Author Archive | Steve Coast

Instant: The Story of Polaroid

Cover of Instant

Cover of Instant

It’s appropriate that a lot of love went in to this book since it’s about a suite of products that were so dearly loved by a few million people. I’ve been looking for a good history of Polaroid and of Land, it’s (co-)founder for some time. There is a biography I couldn’t get in to but Instant knocks the ball out of the park.

Beautiful pictures complement the text throughout the book

Beautiful pictures complement the text throughout the book

It’s a quick read and it’s pretty high level but it gives some idea of the depth of the product. It’s probably the best book I’ve read in 2012.

Product design highlights from 30-40 years ago

Product design highlights from 30-40 years ago

The product design captured within the pages is quite something; specifically look at the top-right picture in the above pages. It could easily be the packaging for an Apple product, only a few decades early. Indeed throughout the book parallels between Apple and Polaroid are frequent enough that you trip over one every other page. Live music at showcase events. The slow product reveal. The focus on simplicity. The manic founder working long hours.

There is some high-level detail of the photographic systems and processes themselves. Enough for you to smack your forehead at the thought of the insane amount of engineering that went in to instant photography. I had no idea, for example, that the milky-white color of Polaroids when they were spat out of a camera is actually there to protect the development process from ambient light. It’s an entirely separate chemical process from the picture development itself designed to last long enough for the photo to develop in darkness.

In the end all this analog technology was superseded but that was only a piece of the puzzle of Polaroids fall. Large other chunks include ejecting the founder and an Apple-esque set of disasters managed by the bureaucrats that followed. Polaroid lives on over at the impossible project and elsewhere as the book concludes.

So, well worth a read.

What I learnt trading coffee for feedback

Coffee for Opinions

Coffee for Opinions

So you have a Thing and you want to get feedback from Real People. Buy them a coffee in exchange for a little time, right?

First, don’t expect busy cafe owner guy to agree. Or care. The first one didn’t. It turns out that offering free coffee sends all kinds of mixed signals for a cafe even if they’re still making money. The question is, are they making additional revenue? In other words, they’ll sell the coffee anyway so why add the complication of putting you in the middle?

Don’t pick a busy coffee shop. They don’t have time to deal with your stupid feedback idea. Find a coffee shop where they have enough time to listen to your stupid feedback idea, but also have customers occasionally so you can actually, you know, get feedback.

Don’t go to a coffee shop with 20-something hipsters. The wifi will be saturated and you want a more representative sample of the population.

Get a sign. Mine was simple; “ask me for free coffee”. I printed it on a piece of paper. The plastic stand, you won’t believe. Staples sells them for $11. $11. And that’s the low end model. There are all types of deluxe super platinum crystal edition stands.

I evolved my idea in to just paying the barista. I kicked it off with a flat $25 tip and $25 behind the counter to buy coffee. About half the customers agreed to free coffee, the other half were too busy. The flat tip gets the barista on your side. To the point of evangelism since it would otherwise take 25 sales to get the same tip. It also vastly simplifies the whole “money changing hands” thing. No awkward cash for every other coffee getting in the way of that valuable feedback time.

Now throw away the sign since barista person is doing the PR for you.

You’re showing them the Thing on a laptop, phone or a tablet right? Make sure you don’t mind crumbs and coffee being spilt all over it. Make sure it doesn’t have all your secret passwords on it. Make sure you don’t mind if it gets dropped or stolen. Basically, buy a cheap android thing.

Show the barista how the Thing works. Now, they’re the ones showing customers and asking for the feedback. Yay! Division of labor!

Next, prepare for feedback.

Whatever you thought you were going to get feedback on, it will be on something else that you actually hear. Getting out of the building and talking to Real People is extremely valuable. Things you thought were obvious will be incredibly complicated for Joe User. Complicated things will be simple.

Write everything down. Everything. I avoided audio or video recording since it would complicate things and might be creepy.

A few hours later, richer for conversations and feedback, poorer $50, you have your data to go iterate on.

Oh and the barista is your new best friend.

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