Failed as an Industrial Designer?

So, it’s been 10 years since I graduated. I’ve had some successes and have had the opportunity to work on a lot of cool projects. Seen a bunch of products released to the market, etc.

But a while back, I dropped everything to focus on Cerevellum (the whole bicycle computer with rear-view camera thing.) It’s received some great exposure and I’ve done what I can to get it to production. But nothing yet…

At the same time, I feel like I just committed career suicide. I left a good job during this economic turmoil to focus on something that I had complete confidence in. Now I find myself in this bizarre situation where I need to either let it go or continue on. I’ve sacrificed everything. Close to having to sell my townhouse, car, furniture, etc. I’ve even had to turn down my literal dream-job!

Talk about giving it all up for a dream!! Now I’m just unemployed with really nothing to show for it. I’m in this weird limbo stage where I’m not quite qualified to be a design director/manager because my former “boss” never gave me any opportunity whatsoever. I’m probably too experienced for many positions, so I’ll be underemployed or undervalued. Just a real bummer on many fronts.

But hey, at least I did try and chase after a dream. Not many people can say that.

Well, you’ve still got a townhouse, car, furniture and a computer… try to focus on what you’ve got not what you don’t have. A lot of people lost a lot of things in the economic crisis that you still have. Stay upbeat.

Everybody makes mistakes now and again, following your dream wasn’t a mistake; it’s a mistake if you don’t learn anything from it. Then you’ll have spent a lot of time/money and not gotten anything out of it. Grab some paper and write down what you’ve learned. Maybe it’s all stuff that went wrong but you can look out for that in the future.

If it’s only been 10 years you’ve got about another 30 before you can claim failure. Do a few small projects from CL to get your self esteem up, make something great for somebody else and get a little positive karma going. I’m sure you’ll get out of the rut sooner than you think.

It sounds like you put too many eggs in one basket. The only thing that saved the company I work for during this economic nightmare is the fact that we sell a wide range of products across a few different categories. I’ve had products I really thought would take off completely bomb, and things I didn’t think were that great do well. More often than not it comes down to timing. Your idea might be a little ahead of its time. Hopefully cities will continue to improve their bike lanes and more people will commute, so your product might have more demand in the future. Keep it on the burner but STOP spending more money on it!

Are there other ideas you have that can be explored? Maybe something completely different than bike accessories?

I also think that branching out on your own shows some guts. I’m not so sure an employer would view what you did as a bad thing. I would venture a guess that you learned more chasing that dream than what anyone can teach you in a classroom, or even what you learn from having the same job for years.

You still have your health and your skills. Fill yourself with creative energy and figure out a solution to your dilemma.

Good Luck!

It is a difficult situation. Managing your career is the biggest design project of all, and like the best design processes, careers are not linear. Sometimes their are sharp peaks, and sometimes you need to double back. I think if I were in your situation I would plot out my experience in a good CV and apply to product development firms as a senior designer in some kind of a hybrid design/development/entrepreneurial role. You are also well qualified to work for a start up. Many start ups intentionally look for people who have failed to successfully launch a product on their own, because those people are well placed to help the company avoid those very pitfalls.

Failed Industrial Designer? Hardly! You’ve got experience that most ID’ers don’t have–trying to bring a product to market.
More jobs will come your way. Chin up!

I agree, you have not failed, but have learned a lot and achieved a valuable experience. without knowing your product/business more I can’t comment if you should abort, or proceed. I would say that I do disagree with the “you have too many eggs in one basket” comment. For someone doing a start up (I work with many), I think the best approach is to go big or go home. Doing it half way, while you play it safe and keep a day job and economize on business expenses I think is rarely a success.

I’d also +1 Yo’s comment about planning your career path. I also have had a varied career path (though not so much as yourself) from corporate to self-directed consultancy, educational endeavors, etc. but have tried to keep at all times an end goal in mind. I think you offer a unique set of experiences, and the issue is more about branding and strategizing those to a focused goal and USP, than anything else.

In terms of “failed IDer”, I’d certainly say no - more like IDer with a real-world specialization in brand and product management.

Best of luck,


If I may ask - what have you gotten hung up on for taking your idea to production? Capital? Finding the right vendor?

Seems like if the idea is developed and you see there is demand then it’s worth pushing on.

I was about to ask the same question. As a distant observer I am set to purchase your product
as soon as available and am a little disapointed about the delay.

You might need additional guidance to reach your goal: I have no idea what kind of outside organisation could provide some counceling for your company developement. In our region the “chambers of commerce” do something like teach ins for business startups, but that covers only financial and patenting aspects, not engineering and tooling.

Are there still engineering breakthroughs required to make it possible or is everything laid out for the
rigth investor to start production?

But failure? Well that is a completely different category alltogether.

All the best

Yours mo-i

Have you dug up the old Automoblox profile article on core? That guy went through some tough times, too (different economy, but still…) and he made it out as a successful product in the end.

There is no way you can call yourself a failure, you simply stumbled a bit on your rise to success. Everyone does at some point, but the fact that you took off on your own tells a prospective employer volumes about your character. If you do step away from your product, you should have a line up of great offers waiting for you when you’re ready for them.

I would suggest you read James Dyson’s biography it’s a designer/inventor horror story but he did make it in the end :wink:

And as someone else has said: never put all your eggs in the same basket.
And never ever invest money that you don’t have (aka don’t sublet, mortgage your house etc…)
And there’s always a bigger better idea…so no need to hang on to just one

BTW failure is always an option…it’s life most important lessons. We should all celebrate failure!

I fail to :wink: most of the time.


Grtz and respect for sharing this!

Thanks to everyone for their support and suggestions. I started the venture about 1.5 years ago and once the momentum really picked up, that’s when I pulled the trigger and left my job to focus on it. Quite a risk, I know. I wouldn’t necessarily say I put all my eggs in one basket, but I certainly went all in. As they say, GO BIG!

The amount of general product development experience and business sense I’ve gained from this is simply amazing. I can look back at only a year ago and go “WTF was I thinking???” Learned so very, very much.

The hold-up at the moment is securing the final stages of funding. I returned from Taiwan a few weeks ago where I spent much of my time at the Taipei Bike Show and touring factories. I’m also presenting to a large gathering of venture capitalists in a couple weeks. But sadly, it will probably be my last hurrah as money is running out and I probably need to get my career back on track if things don’t work out. And hopefully I’ll be able to jump back in to the game at a level higher than when I left.

Yes you did try, 99% don’t. Welcome to a rare club (I will send along the secrete hand shake later) and take heart, Tesla was digging ditches when Westinghouse found him. Bucky Fuller is a member in good standing, as are many others who tried and missed. On the down side you scare the shit out of HR and mid level folk, even some principles in companies will be either scared or find you a kindred spirit. One thing you can do is look at yourself and see what part of this adventure you loved the most, and move in that direction. If you walk the unlikely path you will no doubt get cut, scraped, and maybe die but you will also see vistas that others will not. You might find the pot of gold, you might not but over time you will find out what truly has value.

I think you are going to be fine 6ix. Your deep into the tunnel right now, but keep moving forward man, the solution will present itself. Sometimes any movement is forward movement. I’m sure down the line, with the clear vision of hindsight, this point will look like a pivotal and important place on the way to some other place.

Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.

There is no way you have failed, even if you stopped now.

I am in a very similar boat, and have spent a lot of money developing my brand [], and just trying to get it started. However I have also run out of money to invest in it, so am hoping that I can just get by.

I never put all my eggs in one basket and have had an small income off other work which has kept the mortgage paid.

However… if it all just failed right now I still think I am the winner. I took the risk, have learnt a load of new things, and am a much better person for it.

All the lessons learnt can be applied to the next project :smiley:

I do sometimes feel like you do - a bit of a failure, then I look at what I have done and am happy. Money can be earned anytime, but valuable experience is hard to get.

have fun - move on if it doesn’t work and apply what you have learnt to the next thing.

I’ve been there, . . . a number of times. In one instance, I had to walk away. Family and relationships will always take priority.
Sometimes, all you need is a little breathing space to re-balance your priorities. Look deep, and examine all of your options. Your decision doesn’t have to be a final one, it’s not binary. You can adjust the analog gray-scale of your involvement to find an interim short-term solution while you gain perspective from a distance. Come back into it more relaxed and objective about your product goals.

Failed?? Nah man I would say no matter how this comes out you are a winner. Of course I would suggest making smart decisions and not take out a loan on your house ore something really brash, but you have had the balls to go after your dream and that is more than a lot of us have done. Your experience out of this should make you a very desirable hire. I agree with Yo. Craft that resume right and take the qualities and skills you have learned from this and exploit them. Also take a step back and look at it from a non-emotional point of view. What have you done right? What have you learned? What is it that you think you could bring to an employer?

I would also encourage you to look up the founder of Keen footwear, Martin Keen. I saw him speak at an IDSA conference a few years back and he has quite the similar story to you. He worked for Teva and K-swiss and did not like the way they conducted business. He was an avid sailor and saw a need for a sailing sandal that would protect the toes. He quite his job and with no money went out to developed his first sandal. The only thing is that it took him 2 years, everyone said it would not work, and he went broke doing it. He now owns one of the greatest outdoor footwear companies in the world.

If you believe in your dreams you will succeed. If this means throwing in the towel and going back to the 9-5, I don’t think that makes you a failure. You tried and you will come out on top because you will have grown your career and big things will happen.

ok i am going to come off as a total jerk here but it needs to be said- have you heard about mirrors?

ok yea i was a jerk with that last comment, and I’m sure that alot of people might buy that, but it just seems so complicated and overkill. if you had done this in 5-10 years when you might be able to make it for 20 instead of 200, it could be more viable.

also, the commenters on endgadget love it, which is a really bad sign for a product.

just my opinion, best of luck on your career i think that most people would see you experience as unique and valuable.

Cerevellum was awarded “most wanted new product” by CyclingPlus magazine, so it’s certainly a viable product.

As for why this is better than a mirror:

  1. They’re insanely dorky and no sport cyclist would be seen using one.
  2. Mirrors are subject to a blurry image because of vibration
  3. They stick out from the bike or hang from the helmet/sunglasses
  4. They are dependent upon the direction of the substrate they are attached to.