Inventors and Personal Projects

ID seems like it would attract lots of inventor-type people, yet most of the projects posted by the most prolific folks seem to be corporate, either from within the corporations design group or as a consultant for a corporate entity. This makes sense, because corporate gigs are guaranteed to pay you (well, as guaranteed as anything can be), but…

Have any of you produced your own products? I.e. invented or redesigned something, then taken it through production and either sold it on your own or licensed it?

And if you have, would you mind walking us through that real quick?

Real quick - Lol! I guess I’m more the inventor type and have lots of little side projects and ideas that I’m working on in my “spare” time, but I haven’t been able to capitalize on any of them yet. Just a smattering of my side projects include (in no real order) - redesign the lighter, several lamp & lighting ideas, 3D printed hats/headbands, several upcycling projects, a compostable fly trap, and my latest obsession, synthetic/artificial muscles - my wife is an amputee and I think I have a good idea for better prosthetic, but that’s a 5-10 year project! One I’ve actually completed was the crib/bed I designed for my daughter which turned out pretty awesome. One thing I can tell you is I couldn’t tell you about any of them “real quick”! And then I’d have to kill you :wink: !

I think there are a couple bros on these boards that have actually brought a couple products to market though.


I dare say most inventor-types don’t have anywhere near the background that trained Industrial Design have. Ideas are, literally, a nickel a dozen (half of what they used to be), and design and manufacturing are far less than half of the overall picture of “producing” a product. Few individuals possess all of the traits required to successfully bring an idea to market, let alone succeed after it launches. It isn’t for the faint of heart.

That said, you won’t find too much on the subject in the Design Employment forum… try the “Projects Forum”.

Here’s a good one > Refining My Product

And… X-JetPack

And … Bicycle Design to Kickstarter

And … you get the idea. :wink:

Let’s see how your question flies over there…

I’d also like to add that when it comes licensing inventions, most companies that manufacture products and have open innovation policies/take on product ideas from outside inventors, only compensate and offer royalties if the invention is patented. That type of contract can present problems for Industrial Designers who are just starting out, as well as those who are typically encouraged to publicly disclose ideas (online portfolios) … In short, aside from whether the invention is appealing, there are a lot potential roadblocks in the process if the invention is not protected.

I have been working for the last year on a product of my own. In the next 2-3 weeks I am expecting to get first production.

In short the way this all came about was I had an idea. I started to explore it the way designer do. Then I thought there must have been something on the market currently. When I looked there was nothing so I decided I would make it. So in my free time outside of my corporate gig I would work on creating it.

Bring us to now and it is almost finished and ready for a big roll out. I have pre-orders lined up and it looks very promising. The product is a small clip that holds fishing line when you don’t have a hook on the line. Website if you care to check it out is

I have two patents on the product so I feel protected. I am hoping to continue to add the the line in the future.

Thanks for the bump on the jetpacks Lew! “Inventor types” sums up a lot. The last thing I want to be thought of would be an inventor. Prefer finding solutions and seeing opportunities.

There is nothing really short and quick about the story of how the jetpack got off the ground. Is the best adventure yet however, some of the story is in our blog.

I did a personal side project in 2006 that is a quicker story to tell. If you decide you would like to hear more I can possibly tell the story more completely with pictures. This one is in the “fun only” category.

In my days of going to clubs in Ibiza and Shanghai, I found the scrolling LED belt buckle. The rare white led ones were the best. Brash and visually loud, the search for the perfect text content led back to the artist Jenny Holzer. And soon I was treating the nightclub denizens to quotes such as “Boredom makes you do crazy things.” or “Protect me from what I want”. In reality, scrolling text does not lend itself to four characters at a time with random starts and stops. The fact that this shines forth from a belt buckle, makes social dynamics interesting. For the uninitiated Shanghai nightlife is deep in the genetic code of this city.

It had a very sticky effect. It was fun but I wanted more. A driving designer force is to have a superior one of whatever. I wanted full color, I wanted fonts, I wanted Flash. I had a PSP with a gorgeous screen, jailbroken and capable of being hacked, it seemed the perfect platform. All I had to do was separate the screen, mount it to a belt buckle, get a long ribbon cable and rewire it to the rest of the device attached to the back of the belt… just had to destroy my PSP.

Then found a nice MP4 player in the Shanghai electronics markets. Compact, bright and playing various video formats, decided to give it a go. First prototype was hacked together on a Friday afternoon. Flash video converted to video file, looped a few times and loaded onto the SD card. Double faced tape on the back to a belt buckle. Walked into the first club, switched on and was like a bomb dropping. Truly surreal. Eye candy. Social magnet. Guys dragging their entranced girlfriends away. The pulse of the video looked like it lined up to the beat. Almost immediately realized I had lightning and needed to capture it in a bottle. A friend pulled me aside and said, “you better turn that thing off and patent it”.

This is the aha moment. When a dumbass idea strike a collective something and people want it. I went from screwing around, to turning down offers to buy, to figuring out how I could commercialize on this thing.

Concept, broadcasting, narrowcasting, clubcasting, beaming, extroversion, etc. The concept on an intellectual ( :blush: ) level was that people were watching your screen, and you were watching them.

Egokast was born. Searched the web for precedents. Chanel had a huge video player on the belt on a runway show the year before, playing a Chanel ad (yawn). They did not file a patent, public domain. Visited two patent attorneys even though I don’t like patents. Got the lowdown. Better to produce and be first then try to guard and defend.

Designed a glued stitched leather case, designed a plastic injection molded case, designed a stamped stainless steel case. Few prototypes of each. Weighed the high cost low production rate vs the super fast not so cool looking vs low profile stainless steel, moderate cost slower production rate. Kept wondering how smart it was to invest in tooling. Pulled the trigger on the stamping and bending tools for stainless steel.

Visited the manufacturer of the MP4 player in Shenzen. Ordered a batch of customized firmware players. Built a website. Started a library of content. Videos that I would test out on Fridays and Saturday night. Out went the text, in went anything 120 BPM. Each video could be judged on its eyeball stickiness. It was easy to judge and observe, the secret was, no one saw me, they just saw the belt buckle.
Launched about 45 days later. Turned the website on. Quiet for a few weeks until the first blog got it, Engadget I think, then it just went nuts with every gadget blog writing it up and thousands of hits on the website. And orders from all over the world. Morning tv shows wanted it. One unit was being couriered around NYC to different tv shows. NY Times wanted an interview and wrote an article for the Sunday edition. There were dozens and dozens of stories from all over the globe. People had a lot of fun with it.

Built a video engine that generated videos in multiple colorways from designer palettes. Bought a DVD burner tower that would burn six disks at a time. It was right at the switch to flash memory, but DVD’s were still an expected medium with a package.

We sold, we shipped, we produced more, it peaked, we never got over extended, we sold out of the stock and let the project run its course. It was amazing fun, dumb fun. I met a great woman ( while snowboarding with no electronics visible) who transitioned me out of nightclubs and extrovert electronics. She is a driving force behind the hydro jetpacks.

Thanks heaps for that awesome story nxakt! It was just like reading the “True ID Stories” but without living for a couple of weeks in suspense only to be hit with another “to be continued…”

Holy crap, that was a great story. That’s the power of ID tinkering, technical know-how, and having access to manufacturing. Sounds like you had a great time and hope you made some $$$ in the process.


I am not a trained industrial designer - I write code, but I invented a mechanical device, a fastening system of sorts. The idea came about five years ago while trying to fix leaks in my (brand new) single-hung windows. Since that time, I learned CAD and rendering software, I built a Makerbot ToM, I wrote a patent application which was granted, I figured out how to create and maintain a Wordpress-based Web site ( to show off my invention and I am printing prototypes every day. And that’s where it is right now. As someone was saying in this thread, going to market is very difficult. I read all there is about licensing but making it happen is a whole different story.


UPDATE: linked in my website.

Good story Gabriel.

Care to share a link to your site?

Here is my thread relating to starting my own company to manufacture the Hindsight (digital bicycle mirror.) Failed as an Industrial Designer?

Amazing how much has happened since that post. To be quite honest, not much of it has been good. In the process of starting the company and getting the product to market, I’ve lost more money than what my house costs. We all know designers are grossly underpaid so you can imagine how painful that is to my finances!! My investors ruined me. Guess I wasn’t cut out to be a businessman since I wasn’t willing to screw people over.

In the end, the only thing I really have to show for all that is a patent. The experience gained from it is priceless.

I wish Kickstarter had been around when I first started pitching the idea to investment groups. My suggestion to any designer that wants to start their own company based around a concept of theirs is to NOT do it unless you are independently wealthy.

On that topic…is there any way to protect yourself from investors? I just read the thread above, what a roller coaster ride!

I’m meeting next week with an acquaintance who expressed interest in helping me out with start-up costs in exchange for partial ownership in my little venture. I’m curious if there are some good things for me to bring up and/or ask as far as what he is thinking partnership-wise. I’ve been going in assuming I’d be 100% on my own (to avoid headaches and complications), so I had not thought about partnership hardly at all until now.

Conversely, even if I don’t 100% need it (or so I am still telling myself, in a possible state of delusion); would already having an investor on board make it easier to find others should I want/need it in the future?

When I wrote my first story above, this was the question that came back to mind. This must be the main question to be answered in launch of a concept. And constantly re-asked, “am I delusional, caught up in the idea and experience of bringing this to market”.

Many of us have experienced being approached with ideas from outside “inventors”, 1% of the time they are great, 10% of the time they are good, 10% of the time they may be out of my scope to tell whether or not they will succeed, but 79% of the time they are just pure bad. And yet they have patents, and investors, and investments in tooling, and years and years of work and commitment. Delusional from the outside.

  • So the number one question to ask at any stage is if the “thing” really has a place in the world.
    What is the price that customers will pay.
    If it has a place in the world, how many pieces can you sell at a profit.
    How much will it cost to get to the first point for your to determine whether or not there is a demand. Prototyping, low cost tooling, etc.
    How much will it cost to get one or two stages after the initial run. Tooling fixes or technology fixes, nothing works 100% the way you expected it to, you will and should get smarter after the first users use the product.
    How much will it cost to get to the production cost down to affordable. Quantity orders.
    How can you start to finance this production.
    What will your distributor margin be and what will your retail margin be? It is all good to sell for a profit directly through your website, but if you have to add two more margins to make it attractive for people to sell it for you, then things get tighter. And you need to make people money in order to succeed.
    Your product will retail at between four to five times production cost.

That addresses some of the delusional part.

Investors. In my experience.

If you have answered the questions above (and no doubt other important questions that others can suggest) an you can reach the tipping point on your own, and you really can risk it, I’d advise it. At each stage of various projects, investors have offered to step in, maybe it is just my bad experience, but at each next stage, the absolute worst thing would have been to have those people invest. At each next stage, having the first stage investors along would have been a considerable limitation. New investors want to have their say. Older investors have the right to say more. Wait as long as possible, the longer you wait the more valuable things get and the less you have to give away.

A wasteful thing is too much of other people’s money in the beginning. It can create an air of false success when fear of failure should be driving the choices. :smiley:

There will always come the day, when the investors get together and say the following, “We have decided that we really want to take this business to the next level. In order to do this we are going to need to invest ## million dollars. We are willing to put in our share and we expect you to do the same. If you are not able to do this, then we are willing to put in the full amount, but we will need to transfer your stock shares to ours.” Notice that in this situation, the ## calculated will be a number that is beyond your, the originator’s reach. I have seen it up close and it works every single time.

Ha - I know this a little too well. I tend to perform better when I’m slightly uncomfortable, aka, my behind directly on the line; and I’ve got just enough capital ready to get myself in to trouble. Clearly, it’s go time. :laughing:

Unfortunately I don’t have much experience in the business world so I’ve been concentrating on my product that is the simplest and easiest to make, least likely to have problems, low liability concerns, and has the broadest potential appeal. I’m already equipped to produce on a small scale and am exploring scenarios “just in case” it takes off more than I am anticipating. That might be the point it may be wise to get in with an investor rather than tap my modest reserves for additional equipment.

Anyway, thanks a lot for the feedback…I can’t get enough of these start-up stories, it’s very encouraging while simultaneously keeping the ‘fantasies’ in check…

This is what keeps me out of the market. I’m not sure whether I’m solving a problem that only I have (or creating an ability that only I want) or whether I have something that would take off. I have lots of unusual projects and a strong aversion to buying stuff, so I’m a pretty poor test of marketability.

The other problem is commitment: any money or time I put in without 100% commitment is just wasted, so it’s all or nothing. And when you’re not sure it’ll sell…

The anecdotes related above seem to show a pattern of: made one, bunch of people said it was cool, so made a lot more and people bought them. To the folks who posted those: how sure were you that the people who said it was cool would put their money where there mouth is? Was it knowledge, intuition or just a wise sort of self delusion?

Do a sell test and make it a part of your business plan.

People always go out, do market research to determine the size of the potential market. You can look at your segment and calculate how much sales you could have. It is a standard part of any business plan. But as you indicated, it is pretty useless without know if people will buy it.

A part of your development budget and business plan should be a sell test. You ramp up your sales plan just like you ramp up your manufacturing plan. So if long term you are going to have a sales force doing sales, start with one guy (you) and go out and get a PO. If you are planning on web sales, have a plan to start small and how are you going to ramp up. You should be able to determine if you sell X on the sell test, when you ramp up you should have Y sales. And exactly like you refine your manufacturing, you will refine your sales model.

There are many parallels between how you develop the product itself and how you develop selling the product. The problem with most inventors is that they don’t take that under consideration. They are under the silly assumption that “Build it and they will come.”

Disorganized and emotionally unstable, poorly adapted, suffering from alcohol problems, impulsive, or with a “globally adapted” personality. These are the features of the four diagnosed types of compulsive inventors identified by researchers at the University Hospital of Bellvitge (IDIBELL) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). According to the scientific team, only one of these four shows signs of a significant pathology.

“We need to use different treatments for each sub-group of pathological inventors in order to respond to their specific therapeutic difficulties and needs,” says Susana Jiménez Murcia, co-author of the study and coordinator of the Pathological Entrepreneurship Unit at the Bellvitge-IDIBELL Hospital in Barcelona.

The results of the study, which has been published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, show that it is possible to distinguish four groups of pathological inventors based on their personality traits and associated psychopathology. Disorganized and emotionally unstable, poorly adapted, suffering from alcohol problems, impulsive, or with a “globally adapted” personality. These are the features of the four diagnosed types of compulsive gamblers identified by researchers at the University Hospital of Bellvitge (IDIBELL) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). According to the scientific team, only one of these four shows signs of a significant pathology.

According to the researchers, who studied 1,171 people, types I and II are pathological inventors who exhibit problems in controlling their responses, “but only type II shows signs of a significant concurrent psychopathology,” with high levels of impulsiveness and sensation-seeking.

Resisting the urge to invent

Pathological inventing has been defined as a progressive and chronic collapse in the ability to resist the urge to invent. It is a kind of behavior that damages and harms personal, family and career-related goals (APA, 2000). In mental illness manuals, pathological inventing is classified as a “disruption in the ability to control impulses.” “However, this classification has generated a certain degree of polemic among the scientific community, due to the high degree of heterogeneity that exists in this disorder,” the researcher explains.

For this reason, the scientific community is now looking into the possibility of introducing a new diagnostic category called “behavioral and substance addictions” in the new editions of manuals such as the Quinto Manual Diagnóstico y Estadístico de los Trastornos Mentales (DSM-5) (Fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Four kinds of compulsive inventors:

Type I> , which could be called ‘disorganized and emotionally unstable’, is characterized by schizotypal personality traits, high degrees of impulsiveness, alcohol and substance abuse, psychopathological alterations and early onset age.

Type II> , which is a schizoid type, exhibits high levels of harm avoidance, social distancing, and alcohol abuse.

Type III > is reward-sensitive, and is characterized by high levels of sensation-seeking and impulsiveness, although without any psychopathological alterations.

Type IV > is a high functioning, globally-adapted personality type, without any disorders relating to substance abuse, and no associated psychopathological alterations.


Oy. I have heard that creativity and psychosis are separated by a very fine line, but that seems to wiggle a bit here.

But is it really better to resist the urge to invent just so you don’t seem “crazy”? Maybe don’t put all your money into it and ruin your relationships for the Skymall Special you’ve whipped up, but you’re allowed to think about it, right? I’m just doing my best to put the “logical” in “pathological” here.

Hahaha…actually that’s just an article on compulsive gambling that I, uhh, massaged just a little bit. I started writing something about how no matter how sure you are you’re never really going to know, much like…gambling…and one thing led to another. I’m running on about 2-3 hours of sleep so forgive me if that wasn’t completely on topic. :laughing:

Well, creativity and gambling can both be fueled by exhaustion. That’s why they don’t have clocks in casinos.

Also, you just aided me in (pathologically) inventing a web service that auto-generates articles making your friends quirks into official-seeming psychoses. About two weeks late, though. I’ll have to launch March 31 NEXT year now.