The typical computer stylus basically mimics a pen or pencil. But given everything that electronic devices and software can do . . . why stop there? Hardware startup Dublin Design Studio, based in Ireland, is ready to debut its totally reconceived Scriba stylus for creatives.
Scriba Brings the Power of Touch to Electronic Design
The company’s founder, David Craig, worked for years as an architect before turning to product design. When Apple launched the iPad years ago, Craig immediately saw that it could allow designers to sketch their ideas and capture them in digital form.
Yet he remained frustrated with the styli available for him. Early models were so tiny that he could barely grip them, and even later ones that were larger and responded to changes in pressure “just didn’t do what I wanted them to do.”
His answer was to create the Scriba stylus, which he says incorporates several special attributes:
- The “Squeeze Motion” body of the stylus bends according to hand pressure, enabling you to perform different functions within tablet apps depending on how hard you squeeze.
- Balanced, ergonomic design allows the stylus to rest lightly in your hand to reduce fatigue.
- Haptic feedback uses gentle vibrations to signal the user, for example when a particular stroke of the pen runs up against the boundaries of a drawing.
- Low-energy design principles give Scriba a battery life about ten times greater than normal.
Finding the Right Design — and Business Model
Craig began developing his stylus by working alone in a back bedroom of his house. For months, he carried around 3D-printed prototypes in his pocket, showing them to anyone he thought could give him good feedback.
Even though he had already run businesses for 15 years, he still had a lot to learn about making a product good enough to thrill a design-conscious audience and form the basis of a viable company. “At the outset,” Craig says, “I may have had an interesting idea for a product, but I had no understanding of the rigor and effort that would be needed to determine whether I had a good business proposition that could develop into a sustainable enterprise.”
From Partnerships to DIY
Initially Craig looked for partners to help him develop his design into a working electronic product, but none of those connections bore fruit. Yet he continued to improve his design to incorporate squeeze and bendability.
Eventually, Craig rolled up his sleeves and started building a new prototype himself. “I knew nothing about electronics,” he adds. “I learned everything from YouTube and Google.”
Learning Electronics on the Fly
He used an Arduino board picked up at a local hackathon and spent a few euros on sensors, magnets, and other small parts. Burning the midnight oil led to a tiny but personally important breakthrough: “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I got a little red light to flash — it was awesome.”
Through many more iterations, he gradually gave his prototype more components, including a circuit that proved the squeeze concept. Ultimately, he taught himself XCode, built his own drawing app, and paired the Scriba prototype with the app so they could talk to each other.
Along the way, Craig learned a deeper bit of wisdom: “It’s not about doing it perfect. It’s just about doing it.”
Collaborative Design, from Conception to Production
The iterative design approach followed by Craig and the rest of the Scriba team has dovetailed with their use of Fusion 360. It started when Craig discovered an early version of the software a few years ago, and continued over time as the fledgling company received technical support — and encouragement — from Autodesk staff in San Francisco.
Now the larger team counts on Fusion 360’s collaboration features to maintain the master model of the product and coordinate inputs received from team members and outside experts spread across Ireland and beyond. The software has also enabled the team to test out alternative components before completing final designs. This has extended to such fine details as identifying and visualizing overhangs and areas of low draft angles needing special attention, as well as simulating applied loads to identify high-stress areas where the product’s bendability called for precise changes in the geometry of the materials.
Integrated cloud rendering has given Scriba’s designers the ability to validate many aesthetic design changes rapidly, which was particularly important when they were finalizing the material finishes on the product. They also used Fusion 360 to prepare drawings for tooling that they then shared with their fabrication partners.
As the team prepares for its first product run, they are working closely with Cartamundi, a global maker of games and toys, formerly known as Hasbro. Craig sees important merits in working with a manufacturing partner close to home for a product as complex as Scriba. Months of conversations with Cartamundi’s tooling engineers have allowed the team to “improve the product to no end,” for example by moving the split lines (formed by the seams in the mold) from the center of the stylus grip to the edge, so that the user’s finger won’t rest on it and become irritated.
Incubating a Company and Building Relationships
Hardware startups are rare in Ireland, so the challenges of creating a product and a company simultaneously are magnified. “Overcoming obstacles is one thing,” he says. “But when you’re doing something like a startup, obstacles don’t come one at a time.”
He gives a lot of credit to DIT Hothouse, an incubation program that allowed him to give up his salaried work. “Without the expertise, mentorship, place to work, and financial support provided by Hothouse,” he adds, “I would not have been brave enough to quit the day job to follow this dream.”
Building a network of supporters and mentors, in part by tapping into the hacker community in Ireland, has likewise been crucial to the company’s success. In reflecting on its development, Craig wrote:
All businesses are about people, and the best advice I can offer is to get out there and meet people — whether customers, fellow entrepreneurs, potential partners, anybody — you never know where what you might learn or the connections that can be made. Scriba is very much the product of an orchestra of inputs and at times I just felt like the conductor.
Bringing a New Hardware Product to the World
By the end of July 2015, the Scriba team had enough working prototypes to launch a Kickstarter campaign.
Steve Giblin, who runs marketing for the company, notes that “During that campaign, we got picked up by a lot of the design press,” which — along with nominations for design awards — helps the product’s credibility with its core audience of designers, illustrators, and artists.
By October 2015, Craig says, it became clear that “We made promises [in the Kickstarter] which it turns out were not quite realistic.” They delayed the launch so that they could release a better product. Now the company aims to produce a couple of thousand units by the end of June 2016, initially targeting creatives in London and Milan.
Building a Community around a Device
The Scriba team wants to energize those designers and artists who can make the Scriba stylus a regular part of their work. “For us at the moment,” Craig says, “the crucial thing is building up a community of people excited about what we’re doing.”
Fortunately, he adds, the device itself invites that kind of enthusiasm: “It’s the kind of product that people just sit and play with. That tells us we’ve created something special.”