Roscoe Village Designer Kickstarts An Idea

By Mike Fourcher | Friday, March 11, 2011
Don Lehman demonstrates his invention. Credit: Mike Fourcher.

The media fury surrounding Apple’s iPad centers on how neat and cool it is to move things with your fingers. Steve Jobs’ carnival huckster act lures us all in: No keyboard, mouse or pen needed!

But then, it isn’t as easy to draw with your finger as it is with a pen, is it? If sketching with a pen is an important part of your life and you want to do it with an iPad, Roscoe Village industrial designer Don Lehman has got just the thing for you.

Laying his iPad on a table, he pulls out a Sharpie and removes the cap. Then, he snaps into place the More/Real Stylus, a brushed metal cap about the same size as a Sharpie with a small, black rubber tip.

It’s firm, but it squishes under pressure. Then, he begins to sketch. Just like on a piece of paper.

To those of us who don’t sketch for a living, this development may seem unremarkable. But for a designer, architect, contractor – anyone who has to draw on the go – Lehman’s More/Real Stylus is a tiny revolution.

“I didn’t really want to leave paper behind,” says Lehman. “With paper you can do a ton of things, it’s really quick.  Once you make a mark, the mark is there. So it allows you to keep going rapidly. But digitally you are almost like a sculptor when you sketch: undo, undo, undo, redo, redo, redo. You just go until you see what works. If there was some way to combine the two that would be great.  That’s how the stylus-cap idea came.”

You can’t buy the More/Real Stylus in stores…yet. Instead, you have until Wednesday to help support Lehman send his invention to a first run production, though Kickstarter, “the largest funding platform for creative projects,” as it bills itself.

For Lehman and others, Kickstarter works like this: You think of an idea and pitch the basics to Kickstarter. If they accept it, you create a page describing your idea and a level of funding you need to get it made.

Then, you ask for pledges – anything from a few dollars to thousands. Then, when you reach your funding level, Kickstarter passes the money on to you and you make your product, then send it to your funders.

Lehman uses the stylus to draw a cube. Photo by Mike Fourcher.

Unlike most other product design, where a company commissions an idea and funds the development process, Kickstarter puts the process entirely in the hands of the designer. Sales, production, manufacturing and fulfillment.

“With Kickstarter you’re showing someone a product earlier than you normally would,” says Lehman. “Normally you’d show them something after you’ve worked out all the bugs, or you’ve got the manufacturing started.

“With this, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to get it in the beginning of May, but there may be some unforeseen things, because that’s just what happens. You’re funding this because you believe in the idea and you want to go along with the bumps in the road.”

Lehman and his wife moved from Rochester, New York to Chicago in 2004, then to Roscoe Village in 2008. “I love the Four Moon Tavern. It’s the perfect neighborhood place,” he says.

But he still gets to put his Rochester roots to work since he’s producing the More/Real Stylus entirely in Rochester with green manufacturing processes.

“There was actually quite a bit of capability to do this in Rochester,” says Lehman. The company that’s manufacturing the tip for me is in Rochester. They’re a green facility [with] a big windmill outside that generates a good portion of their electricity. They recycle their heat and pump it back into the building for heat. They’re a really cool place and they do really great work on top of being environmentally focused.”

Lehman’s original goal was to raise $15,000 to produce his product, but word of the More/Real stylus has swept through the design community and as of Friday morning, he had received over $58,000 in pledges and over 1,500 orders.

“The biggest thing now is dealing with fulfillment and shipping,” says Lehman. “Which are things you don’t generally think about. “Oh yeah, I gotta send this to people.’”

Another Chicago industrial designer, Scott Wilson, experienced a bigger fulfillment headache last December with his TikTok, a specially watchband that converts the Apple iPod Nano into a watch. Like Lehman, Wilson was looking for $15,000 in funding. He ended up getting close to $1 million and over 15,000 orders through Kickstarter.

Lehman is ready for the deluge. “I’ve talked to Scott, and fulfillment was a big issue for them. There’s a few things. It sounds like they’re overcome-able.”

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