Crowd-funding topic on mind of designers

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LONG BEACH, CALIF. — Crowd funding, idea development and product marketing were on the minds of attendees at an Industrial Designers Society of America regional event.
“Designer as Entrepreneur” was the theme for the April 12-13 design conference of the IDSA western district in Long Beach.
Jason Morris served as chair and organized the program. He is IDSA vice president for the seven-chapter western district, and associate professor of industrial design at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.
“Crowd funding will be transformative in the next three years,” said Dario Antonioni, founder and creative director of Orange22 Design Lab LLC of Venice, Calif.
Antonioni talked about getting ideas launched using “other people’s money.”
He noted the funding platform of New York-based Kickstarter Inc., which he said has generated $220 million for 61,000 creative projects.
“You can build an entire business through the Kickstarter crowd-funding model,” Antonioni said, suggesting dramatic change is in store for the traditional brick-and-mortar business model.
Antonioni mentioned The 4-Hour Work Week book of Timothy Ferriss explaining how Kickstarter can work.
IndieGoGo Inc., a San Francisco-based crowd-funding platform, has 75,000 Facebook fans, Antonioni said. Other leading crowd-funding venues include RocketHub of New York for donation-  and rewards-based crowd funding; GoFundMe of San Diego for personal donations, charity fundraising and all-or-nothing campaigns; and Razoo Foundation of Washington and San Francisco for nonprofit campaigns.
Steve Boyer, principal of Steve Boyer Design in Westminster, Calif., was skeptical of the trend.
“I don’t think receiving a lot of money on Kickstarter validates anything,” said Boyer, who taught at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles for four years. “Design is a problem-solving discipline,” he said.
Boyer suggested practitioners “apply design methods to business problems” through disciplined and researched idea-creating techniques.
Boyer drew his conclusion after Otis enrollees in a joint program showed more creativity than their counterparts studying business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
“It’s how we practice,” he said. “The business students had misperceptions” about generating ideas.

IP issues

Boyer addressed another topic: intellectual property.
IP “has become a sham in this country [and] often punishes innovators,” he said. “We need to change the culture on how IP is protected.”

Karen Hofmann, chair of product design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., suggested the possibility of graduate-level education enabling a future “design politician” to eventually address design-related policy issues — such as IP — at the federal and state levels.
Design-oriented entrepreneurs must have enthusiasm and vision, said Mike Mayberry, co-owner and vice president of product development for Magpul Industries Corp. of Erie, Colo.
Mayberry’s creativity led to a line of glass-reinforced-plastic rifle magazines. Twelve PMAG-brand offerings on the Magpul website are listed for about $13-$28.
“We changed the fiber lengths until we could meet the specifications,” Mayberry said. The mold was made in Colorado, and “we are now the biggest manufacturer of the product in the world.”
Mayberry said the polymer replacement for metal “killed the industry for the steel product.”
As a side project, Magpul is manufacturing $11 iPhone cases using recycled polymers. “They are made in the USA, and we can’t make enough,” said Mayberry, who brought cases to give to some attendees.
Design entrepreneur Ravi Sawhney reported on progress of startup D&A Guitar Gear, which established the online store selling guitar stands and accessories in December.
“We are getting good response,” said Sawhney, D&A’s advocate. He is also president and CEO of RKS Design Inc. in Thousand Oaks, Calif. A soft polymer material covers each stand’s points of contact with the guitar.
Another inventive designer established an internal project to create ways for his business to grow smaller and, simultaneously, retain success.
“As industrial designers, we should be doing much better than we are [and] be able to participate in profits,” said Robson Splane, president and CEO of Splane Design Associates in Valley Center, Calif.
Splane plans to post his instructional entrepreneurial approach on his website by the autumn of 2013. He created the site in response to numerous questions about ways to start a design practice.
Among Splane-designed projects, ABS skins cover a computerized robotic medical product that is finding applications beyond being a continuous passive-motion device.
The U.S. Veterans Administration is studying how the device helps military personnel with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans using the device to regain mobility have shown improvement in their PTSD diagnosis, and it may help individuals offset some symptoms of vertigo, fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s disease, Splane said.
In growing smaller, Splane Design went to seven employees from 16 and relocated to an old ranch house with adjacent space for a machinery shop. Splane Design aims to license up to six products during 2013 in adding to an existing 40.
IDSA national board Chairman George McCain gave an update to conference attendees about the society, noting the hiring of Daniel Martinage as executive director and the staff addition of a senior graphics designer. McCain is principal of McCain Design LLC of Kirkland, Wash.
Also at the conference, judges selected Charlie Weber as the winner of a competition among 15 students giving seven-minute product-portfolio presentations in Long Beach. Weber is enrolled at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
Weber’s rewards include registration for the 2013 IDSA national conference, slated for Aug. 21-24 in Chicago, and exhibit space during the event to showcase his ideas.