Today, I wanted to give you a look behind the scenes and share our prototyping journey with you!
As you've heard me say in our Kickstarter video, I fell in love with photography in 1983 when I got my hands on the Rollei 35. Ever since, its wonderfully tactile buttons, dials, and levers have defined for me what a camera should feel like!
I started shooting digitally around 2001 and have probably owned a dozen different cameras - with a particular soft spot for the compact Lumix LX100, the Fujifilm X-Series, and a Canon EOS RP. And yet, I noticed that I was shooting about 90% of my photos on my iPhone! Even if I had one of my other cameras with me, I sometimes chose to shoot with my iPhone anyway - particularly in difficult lighting conditions. The iPhone's computational image processing system, which took multiple exposures and then combined the best parts of each image ("Deep Fusion"), just tended to nail those shots better than my "real" cameras.
So I started looking for a product that would allow me to combine the iPhone's imaging capabilities with real, tactile camera controls, yet would keep the iPhone pocketable. But everything I found was either too bulky, or too limited (with only a shutter button and no other camera controls), or both.
The First Sketches & Cardboard Prototype
So in late 2019, I started sketching ideas of what my dream solution would look like:
The idea was to keep the phone case and "grip" separate, so I could keep using the "grip" part when I upgraded my phone. The "grip" would be flat, but could slide open and turn into a shape similar to a DSLR grip, with a camera control panel folding up. This turned into a cardboard prototype:
With these, I reached out to several industrial design studios here in Oslo to find the right partner for taking the idea further.
Prototyping with Frost - Initial Exploration
Through a friend (thank you, Svein Gunnar!), I was introduced to the award-winning studio Frost Produkt. Besides being wonderful people, they had also been the co-founders of Oslo Bike Sharing, and they had experience with designing cameras and electronic products.
To kick off the process, we started brainstorming which other form factors might be possible - to ensure that we hadn't overlooked any ideas that might be even better! We came up with five concepts that we thought would be worth testing:
We called these
1) "The Bail" (inspired by the carrying handle of Dieter Rams' radio designs for Braun)
2) "The Reflex" (inspired by the snap-on reflective safety bands that Norwegians put around their arms when walking outside in the darkness of winter)
3) "The Hinge" (where the centre hinge contained a shutter button)
4) "The Slider" (based on my original concept)
5) "The Fixed" (the most minimalist interpretation of the idea)
We made lo-fi models of each concept using foam blocks, screws, bits of wire, and gaffer tape. Super fun! Based on how they felt ergonomically, and the feasibility of manufacturing them, we chose to explore "The Bail", "The "Hinge", and "The Fixed" further.
Exploring the three most promising concepts
Next, we started 3D printing dozens of different versions of the three concepts, testing different shapes, button placements, folding mechanisms, and angles. The COVID pandemic was rolling into Norway as well, so we held our workshops outside and shipped prototypes back and forth across Oslo by post.
Ultimately, the choice became clear: "The Fixed" concept felt the best in our hands! It provided the best ergonomics, it was the most compact & pocketable, and it would also be the easiest to manufacture. In style and shape, it reminded us of our premium compact cameras (like the Lumix LX100 or Fujifilm X100).
Refining the winning concept
We kept iterating the industrial design of "The Fixed" concept. Gradually, we first added the Kickstand Hinge, then hit upon the idea of the Quick Release mechanism which would also allow the Grip to be rotated by 90°:
Then, after our electronic testing showed that we could achieve a battery life of up to 12 months, we removed the On/Off Switch - both to simplify the user experience and the mechanical design.
In parallel, we created and assembled the PCBs - culminating in a working prototype earlier this year:
It was a true "IT'S ALIVE" moment.
Fast forward a couple of months...
And here we are - closing in on 10x our funding goal! None of this would be possible without you and the marvelous Kickstarter community. We're incredibly grateful for your support!
Thank you, have a great weekend, and we'll see you soon with more updates!