Bringing a product to market – lessons learned from 50 years of trying
Many designers work on side projects and ideas that are not related to their direct fee paid work. Recently I’ve been speaking to an artist in a similar situation. The lessons he’s learned give an interesting insight into design, creativity and innovation and the chance conversations that lend twists and turns to the road to success.
Constuctionist artist Terry Pope’s career goes back to the 1960s and he has been exhibiting, teaching and selling his work since then. As well as being an artist, Terry is an inventor and engineer and one of his creations is the Hyperscope.
The Hyperscope is designed to enable the user to see the world differently. It widens the distance between your eyes and as a result, your brain receives more data than it would otherwise do. It intensifies weak effects and makes them stronger.
When I looked through one images sharpened up and pinged towards me like a pop-up book. The foreground and background were more distinct from each other. When I removed the scope everything went flat again. It feels a bit like getting a new frequency to tune your brain to. The world is the same, but your perception of it changes.
Terry first invented the Hyperscope in 1960, making a prototype from a pair of WW2 headphones. Terry had been reading Perception of the Visual World by James Gibson, which contains ideas about retinal disparity. He was looking at the headphones and the thought came into his mind “I wonder what the world would look like if my eyes were in different places?” He dismantled the headphones and created the prototype Hyperscope.
So he had the prototype. Next, Terry did some market analysis. There were three markets he was looking at:
- Low volume, high cost: installations and science museums £8,000
- High volume, low cost: scientific toy: £12
- Mid volume, mid cost: £300-£400
He believed that market 1 would be able to capitalise 2 and 3. He has now supplied 20 science museums around the world in Japan, Canada, Switzerland, United States, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and UK. But the assumption that 1 would feed 2 and 3 was not an instant success by any means. The road to progress on the high-volume device has been longer than Terry would have ever imagined.
Terry continued to work on promoting the larger devices with the belief that they would spark the smaller device. In 1978 Terry exhibited at the Hayward Gallery. He decided to do something radical, to present artwork and science side-by-side. Terry did not feel that the categories of art and science should be barriers. They are all projects of the imagination after all. Ordinarily, there would have been resistance in the art world to the idea of exhibiting something that had a scientific aura about it alongside art. But in this case, the moment was right.
The event Terry was appearing at was the first Women’s Choice event. He thought about his argument – that the optical devices illuminate the darker side of the creative process. They capture attention and direct it to the things that are important. This exhibition attracted the Science Museum. Terry asked them if they would take a Hyperscope and they accepted it. No money changed hands.
In 1978, Terry focused on generating column inches for the Hyperscope. He found an article in Scientific American about kaleidoscopes and wrote to them to say: “Why don’t you write about my Scopes? They are even more interesting.” With this approach, he secured an article in Scientific American in 1986. This article lead directly to spots on Science Now and BBC Radio 4 as their researchers read the piece in Scientific American. Terry also contacted the Sunday Times and got the device featured on their innovations page.
The turning point
In 2014 Terry was sitting at his computer. He’d given up on the idea ever happening, because he was not doing anything with it.
The phone rang. It was Gerry Shattock. Gerry runs the science park at Exeter University. Gerry said: “I hope you don’t mind me calling. My daughter has seen your Hyperscopes in Camera Obscura in Edinburgh.” He suggested that Terry made contact with Camera Obscura and ask who their supplier was.
And this is how the high-volume, low-cost Hyperscope product came about – a full 54 years after Terry bought his headphones. And Terry is still selling the large-scale machines. In 2015 he sold a Hyperscope to Bremen Science Museum for £8,000.
Terry’s journey has been long and winding. I asked him what he has learned along the way. Here’s what he said were the steepest parts of his learning curve:
“Meeting the challenge of combining business and innovation. I’ve tried really hard to commercialise several times and given up several times. I started off being really ingenuous and not knowing about commercialisation. Then I found people, like Gerry Shattock, who know about these things. We would go to meetings and, initially it was like I was listening to a masonic code. As time went on I have picked up more of it.”
“Developing business behaviours. This stems from the element above. I find I’m more equipped to make progress because I do the things necessary for it to happen. For example, the importance of finding the right people to contact and then to be proactive in reaching out to them. To have a process and expect to contact and chase. Chase and nudge, nudge and chase.
“Understanding the route to market and what you don’t know. I have developed flexibility because I have grasped this. For example, the distributors know what the market requires and I don’t. I have to accept that my product needs to be modified to fit the market. I am prepared to adapt to what people require. My notions were very idealistic at first but now they are more about what will achieve the objective.
“Never losing sight of why I’m doing what I’m doing. What has kept me going is a clear motivating vision, an underlying purpose to my work. This is to share the experience of using these devices and what they can do for extending human perception with as many people as possible.”
John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. He Tweets at @DBAScarrott.