I haven’t written a product review in a long time, but I am compelled to write one today. At the end of the entry find out how you can earn money by making one of your own.
I have been looking for some sort of non-electronic tablet that will allow me to easily sketch out my ideas and erase them with ease. Something compact and simple. I have considered a large dry erase board but I am not good at sketching on a vertical surface. As I browsed the aisles at Container Store in NYC I decided I might buy a small dry erase board and just use it on my lap. I found a simple rectangular aluminum one that was also magnetic made by Bi-silque. I love the magnetic eraser that doubles as a holder for the marker. Looks very convenient but I am not sure how it would work sitting on my lap.
Next to it I saw another product that was specifically designed as a portable dry erase board. It is called slate and is from Cocoa, LLC. What a great idea! It isn’t magnetic but I probably wont use a magnet if its on my lap anyway. It is made of clear plastic and has a slot that accepts paper so you can change the background to a grid or a calendar etc. So it can be anything you want it to be. The body is clear and can be written on both sides. When it was still in its blister pack it seemed like it was made of two halves of very rigid heavy duty plastic riveted together. But when I removed it from the packaging the Slate actually felt a floppy and squeaked as I placed it on my lap or moved it around. I think it is way to flexible and not as rigid as I had hoped it to be. One half of the plastic rubs against the other half to make that squeaky sound. It feels like the same plastic as the blister pack.
This is very frustrating to see a really good design idea not executed as well as it could be. Dry erase markers seem to work on a lot of surfaces including Plexiglas, polyethylene and polypropylene. Is the material they chose something special that also happens to be not rigid? But then why manufacture the entire product out of that material? Or at least use a thicker material.
I’m sure it looked cool in 3D renderings that were generated by the Industrial design team, and the fact that its two halves are riveted together add to the cool visual, and probably cheaper and easier to assemble. But what happened when the first prototype was made? Didn’t anyone notice how it was weak and squeaky? It may be more expensive to glue or epoxy the two halves together, but I would have paid another $5 if I knew it was a solid construction.
One of the added features of the slate is that you can slide in new backgrounds that you can print out yourself. There is a CD included with 500 free templates available. But due to its floppy and loose construction the paper is difficult to insert. As the slate arcs it closes the slot and resists the paper you are trying to push in. Then if you try to keep the Slate straight its two halves separate a bit allowing the paper to find its way between the two plastic halves of the slate within the area between rivets.
I would have liked this product much better if it was made of a thicker material, or perhaps two different materials. It could be constructed as a picture frame. The outer frame could be a harder stronger plastic, similar to cutting board material, or even simple Plexiglas or a polycarbonate. Use that solid rigid frame to define the thin slot that would hold the paper. If the plastic frame is rigid enough you may still get away with using rivets instead of glue. The two halves shouldn’t separate when paper is inserted.
I guess I just expected more from a company with a cool idea like this. It is even a patented idea. I really wonder what the development was like. Someone came up with the idea and thought it was good enough to patent, spent money to file the patent, paid lawyers etc. They also thought it was good enough to build a website to market the idea, draw pretty 3D renderings of it and get it into a store like The Container Store. But after all that time and energy you end up making a floppy squeaky product? Where did the development process breakdown? Didn’t someone pick up the prototype and wonder if it should be made stiffer? Am I the only one hearing it squeak?
By the way, the photo on their site shows their products with a black frame. But the one I bought is all clear and is all one material. So did they initially intend it to be two materials? Is there a new version out? If you try to buy it from their website they don’t ask you to choose a color. So is it black or what?
Something seems rushed about this product execution. They also include a set of magnets that you can stick on the back so you can attach it to your refrigerator. And it includes a fine tip dry erase pen from Expo with an eraser built in. The pen is fine, but they glued on a round piece of Velcro to the perfectly fine pen which I think is an awful idea. It is one of those round cuts of Velcro that comes with adhesive backing on them. A sticky piece of Velcro is just never a good idea, especially when it is on something you are holding in your hand. Besides irritating your hand it will eventually either pop off or slide out of place revealing a nasty glue residue that you cant wipe off. Am I the only one who has experienced this? Plus they give you the matching round Velcro piece and suggest you place it on the slate yourself. I am thankful for that since I would have been more upset if they placed it for me. I don’t want that gooey Velcro pad anywhere if I can help it. If they felt it was necessary to allow the user to keep the pen attached to the Slate they should have incorporated a nice slot or snap in groove like other dry erase boards have. Maybe even attach it to a string or something. While I am at it, get rid of the included CD of 500 templates I will never use and apply that extra 50 cents to a better manufacturing or glue, or thicker material. In this day and age of the internet, do I really need a CD? What a waste of plastic and assembly time.
So you wonder if those last few features were a rushed addition to the product which the original creator never intended? Maybe they are trying to make the slate useful for too many different applications instead of making it well suited for one or two. Isn’t it written in some design handbook somewhere that its a bad idea to try to cram too many features into a product? Haven’t we learned from companies like Apple with their Ipod that sometimes its better to focus on only a few key features and do it really well instead of trying to address everyone’s needs in one product?
So what went wrong here? Its like the product is only 70% cool. I wonder if someone fell in love with the aesthetic design and lost sight of whether that cool looking piece of plastic is actually doing what the user needs it to do. Product design is about more than just pretty looks. Maybe they could have spent less time creating the 500 templates for Slate and apply some of those funds and energy to making sure they produced a quality product.
Is this an example of form before function?
Well, I hope they update the design for the next go around and make a product that feels and works as good as it looks.
MAKE YOUR OWN!
Maybe one of you ProdModders out there can make a better slate?
Try taking two pieces of Plexiglas, cut them into the desired fancy shape. Try to use Plexiglas that is 3mm or thicker.
Then use a nice thick piece of chipboard about 5 sheets of paper thick and cut it into the same shape but cut out the center so that the sheets of paper can slide in.
Then sandwich the chipboard between the two pieces of Plexiglas and glue them in place.
You can even select colored chipboard and add some color to the product, or just stick with a simple black. If you cant find chipboard you can use the black backing to a picture frame.
I’d like to have a robust version of the Slate to use and I would like one of you to make it for me.
Let’s have a contest.
Make a better and stiffer version of the Slate as described above.
Send me a link to photos of your product as well as video to show its stiffness.
I’ll pick the best of the entries.
The winner sends me their prototype and in return I send them $50 through paypal.
The winner will be featured on the front page of my website.
The deadline for your entry will be September 4th, 2008.
C’mon I already gave you an idea, now all you have to do is make one!