Lecture 5: Michael Tougher & Soundbops

This week we listened to Michael Tougher, a 2015 graduate of our course and winner of the 2014 Design in Plastics competition. He spoke about his experience with his winning product, Soundbops, from conception all the way to production six years later.

This lecture was very helpful, both for giving insight into the road after a product’s initial success, and for Michael’s lessons on how to make the most of a university project.

My biggest takeaway from this is just how long it takes to bring an idea to market. The level of perseverance is remarkable, especially given Michael’s path was not plain sailing. It took him three attempts to win the Scottish Edge competition and get the grant. I had previously imagined your product would have to easily win a competition like that to stand a chance, but Michael has shown otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, Soundbops is a really nice product, but I think Michael and his resilience were critical to his success. As with Saskia from SofaForLife, listening to an entrepreneur who has brought their own product to market shows me it is not easy. You need to be ready for a full-time job in business, marketing, and manufacture.

Another point I found interesting was the importance of understanding your user. The fact Michael spent ages designing for clarity only for the kids to not know how it works, underlines this. Research, communication, and feedback. Building upon that, Michael also hinted at the importance of being able to interpret a user’s feedback correctly and ask the right questions.

“Ask a user if they want a feature and they will say yes.”

One other observation I made was more directly related to my current work. Michael repeatedly did things ‘the quick way’. Using a cardboard box to represent his product and gather feedback is something I wouldn’t have considered, nor dubbing sound effects over a video to pretend your product works. I wouldn’t have considered it, but Michael was able to earn grants from it.

This is something I have been thinking about recently – by making overly-refined prototypes too soon I automatically restrain my thinking. CAD and 3D printing are great for countless reasons, but they force you to specify every last dimension, and that might be a bad thing. If I put hours into a CAD model, then I will be reluctant to admit that it isn’t the best solution to the problem. Worse still, I might not even realise that an aspect of the design could be changed for the better. I will try to be more mindful of this pitfall in the future.

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