese water that claimed to cure all ills.

“We didn’t think much of the water, but it did get us thinking – “what if we could make a drink that was effective, yet completely healthy and natural?” Surely nature could do a better job than those chemically-infused sugary energy drinks…”

They found two top UK ‘serious’ herbalists (by searching Amazon for authors) and persuaded them to help develop healthy herbal drinks.

From original idea to launch took just over a year due to delays with the bottle supplier and the partners biggest arguments were over the design of the product rather than the product itself. Five years later they have sold 9 million bottles.

Harry listed some lessons learnt, most of which will be relevant to others starting out on their first business venture.

1. Ask your friends – Harry and Marcus had a long list of possible names for the company, but when they circulated the list to their friends, Firefly came back as the clear winner.
2. Talk and listen to your customers – Firefly make an effort to personalise their dialog with customers and use bespoke emails.
3. Dare to be different – it enables you to stand out in a crowded market-place.
4. All publicity is good publicity (well, almost all).
5. Stand up for a cause – Firefly chose to support independent cafes (who were also more likely to stock their products), creating a virtuous circle.
6. Be authentic and candid – don’t hide your ‘sins’
7. Involve customers in the company – all the photos on the front of their bottles are sent in by the public.
8. Your product is your best marketing – Giving your product away costs a lot less than producing brochures and advertising.
9. Your first customers are the most important ones
10. Sometimes it is better to say no – Firefly turned said ‘no’ to both Asda and Boots
11. You can be global earlier than you might think – their business plan had an international component in year three, but due to intense demand they are now a few locations in nearly 40 countries.

“The company values:
Values… When you try and put them into words you start sounding like a Life Insurance company. But they’re important. So here goes…
1. To create delicious, healthy, stylish and innovative drinks that help people get the most out of life, naturally
2. To build a company that values creativity, honesty, courage and a sense of humour
3. To develop a brand that’s adventurous and authentic, standing up for what we believe in
4. To work in a challenging, fun and inclusive environment where nobody employed by us ever wakes up and thinks, “I don’t want to go to work today”
5. To leave the ostriches to their own devices, get our heads out of the sand and go and stand on top of a mountain with our friends… playing frisbee. (Don’t ask…)”

Designing Demand for small business

Last month I attended a fascinating and inspiring session organised by Grant Thornton and Design London.

The Designing Demand programme was developed by the Design Council and is delivered nationally by regional delivery partners. It helps established small and medium enterprises and fast growing new start-up businesses to harness the power of design and transform their business performance.

Designing Demand

The three-hour workshop provided advice on how to recognise situations where design can benefit business. They had some very impressive examples of how design can improve the bottom line for a company with a small up front expense.

One of the most memorable was waste management business Envirotech whose unglamorous business model mainly consisted of collecting and disposing of sewage with tankers.

By re-designing their brand identity from Envirotech old logo to Serious Shit their core areas of business have leapt by 75 per cent to just under £2million. Demand for the new maintenance business and tanker work has increased, bringing total turnover for 2005 to £2.5m.

Designing Demand will be hosting a number of one-day Design Workshop for SMEs, and if you think you would benefit you can book online at