When an idea hits you, it's tempting to just jump straight into the first prototyping tool you can find. I don't blame you; I'm guilty of it myself.
As humans, we crave it; to watch our creation come to life as quickly as possible.
There's only one problem with that — missed opportunities.
You see, there's one ideation technique that's too easy to skip nowadays; sketching with pen and paper — old-school style.
With every pen stroke, a new potential idea is formed, connecting previous experiences with new discoveries.
Besides, taking your eyes off the screen once in a while is not such a bad thing either.
A pocket friendly wireframing ruler that inspires more sketching
Earlier in my career, I used to sketch my ideas down on paper.
Lately, I ́ve seen myself do less of it.
It could be because my intuition has become stronger over the years. Maybe because of all those amazing tools available at my fingertips. Or just pure laziness.
For me, I think it's a combination of all three.
Me, jumping on the computer with my first idea.
That's why I created this project. I needed a nifty tool that I could pull out of nowhere (pocket-size), something that could help me draw more precisely, and to get me back into the habit of sketching.
I've tried a few of the UI stencils and rulers out there. Many of them are great, but the only problem I have is that they aren't very pocket-friendly (and some could even need an aesthetic touch).
Scrappy paper prototypes to validate the idea.
Fueled with motivation to see my idea come to life, I decided to mock up a sketch in Illustrator (oh, the irony), print, and cut out the entire thing using a pencil knife.
It looked nice but lacked any real functionality. The gaps were too narrow for a pencil to fit and could easily tear.
I mentioned my project to a maker friend over coffee and he actually offered to help me 3D print a prototype.
And the best part; since I had a vector file (SVG), he could easily turn it directly into a 3D print file.
When I finally got my hands on the prototype, I was astounded. The 3D printed version was so good. I can’t believe how far this technology has come.
First round of 3D printed prototypes.
We still had to make a few adjustments because some of the gaps were too narrow. I did a few minor tweaks and sent it off for another print run.
In the meantime, I was so excited about it that I decided to share it with a design community I run called Case Study Club (~3000 subscribers at the time).
After mentioning the story, over ten people responded they wanted a piece.
Getting messages like this was encouraging and a small step towards validation. It felt like I was on to something.
It didn’t take long until the second print run was done. When I finally got my hands on the iterated version, it worked perfectly!
Testing the functionality (it works).
Validating the idea
Filled with excitement, I emailed the newsletter again, and this time I asked anyone who wanted a piece to reply with “3D”.
To my amazement, over 100 people responded… I felt overwhelmed and didn't even know if my friend could make
Since a few people already had suggested that I should try to sell them, I pitched him on the idea.
We decided to sell them in two packages — one for $14 or three for $28, including free shipping anywhere in the world. We even made a transparent version to test if that would be any good (yes, transparent 3D printing is a thing).
I quickly scrambled together a Shopify store and sent out another email linking directly to the checkout page.
We ended up selling 69 pieces. Incredible! Just the validation needed.
On top of solving my own problem, I was solving someone else's problem too.
I shipped all the pieces out with a personal thank you card and didn't really know what to expect next.
Shipping 3D printed prototypes to happy customers (thank you).
The next step was to keep in touch with everyone and ask about their experience using it.
The feedback was just what I needed. A lot of improvement suggestions and even ideas on expanding the concept further.
Here’s an example of one of the emails I received.
I mapped out all the feedback and prioritized them based on mentions.
For instance, wider gaps were mentioned four times, people were having trouble with felt pens. Other things, such as improving strength, was also mentioned a few times and even came with concrete suggestions.
This was also the time when the Kickstarter idea started to form (mentioned a few times too).
At this point, my friend had moved out of town and I needed a quick feedback loop, so I decided to get my own 3D printer.
Luckily it arrived in June so I could have a fun little summer project. I assembled the thing and started to learn 3D printing.
It took about two-three months of trial and error until I had "perfected" 3D printing the Uicard.
I also expanded on the idea (as suggested by some users) and made a few other cards to create a set, which included Flowcard, Gesturecard, and Iconcard.
Even more ideas to make up a complete set of cards.
Making it real
I was actually considering just sticking with 3D printing for a while, but after listening to the feedback, it became clear that a higher quality version would be preferred.
The next step was to get in touch with various ruler and prototype manufacturers.
The biggest problem with factory-grade prototypes is cost. The factory I had been in touch with had a minimum order quantity of 200 pieces.
I had heard from various sources that finding a great manufacturing partner can be a real pain. You have to be willing to try out at least three manufacturers before you find the right fit (sometimes even up to 10).
I gambled some of my savings and went for a manufacturer in China that had a good reputation and were reasonable priced.
The order was made, and I just had to sit back and wait for six weeks.
Oh, the wait was a challenge. Then again, it was good to get everything at a distance and not think about it for a while. It was a gamble (somewhat calculated) so I made sure not to get my hopes up too high.
Then, they finally arrived at the door.
I was blown away! The quality was so good — beyond my wildest imagination.
First factory grade prototype in hands. Oh boy, what a feeling.
I contacted everyone who had purchased the previous 3D printed prototypes and a few friends to ask if they wanted the new version (for free). I sent out another batch, and this time people got back to me immediately after receiving it.
The feedback was so encouraging, and I felt ready to move on to the next stage.
Kickstarter was mentioned again, and after a lot of consideration, I decided to go for it.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank eveyone who has supported this project so far and to all future backers.
From the bottom of my heart: A BIG thank you! I'm forever grateful to be able to bring Uicard into reality.