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Birth Of A Product

by Michael Wilkes March 10, 2017

Birth Of A Product

Many people give lip service to the idea of customer-centered design. But how much do they interact with customers — asking questions and listening closely to the answers? In case you’re curious how my Explorer series of journals got started, here’s the story.

Product One

I was the customer for my first journal -- the Compass Rose pictured above. It came straight out of my Navy experience and my love for water, boats, and all things nautical. As a teen I once spent an entire summer learning to tie knots from the Encyclopedia of Knots and Fancy Ropework -- a gift from my stepfather. My crowning achievement was learning how to tie a Monkey's Fist, which is used on the end of lines to throw them ashore.

For this first cover design, I searched high and low for nautical elements that I really liked.

The long spikes from this compass rose appealed to me…

… but I wanted something more solid for the lettering, and found this…

…plus the long extensions of the above image appealed to me as well.

To add a bit of flair, I asked my artist to work in this fleur de lis:

I also wanted a banner that would inspire adventure and speak to the entrepreneurial spirit. Having suffered through two years of Latin as a high-schooler, naturally I had to throw that in too (thanks, mom). 

Once the pieces were assembled, my artist produced this hand-drawn version:

Banner translation: “Always Exploring”

I really liked the hand-drawn art and wanted to use that in the mold to make my cover as unique as possible. I liked the little imperfections in the dots and the shading.

Alas, my manufacturer did not share my love of pencil nuance and required me to produce a vector image. The resulting graphic, once debossed in supple faux leather, produced the image you see at the top of this page.

The compass is turned slightly to the east because, well, how often are we really going due north? Pointing it straight up just didn’t seem as interesting. Since I’m slightly off-kilter anyway, this was somewhat inevitable.

Product Two

For my second product, I wanted to gather feedback from the public before committing to a direction. I decided to focus on a female audience and crowd-source the major decisions about the cover.

First, we needed to decide on the concept -- what kind of image to use. For this, I set up a simple poll and sent it to my Facebook friends. I asked people to choose from a list of items:

As you can see, the audience of people interested in voting was not that large. Still, I got a clear direction out of the feedback and proceeded with the Tree concept.

Next, I needed to narrow the field. There are way too many types and styles of trees to pick from. So, I asked for favorites from a specific black and white search on Bing.com. The results were mixed…

…but gave me some direction and I was able to move forward from there. After some searching through licensed art libraries, I found the one below. The fullness of it, the gentle curves, and the crisp simplicity of the pattern appealed to me…

Since my audience were not Latin nerds this time, I decided to put the banner in English. 

Given the female focus, I decided to go with a lighter color for the faux leather, resulting in this final cover once the debossing was done:

I hope that gives you some insight into how I think about design and how each new product will likely be shaped.

Keep exploring!

Michael Wilkes
Michael Wilkes

Michael spent way too many years behind a software desk before launching his first physical product. If he is not building something, or preparing to, or cajoling someone else into starting their own business, you'll find him craving Twizzlers and a movie with Ruth or sneaking M&M's at a grandchild's event.


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