liquor, and occasional karaoke outings.
Regular meetings allowed us to resolve
problems and miscommunications
in minutes that would have taken
days over email with a 12-hour time
difference. Factory visits allowed
us to see for ourselves how our
potential partners treated other
clients’ products and intellectual
property, what assembly processes we
needed to anticipate, and what their
working conditions were like. Clean
facilities, clear safety procedures, and
a collegial relationship between line
workers and engineers are, of course,
an ethical issue, but at the same time,
these are indicators that your product
will be made with care, and that any
mistakes will be reported and resolved
rather than hidden.
And last but not least, maybe it’s
good for us to see for ourselves how
the sausage is made—to meet the
people who do the (at best) boring jobs
that enable us to realize our dreams,
to see how much or how little plastic
waste our creations generate, and to
understand how our inventions really
are a team effort.
1. Anderson, C. Makers: The Ne w Industrial
Revolution. McClelland & Stewart, 2012.
2. The Economist. The third industrial
revolution (Apr. 21, 2012); http://www.
3. Tanenbaum, J., Williams, A., Desjardins,
A., and Tanenbaum, K. Democratizing
technology: Pleasure, utility and
expressiveness in DI Y and maker practice.
Proc. of Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems. ACM, New York, 2013,
4. Williams, A., Gibb, A., and Weekly, D.
Research with a hacker ethos: What DI Y
means for tangible interaction research.
Interactions 19, 2 (Mar.–Apr. 2012), 14–19.
Amanda Williams is co-founder and CEO
of Fabule Fabrications. She’s in charge of
creating beautiful interactions and hardware.
Indecisively, she loves both qualitative user
research and hardware design.
Bruno Nadeau is co-founder and C TO of
Fabule Fabrications, in charge of product
design and software wizardry. With a
degree in computation arts, he’s made some
creative interactive installations and physical
And you’ll need to write testing
software. Along with your assembly
instructions, your test plan will be
one of the most important pieces of
documentation you write; you should
start working on it early, refining it as
you refine your product. Testability can
even be a consideration in your choice
and placement of components: Will a
line worker need to plug and unplug
a connector by hand, or can they just
pull a lever to automatically make a
connection with a row of pins?
An important consideration in
designing your test plan and equipment
is to eliminate or at least minimize
manual intervention. Testing identical
PCBs over and over is a boring job, and
workers’ attention will wander. Even
simple tests that require someone to
check if a light is on and confirm with
“yes” or “no” can invite human error.
Putting a light sensor in the test jig will
take a bit more time, but it will be time
Despite the rigors, we enjoyed
the process of building our testing
equipment. We tend to draw contrasts
between mass manufacturing and
the small-batch production that
characterizes maker culture. But just
as makers depend on mass-produced
electronics to prototype affordably,
mass manufacturing (in Shenzhen at
least) depends on small businesses that
can mill customized test jigs to order.
Watching our own machines take shape
was, in a way, as magical as some of our
breakthrough moments in the early
stages of hand-prototyping our product.
IT’S ALL ABOUT
If you’ve read this far, we can finally
admit that all of the advice and anecdotes
we’ve related here can be summarized
in just a few concise sentences. First,
document everything religiously, because
you’ll be working with other people whose
know-how doesn’t necessarily overlap
much with yours. Second, collaborate
with your manufacturers and suppliers,
and respond to their capabilities. Third,
though you’re still fundamentally working
on a design problem, manufacturing will
throw a new set of constraints at you that
you will need to work with.
The underlying commonality to all
of these points is that manufacturing
a product is really an exercise in
good communication. We benefited
enormously from spending time
in Shenzhen and meeting our
manufacturing partners face to face,
complete with tea, really strong rice
One force behind the democratization of manufacturing is the increasing availability of funds
to pay for it, through crowdfunding. If you want to crowdfund a project, here are a few tips to
keep in mind:
It’s not just about the money. Crowdfunding can help you establish whether there is any
demand for what you’re making. You can even A/B test the popularity of individual features by
making them available at different reward levels. You’ll get great feedback from your backers.
And if your campaign does well, you’ll discover that journalists trend-hunt on crowdfunding sites.
Prepare. A lot. A good-quality video is highly correlated with success, and a mature,
beautiful prototype will also be a huge help. Scour successful and failed campaigns similar
to yours to research appropriate content, funding goals, and reward tiers. You should
simultaneously be developing your network, months ahead of time if possible. Build an email
list, which has relatively high conversion rates. Talk to media and decide whether you want
them to embargo the story until you launch or generate hype beforehand. When you launch,
send personalized email messages to everyone you know; your campaign’s performance on
the first day is crucial.
Be prepared to scale, or put limits on it. Set your goal higher than you think it needs to be;
manufacturing can have hidden costs. Ask yourself what you’ll do if your campaign blows up:
Are you using a manufacturing process that scales easily? Alternatively, you can set a hard limit
on all of your reward tiers, or set them to deliver at different dates.
Be honest and transparent with your backers. If you’re new to manufacturing, you will
make mistakes and encounter delays. Most people on crowdfunding sites are not looking for
perfection; they’re looking to be involved in the creation of innovative products. Invite them in,
and they can make your crowdfunding experience incredibly rewarding.
SO YOU WANT TO CROWDFUND…