Introducing Designed by Artists

Artists on Kickstarter are launching projects that push beyond their own categories, working in disciplines like Design and Technology to develop products that bring communities closer together. Here on the Arts team, we’ve asked ourselves how to best elevate these cross-category projects—and what resources artists need to build their first product.

Today, we’re excited to announce the beginning of a new initiative called Designed by Artists, a celebration of Kickstarter projects by artists building community-centered products. From conceptual dating apps to hardware for new media art, these projects create thoughtful, useful products that enrich the lives of the people who use them—and we’re here to help you to make one too.

Join the initiative.

Similar to initiatives like Kickstarter Commissions and our Design and Technology team’s Request for Projects, Designed by Artists is an invitation for you to launch a project. This time, we’re looking to highlight artist-designed products that take their bold ideas outside the patron, gallery, and institutional models—and put them in the hands of the community they serve.

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How FrankOne Found Its Fit and Fine-Tuned Finishing Touches

Brewing coffee to the Golden Cup Standard typically requires a few minutes of percolation. It’s why you wait so long for pricey pour-overs. And it got veteran founder Eduardo Umaña thinking about the market opportunity for a small, rechargeable coffee maker that does it better. His invention, the FrankOne, uses patented vacuum extraction technology to make a perfect cup in just 30 seconds.

Umaña had previously launched a watch company called Classic Engineering, where he learned that thinking through a clear value proposition like this is just as important as coming up with an interesting product. “With Classic Engineering, I let my creativity run wild, creating basically what came to my mind,” he said. “With FrankOne, the design process was more disciplined towards cost, ease of use, reliability, and certain parameters having to do with coffee extraction.”

Having that experience and perspective made it significantly easier to launch FrankOne. Plus, he also got some help from Kickstarter’s Hardware Studio Connection partner Dragon Innovation. In the edited and condensed interview below, he discusses his experience and advice for fine-tuning an excellent product.

Katheryn Thayer: Did you have concerns about feasibility of certain elements? Why?

Umaña: I think there are several types of feasibility when launching a new product. There’s physical restrictions—any product has to conform to the laws of physics. Then there is the manufacturing feasibility question, which is harder to answer for people without a lot of design experience. Lastly, there’s the question of market fit and interest. Testing for each kind of feasibility takes very different skills, but launching a product requires all three of them.

In our case, we had two important feasibility questions. The first was about market fit and interest. Do people want a coffee machine like the one we have in mind? The way we answered this question was by taking a look at the competitors in the market. Our machine would be much easier to use; it would also be the first machine that can make both hot coffee and cold brew. This is when we realized there is value in our planned product. To confirm this, we built prototypes and showed them to the coffee community. We traveled as far as Guatemala to a very famous specialty coffee farm called El Injerto to show them our design. Their response was very positive.

The second question was of the physical kind. Can we fit strong enough pumps and batteries in the small space we have? We spent a lot of time placing batteries and pumps in different configurations before finding the best one. We bought different pumps off Alibaba and printed various test shapes with an Ultimaker 3 to make sure the pump we selected provided an appropriate amount of flow rate. Rapid iteration is the only way to do it. After we confirmed this was possible, we knew we had a product.

A prototype of FrankOne A prototype of FrankOne Were there elements of this project that you thought would be simple but ended up being a headache? How did they surprise you?

Refining the design—or finishing the last 20 percent of the product—takes 80 percent of the time. When we discovered the form factor for FrankOne we thought we would finish the design fast. It is a simple-looking machine, right? However, getting every single kink ironed out took way longer than we thought it would. It’s always what you think will be simple that ends up being a problem: finding the right prototyping materials, testing tolerances of certain components, and making the glass carafe were just a few of the challenges in our particular case. Each product will has its own hidden set of complexities. I could see how entire product development timelines could be thrown off by these little issues piling up.

How’d you start working with Dragon Innovation?

I met Scott, the founder of Dragon, at an event in San Francisco. At the time I was doing manufacturing for my previous company, Classic Engineering, but in the low-volume space. I knew that when I decided to launch my first mass-produced product it was imperative to work with someone like Scott at Dragon. I never attempted to learn as I go with manufacturing—though that is my philosophy for almost everything else!

What did you feel was the most significant part of working with them?

Showing your design to an experienced manufacturing engineer and receiving feedback is worth a lot. The trip to China to visit factories was also remarkable. I feel my knowledge as an entrepreneur in hardware was widened by working with them and asking a lot of questions.

How far along were you with the prototype when you showed it to them? What were the main points of feedback they provided? And how did those smooth your work with factories?

Once we had a mature prototype, we used its Product Planner software to schedule DFM reviews with their engineers. Here, Dragon did provide very specific feedback on certain aspects of the design, mainly around how to design the waterproof button and the waterproof USB connector on FrankOne. No major redesign was necessary, since I was already familiar with manufacturing processes and had integrated that knowledge into the design.

What do you wish you knew sooner?

Be very careful who you contract with. The first Kickstarter video we did was a disaster, largely based on the company that we decided to hire. We had to settle with them and find a new company to make the video. A few thousand were lost in the process unfortunately…

I would recommend personally meeting with people you are considering working with before getting started. If possible, visit their office to get a better look at their level of organization and professionalism. Have a contract in place in case their service does not fulfill your specific requirements.

What advice do you have for other makers working on similar appliances?

Before designing anything, I would say it is important to know the market need you are filling. Don’t be victim to falling in love with your creation and stubbornly taking it to market to find out not enough people want it. A very good professor I had in college said that “inventors fall in love with their inventions,” and once that happens, a stream of bad business decisions usually follow.

Eduardo is the founder and CEO of Frank de Paula. Eduardo is a mechanical and electrical engineer by profession, a designer by instinct, and an entrepreneur by nature. Before starting Frank de Paula, he started Classic Engineering, where he designed and launched a ceramic watch and enchanted lamp that turns on at the sound of a whistle. He can be reached at eum [ at ] frankdepaula.com.

Key Considerations for Powering Your Device

Look around: mobile isn’t the future, it’s the present. The world is becoming increasingly connected through new hardware innovations. We’re witnessing new battery-powered creations in categories that didn’t exist a decade ago—tablets, AI assistants, smartwatches, and more. Plus, startups are getting their wearable, handheld, and portable devices from concept to crowdfunding faster than ever. 

If you’re developing a new product, chances are you’ve invested a great deal of time in targeting your market, building your architecture and fine-tuning your application and user interface. But have you thought long and hard about how to power your new device? 

Choosing the right battery and charging technology can significantly impact your product's user experience, aesthetics, and functionality. You should consider these factors early on in your product roadmap. If you’ve been unsure whether to go with wired or wireless charging, here are a few things you should consider.   

Wireless power standards come of age 

When USB emerged as the de facto standard for wired charging technology, design choices became easier. At that time wireless charging standards were still in their infancy. Developers who wanted to employ wireless power had to choose from a multitude of standards that varied widely in range and wattage. 

Much has changed over the past five years. Today, the Qi standard, first published in 2008, has emerged as a fixed standard for wireless charging. When Samsung implemented Qi in its Galaxy smartphone, the standard rapidly spread across a wide range of wearable and portable devices. 

People today can choose from an assortment of wireless Qi devices with a wide variety of relatively inexpensive chargers. The Qi standard is not only easy to implement, but highly flexible. It can scale in cost and power levels ranging from 1-15 watts. Incorporating the standard is easier than ever because many suppliers now have turnkey proof-of-concept reference design kits. 

While it looks like the market is moving toward wireless, take the time to understand your choices and consider the pros and cons of choosing a particular charging technology.   

Pros of going wireless 

Mass adoption: As the technology matures, the efficiency and quality of wireless power transfer is increasing. For example, Qi wireless cell phone chargers are now a standard option in many electric and luxury cars. Soon they will be available in midrange vehicles, too, so your backer will have a perfect place to bring your invention with them on the go. 

Falling prices: The cost of wireless charging technology is dropping fast, especially for high-volume manufactured products. For example, as sales of smartphones grow, the per-unit cost of implementing wireless connections has dropped dramatically. 

Charging flexibility: Wireless chargers are capable of charging more than one device simultaneously. Also, they don’t require cables between the device and charger, which is convenient.   

Pros of going wired 

Ease of development: Most engineers have some knowledge of basic wired power solutions. The learning curve is short, and you can get your project up and running quickly because design references are plentiful. 

Tried and true: For now, wired charging is cheaper and more reliable than wireless power. You may want to launch an initial version of your product with wired power, to get on the market fast. Then, you can hatch plans for an enhanced version with wireless capability. 

High stakes technology: For demanding or time-sensitive applications, sometimes wired provides more consistent, dependable performance. You wouldn’t want a wireless microphone to produce bad quality sound just because the wireless charging pad was on the fritz.    

Cons of going wireless 

Higher cost: Wireless power transfer is more affordable than in the past. However, it will continue to be more expensive to implement than wired power connections. An important consideration is whether your customers will pay more for wireless technology. 

Lower efficiency: Wireless technology is not as power efficient as an equivalent wired connection. They often take twice as long to charge as wired ones. This could affect customer adoption.  

Wear and tear: Wireless technology can be harder on internal systems. For example, current wireless charging technologies can subject batteries to additional heat and stress. This can lower device performance and life expectancy.   

Cons of going wired 

A different kind of wear and tear: From exposed USB ports to frayed cords, there are many places where wired power can break down. Proprietary power cords can create additional costs and headaches for your customers.  

Less ruggedized: Wired technology doesn’t have the flexible options for full ruggedization or water-proofing that wireless power does. Its open ports can limit the ways it can be deployed.  

Getting left behind: As the world continues to move toward wireless, you risk having legacy wired systems intermingling with new wireless advances. For interoperability, you’ll need a good team to help navigate how the two power systems work together as you transition from one to another.    

Make sure the battery matches the charging option 

We’ve talked about charging quite a bit. But whether you’re developing the next great AI robot or just a simple fitness tracker, you’ll usually be charging a battery along the way. 

Countless battery types have emerged over the years. Lead acid technology dates back to the 1800s, yet it’s still used heavily in automotive and solar applications—so you’ll likely not come across it while researching applicable options for an instrument or wearable. 

Nickel-metal hydride technology came along in the late ‘60s and remains a popular choice for consumer electronics and electric vehicles so it might be nice to consider. 

However, for portable applications, these batteries are increasingly being eclipsed by lithium-ion, which offers superior power density and faster charging—at a higher price that’s usually worth paying. Lithium-ion batteries are common in consumer electronics and are gaining popularity in automotive and aerospace applications. 

Which of these batteries is right for you? You’ll need to balance size and weight with cost, capabilities, and safety. Here are a few important characteristics that you should consider when exploring battery options. 

Get comfortable with two phrases: battery gauging and cell balancing. Battery gauging refers to a battery's ability to accurately assess and report its energy levels. This is an essential feature for most consumer electronics applications. Cell balancing is crucial to maximizing the capacity and extending the life of a battery. These attributes can greatly impact a user's experience of your product. 

Battery configurations, also known as topologies, can have a big impact on the complexity and costs of your designs as well. Centralized topologies employ a single controller connected to multiple battery cells, each with its own communication wire. It's an economical approach that is a good choice for most consumer electronics products such wearables, connected home sensors, and even drones. Distributed topologies feature separate controllers for each battery cell. This is the most expensive option but also the easiest to install, and most expandable. Modular topologies provide a compromise between the centralized and distributed configurations – they use several controllers, each connected to a small number of cells. These topologies are most often used in products that require networks of batteries, like electric cars.   

It’s all about providing the best experience 

Understanding the pros and cons of each power option is key to realizing the full potential of your new product—and delivering the best experience for your eventual backers. Wired power is a strong option for developers that need to get to market fast and require an inexpensive, proven solution. For products where convenience and future compatibility are paramount, you can move forward confidently with standards-based wireless power. To get the most out of the options you choose, you also need to consider the physics and specifications of your power and charging systems as you architect your product. This often means using a tried-and-true lithium ion battery with a simple charging configuration. 

While there’s no such thing as too much knowledge, it pays to go to credible sources and strong communities of creators to determine the path that’s right for you. You can learn more about what other creators are doing on the Hackster.io and element14.com communities, or reach out to some of the partners listed on the Hardware Studio homepage

Toward Better 3D Printers: A New Test From Autodesk and Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a well-established home for 3D printing. Over 200 campaigns focused on bringing new 3D printers to life have been funded here. Innovative industry-leading companies like Formlabs got their start on Kickstarter. Hundreds of other creators have launched filaments, fixtures, print heads, and other projects that support this dynamic ecosystem.

To ensure that this community continues to thrive on Kickstarter, we’ve been working with our friends at Autodesk to address a challenge that our creators and backers face: lack of a common standard to assess the performance of FDM 3D printers. (Fused Deposition Modeling is the standard layer-by-layer process that you’ve probably seen even if you’ve only encountered a few 3D printers.) Today, we’re happy to announce that with generous help from Autodesk, we’re releasing a new open-source printing test for Kickstarter creators.

Kickstarter already requires that 3D printer creators demonstrate the current functionality of their devices through videos of prints in progress and photos of finished prints. However, creators often showcase different types of prints, from geometric vases and abstract art to more common tests like the 3D Benchy. This makes it hard to compare the performance of various machines.

Autodesk research scientist Andreas Bastian has developed a test procedure designed to help creators better calibrate their machines and showcase their printers’ capabilities to backers on Kickstarter. He developed a single, consolidated STL file that tests a printer’s dimensional accuracy, resolution, and alignment. For example, poor execution of the “bridging” feature shown below will lead to a saggy and stringy print. A well-calibrated printer will make the horizontal feature with fewer of those issues.

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Mark Your Calendars: 16 Kickstarter-Funded Performances to Watch in NYC This Fall

Davalois Fearon performing at The Met Breuer. Photo by Andrew Imaging.
Davalois Fearon performing at The Met Breuer. Photo by Andrew Imaging.

Every fall, the performance world experiences its own back-to-school moment as artists prepare to premiere and tour their works. Starting this September, dozens of Kickstarter-funded shows will be hitting stages across the country.

In New York City alone, 16 Kickstarter-funded productions will premiere in the coming months. The creators of these works represent some of the most exciting voices in performance today, and each is helping to forge a new vision of how performance can tell important stories and engage audiences.

Here are a few of the performances I’m especially looking forward to:

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2 Million People Have Pledged $100M to Art on Kickstarter

Today, I’m thrilled to share an exciting milestone: over 2 million people have pledged more than $100 million to creative projects within Kickstarter's Art category. That support has helped bring more than 12,800 works to life—from paintings and performance art to sculpture, installations, and conceptual works.

Some interesting themes arise from looking at these works. Here are a few that stand out:

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Announcing NFTS Platform!, a New Initiative to Support the Next Generation of Filmmakers

NFTS students on set
NFTS students on set

Today, we’re excited to team up with one of the world's leading film, games, and television schools, the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in the UK, to launch NFTS Platform!, a new initiative to support the next generation of filmmakers.

As part of NFTS Platform!, students will launch Kickstarter campaigns for ambitious short film projects outside of the school curriculum. They will receive mentorship from the Kickstarter Film team, learning fundraising and community-building skills that will help them tell important and timely stories and find dedicated audiences eager to support their projects. In addition to the funds raised through the Kickstarter campaigns, NFTS will make a financial contribution to each project.

The initiative is a response to the challenges of funding independent films, and recognizes the important role that community funding can play in the success of short film projects.

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