Finding a real customer need around which to design a great product is usually one of the hardest parts of the product design process. Sometimes though, it is right there in front of you. A problem you face every day that no one has bothered to solve. A problem that everyone else seems resigned to.
This is the story of one such problem. And of the scientist, the teacher, and the fireman who joined forces to solve it with the help of Design Council Spark.
Like many parents Nick Webb viewed supermarket queues with a little dread. It wasn’t the delay to his day that concerned him, but the stillness they entailed. His baby daughter Abigail was not a good sleeper and motion was the key to her ability to stay asleep. If the movement of the buggy were interrupted for more than a minute, she would awaken. Nick soon developed the one-handed rocking action of parents in supermarket queues the world over.
Nick however, is a scientist with a PhD in motion sickness and, more importantly, an inventor’s attitude to hardware. If something breaks, he’s as likely to take it to pieces for parts or curiosity, as he is to throw it away. One night, after a particularly gruelling session with Abby, Nick absconded to his workshop in the basement to do something about his situation. The prototype of the product now known as Rockit was born.
It didn’t look like much. A motor taken from an old printer, soldered to a variable resistor with a battery attached. The motor’s spindle was gaffer taped to some bolts to provide weight and force. He got it spinning and then fixed it to Abigail’s pushchair with the trusty tape. Over the next few days he tested it in the supermarket queues of Portishead.
It worked. Excited by the results of his rudimentary test, he took his contraption along to a family Christmas dinner and showed his brother-in-law Matt Dyson.
Brilliant ideas get lost every day because they lack an identity, they don’t connect with people.Matt Dyson, Rockit
This is arguably where the real story of Rockit begins. Matt has a background in advertising, years of teaching product design, and a few product concepts of his own under his belt. He was galvanised by Nick’s idea. “I just thought wow, incredible! And then I thought, surely someone has already done this?” Christmas was spent on Google searching for comparable ideas, but nothing appeared. Now he was really excited. And then, he took that step that every successful product designer or entrepreneur has taken at some point – he committed. He resolved to leave his teaching job and work with Nick to turn the idea into a real product.
To complete the team Dyson brought on board his long-time friend and collaborator, Matt Sparrow. Sparrow’s day job as a member of the Fire Service gave him plenty of time to pursue his interest in design and they had worked on a number of product concepts over the years. They met in a pub to discuss it and actually sketched their first ideas on serviettes and beer mats.
Over the next year, working remotely, but highly collaboratively, the three of them refined the engineering and design. The rocket shape came to life through Matt Sparrow's technical and design skills, and the name was born. “Nick’s invention was so good that Matt and I really felt we had to do it justice,” says Dyson, “Brilliant ideas get lost every day because they lack an identity, they don’t connect with people. That was our job – to help people connect with it.”
Soon after starting work on the project Dyson found out about the Design Council’s Spark programme. He initially dismissed it. “I thought we were too small,” he says. “I thought, no - the Design Council is a massive, prestigious organisation – we won’t stand a chance.” He sat on the email, until a win in smaller competition made him wonder. “People were so enthusiastic – I remembered the Spark application, and thought why not?”
Without Spark and our mentors we absolutely would not be where we are now.Matt Sparrow, Rockit
They were accepted onto the Boot Camp and their Spark journey began. Straight away they were struck by the variety of ideas at the camp. “Some people had a prototype like us, others were at the concept stage.” Says Sparrow, “it was very exciting to meet all the other applicants and compare stories.” And as the camp went on their confidence grew. “We began to realise we could hold our own at all the different workshops” says Dyson.
Accepted onto the next stage of Spark they worked with a mentor, industrial design expert, Gary Pyper, who challenged them to re-imagine the product. “Gary told us we had to rethink the look completely. At first we were resistant, but we tested his ideas and over 200 respondents to a survey unanimously preferred the new design. It taught us one of the most important things we have learned at Spark – not to be afraid to pivot, not to be precious, not to assume that what you’ve got is right.”
They were pushed to be more ambitious. “I took along my first draft of the business plan feeling quite pleased with myself”, remembers Sparrow, “and Mark Elliott, the Spark business mentor said “These are great notes, now go away and do the real thing.” You realise pretty quick, the programme isn’t there to massage your ego, but to challenge you to do better,” he says.
And that they certainly are. They were one of the Spark finalists to be awarded a share of £150k and they have been putting it to good use. They recently visited a manufacturer in Hong Kong – a contact they also obtained through Spark. They have commissioned a tooling model, which their award is funding. They are planning on launching Rockit publicly in March 2017 at the Harrogate International Nursery Fair. “Without Spark and our mentors we absolutely would not be where we are now,” says Dyson. “We had to accept that we didn’t know everything, they challenged us every step of the way.”
And most importantly, Abigail is sleeping better now. Something her father Nick will no doubt be very pleased about - he needs his rest, with all his waking hours devoted to helping other parents get some sleep.
If you have a bright idea for a brilliant product apply to Design Council Spark.