How To make a Laser Cut Local Landmark

City of Bath Georgian House flat-pack model

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Miniature models of local landmarks are a popular choice when it comes to souvenirs and keepsakes. In this example, the iconic Georgian terrace houses from the city of Bath in the UK are recreated with loving attention to detail.

Available as a flat-pack kit of three neatly stacked cosy homes, you can choose from either 1.5mm card or 3mm poplar ply, and the straightforward assembly process will only take a few minutes.

Ideal for Laser Cutting
Laser cut architectural models are the ideal choice to make use of tab-and-slot construction techniques that allow for quick and easy construction, often holding together without the need for glues or adhesives. Basic elevations of the structure can be traced out in your preferred drawing program (inkscape is a Ponoko favorite) and prepared for laser cutting. Take the guesswork out of designing with interlocking slots using one of several freely available tools and plugins. For a landmark or object with a more sculptural form, 3D models can also be sliced up into panels or interlocking sections that are just right to send to the laser cutter.

Optimise for Production (and add a little extra)
Once you have the profiles and parts that make up your object, arrange them neatly within one of the Ponoko laser cutting templates and add useful notes or assembly tips as etched details. The Ponoko guide to keeping laser cutting costs down contains important information that will save you time and money, so be sure to read through before starting to avoid common (and costly) pitfalls.

It can also be nice to add a little something extra to the assembled model. The Georgian terrace kits by Bob Kann come supplied with a little light to install inside, so that there is a warm welcoming glow that completes the homely feel.

via Bob Kann

Bare Bones of Laser Cuting

Laser cut skulls, elephants, a broken clock, and some abstraction!

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Above are Calavera skull charm bracelets. They are laser cut and etched from mirrored acrylic like Ponoko.com‘s own and come from Guy Blanco.

After the jump, elephants, a broken clock, and some abstraction… (more…)

Ideas for Creative Agencies & Brands – #22

Laser Cut Pop Up Text

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It makes sense that with many promotional products and messaging items, the choice of typography plays a major role in whether your messaging gets through to people. One way to literally stand out from the crowd can be to create something that looks interesting and encourages a simple physical interaction, all within the text itself.

This eye-catching example of 3D text with a difference came from the forward-thinking fashionistas at Anthropologie. The event invitation would have looked appropriately refined and stylish printed onto white card, if only a more traditional approach had been taken. However, the simple transformation of laser cutting a portion of the font outline completely changes how the recipient reads the message. Each word can be folded out to stand proud from the surface, making perspective, light and shadow all contribute to a more memorable sensorial experience.

Could your corporate messaging take on a whole new impact using the Ponoko Personal Factory? Let us know in the comments below. For more ideas for Agencies and Brands, see the other posts in the series.

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Ponoko designs & makes promo products from scratch for event marketers.  Hit us up for a free quote.

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How To Find Open Source Design Files

Design resources that help you get started with laser cutting

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The learning curve can be a steep one for some people when it comes to wrapping your head around digital manufacturing. Not only do you need to understand how to design for CNC, 3D printing or laser cutting; starting from scratch is daunting and design resources can be hard to come by.

In an attempt to de-mystify the process of digital manufacturing, Obrary takes inspiration from the changes enabled by the Open Source movement and has set up a resource supplying design files and code for anyone to use or improve on. Their motto is “Making it easy to make.”  They do that by providing the Maker community with a library full of open designs and a series of eBooks full of information about the making process.  The site has open designs from Makers from across the globe.

“Beyond improved sharing of design resources, new design approaches and engineering patterns are enabled”.

Users are encouraged to make their own tweaks to the designs, learning by trial and error in much the same way that made development for the Raspberry Pi so popular.

Have you ever wanted to build a cage gear mechanism? They’ve got one of those. How about an adding machine or even something simple like a robust shelving system… these are but a few of the designs that have been made freely available to the Obrary community. The design file package includes a number of file types including CAD files, interchange files (DXF, PDF, etc) and CAM files.  So you should be able to find a file format that fits into your manufacturing process.

And one nice feature of the site is that all of their designs and eBooks have the same license – Creative Commons-BY-SA.  This is a truly open license that even lets you sell products made from the designs.

“…making, building, and collaborating, not because we have to, or because it’s research, but because it’s so fun.”

Already a digital maker? Use the comments form below to tell us about other resources that were useful when you were just getting started, and how you’ve taken these skills and design adaptations into the Ponoko Personal Factory to turn them into reality.

See more collaborative designs and handy resources at Obrary.

 

How To Help Your Client Launch a Kickstarter Campaign

Head off Crowdfunding questions with these useful tips and resources

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Crowdfunding campaigns give entrepreneurs, artists and businesses a unique opportunity to test the viability of their ideas. Yet for many, the thought of running a Kickstarter campaign can be a daunting prospect.

So how can you help de-mystify the process, and give your client the tools and support they need to embrace all that Kickstarter has to offer? Let’s take a look at some of the contributing factors that enable campaigns to reach – and indeed exceed – their funding goals.

Choosing the right platform
The first question to ask is whether or not this method of raising funds is actually suitable for your business proposal. Each crowdfunding platform has its quirks and benefits, and in the example of Kickstarter, many submissions do not even pass the approval phase. It is well worth taking the time to identify which crowdfunding option best suits your business model and potential project outcome.

Don’t be dazzled by dollar signs – just because there are campaigns raising millions of dollars does not mean that every campaign will be an overwhelming success. For the majority of campaigns, a few thousand or even just a few hundred dollars over the target amount can be a big deal.

Be prepared to work hard
Although crowdfunding has been shown to be surprisingly lucrative for some, successful outcomes are not guaranteed. It takes more than just having a bright idea; you have to know your project very well and be prepared to put time into every stage of the funding process. Understand that for every hour you spend (and there will be many!) on preparing the campaign, there will be just as much time required to maintain and promote the project through to completion. Yet even then, your task doesn’t end when the countdown stops. Assuming you are sitting on a pile of money after a successful campaign, you will need to get moving on production and manage the distribution of rewards to your backers.

There is a misconception that a crowdfunded campaign is something that can be done on the side, in your downtime or on the weekends. This is simply not true… one thing that all successful campaigns have in common, regardless of funding levels or project outcomes, is that the campaign itself was a full-time commitment.

Engagement 
There is a strong social media component to the Kickstarter process, with communication and personal interaction playing a large role in backer satisfaction. It can help to remind yourself that Kickstarter is not an online store, even though some backers continue to treat it like one. Integral to successful campaigns is the way people love to feel like they are involved in making things happen. This is a different consumer experience than traditional online shopping, and with careful planning you can use that to your advantage. Choose a variety of rewards including smaller contributions that can help keep people interested in your progress, even if they aren’t in a position to commit larger amounts of money during the campaign. These potential future customers can become informal brand ambassadors through their own social media activity, expanding your reach before the campaign reaches its conclusion.

Be realistic
Not all campaigns are successful, and that is ok. The reasons why a campaign does not reach its funding goals can be quite varied, and are sometimes just as mysterious as to why other campaigns dramatically exceed expectations. When setting up a crowdfunding campaign, plan out how you will navigate through both failure and success, so that your business can continue to evolve beyond the campaign timeline.

Assistance
Don’t be shy – a Kickstarter campaign is a lot to take on, and it is perfectly ok to seek out help. In fact, many services are popping up that enable a streamlining of each aspect of the campaign. Gathering and processing information beforehand will help to protect you from nasty surprises and also empower you to fully exploit successes and opportunities should they come your way. Here are a few to start you off:

The Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding
Presented by Shopify, the ecommerce solution of choice for many successful campaigns. This thorough walkthrough over 23 chapters covers all the key considerations to be aware of before taking on your own Kickstarter campaign.

How To Make a Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Using the Pebble Watch as a case study, this detailed investigation looks at how a 24 year old guy’s project with a goal of $100,000 became a $10 million record-breaker.

Tools for Kickstarter: Planning Calculator
A handy tool from Reuben Pressman, you can generate a quick overview of whether your numbers will all stack up. The calculator also includes a valuable Incentives component that will help to resolve the allocation of backer rewards.

Social Media services: Backercamp
Communication and Marketing for your campaign will get a huge boost if you call in the experts to lend a hand.

Manage your Mail: Green Inbox
With so much content flooding your clients’ email and social media, direct personalised messaging gets through to people and saves you time.

Look your best on camera: Elevant Productions
The influence a refined video clip has on campaign success rates is huge. Get it right first time for maximum impact on the small screen.

Case Studies: Success Stories
Also from Shopify, this breakdown of eleven campaigns highlights what they did right and what they did wrong, providing many valuable insights.

Analysis and Infographics
In-depth analysis of campaign metrics, trends and a very handy infographic that helps to navigate The Untold Story behind Kickstarter Stats.

The task of setting realistic goals, achievable rewards and establishing effective communication with backers is often more complex than people first anticipate. By investing a little time in making the most of these resources, the entire campaign experience becomes a whole lot more manageable. Don’t underestimate the impact that thorough preparation can have. By approaching your campaign with the knowledge that you are prepared for any surprises that may pop up – whether they are positive or negative – you will be ready to rise to the challenge.

Are you using the Ponoko Personal Factory to produce rewards for a campaign? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll discuss the best way to help you reach your funding goals.

Moodlight, The Worlds Emotions On Your Desk

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Another Ponoko customer has exceeded funding on kickstarter in record time! Conner, the maker of the Moodlight, had originally pledged to raise $935. Within 17 hours he had over achieved funding by 139%! The current total is at a whopping $3,323 with 14 days left to go! Where it will end? It appears the sky’s the limit.

The Moodlight changes colour depending on the aggregate emotions found online. A daily sample of 2,600,000 tweets are used to help determine what the mood is.

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This is a great idea and would make a great tool for people who work in the world of Digital Media or Marketing, having a constant update of the emotion without having to stay connected to the twittersphere at all times.

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The beautiful Moodlight is constructed using 5.2mm Birch Veneer Core and 3mm Opal Acrylic from our US catalogue.

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Head over to Kickstarter and take a look for yourself, and why not drop in a pledge while you’re there.

If you’ve got a gem of an idea and you’re looking for advice on how to make it a reality, check out the rest of the Ponoko site and feel free to ask us any questions.

#HolidaySales Tip #6: Breeze Through Black Friday & Cyber Monday

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At first glance, the term ‘Black Friday’ has a slightly menacing ring to it, possibly the title to the latest horror zombie film. On the other hand, ‘Cyber Monday’ sounds like another name for Judgement Day from the Terminator series – a day when the machines finally take over the world. Thankfully, the truth is a lot less ominous but not entirely scare-free, if you’re a seller.

That’s because Black Friday signifies the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Held a day after the Thanksgiving holiday, this tradition dates back all the way to 1925 when Macy’s held its first Thanksgiving Day Parade. As for the name, that actually has a reason to make you smile – Black Friday is so named because business was said to be so brisk on this day that it actually pushed many retailers back into profit or into ‘the black’ as they say in business terms.

The term ‘Cyber Monday’ is a relatively new phrase, making its debut on November 28, 2005, in a Shop.org press release entitled ‘Cyber Monday’. Since then though, it has come to signify a push by retailers and marketing companies alike to persuade people to shop online. And from one look at numbers, they clearly didn’t have to push very hard. In 2014, Cyber Monday online sales grew to a record $2.68 billion, compared with the previous year’s figures of $2.29 billion.

Right, now that we have the history out of the way…let’s move to the present. As we mentioned earlier, both Black Friday and Cyber Monday do bring with them a certain sense of apprehension for sellers because come these two days, people don’t just flock to buy stuff, they practically rampage to get ahead. And businesses need to do everything they can to batten down the hatches and prepare for this wave of customers.

Don’t wait to start planning

Just because the sale isn’t for a few weeks, doesn’t mean you can put planning off until later. If you hope to make the most of these two days, here are a few tips to bear in mind:

Customers start researching earlier than you might expect

The holiday season can be as stressful for a customer as it is for a seller. And when you add FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to the mix, you’re left with an anxious customer who starts scouring the web and stores to fill up his gifting list as early as he possibly can. In fact, according to research from NFR last year, every year , 40% of customers begin researching and doing their holiday shopping as early as October.

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That’s why you need to prepare your holiday sales at least a month or two in advance. And as soon as you do, you should begin letting customers know so that those eager to get a head start on their shopping can begin making a beeline to your business. In fact, don’t be afraid to throw in a few gift ideas of your own. Ideas like these help push the procrastinators into shopping early.

Know exactly what your sale will look like

A holiday sale is not a piñata where you just throw in a bunch of items and let customers grab whatever they can when you open up the sale. You have to carefully consider which products to include based not just on their performance through the year but also based on which items might tend to be more popular around the holidays. One way to do this is by creating a ‘sales map’, which outlines your sale items, lists inventory for each of them and includes approximate shipping costs and delivery estimates.

Learn to create a contingency plan

Now, we don’t want you to imagine the worst, but planning for a few unexpected situations won’t hurt. For instance, what if your website goes down? Do you have social media messages in place to curb frustration and offer an alternate shopping route? What if your shipping company can’t deliver? Do you have an alternate company on standby? Is the email explaining the situation drafted and ready? Without plans like these, valuable hours are lost just reacting to the situation rather than responding to it. Always remember to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Be realistic in your ability to handle demand

There’s an iconic scene in the movie ‘Jingle All The Way’ where Schwarzenegger strolls over to the action figure stack and confidently picks up one, only to be blitzed by scores of other dads all scrambling to get their hands on one. While it was funny to see the brawny actor be tackled to the ground, being railroaded by customer demand during the holiday season isn’t as much of a laughing matter. To avoid it, here are a few simple precautions you need to take:

Test to ensure your website can handle a surge in traffic.

It happens to the best among us – too many simultaneous website request rush in at one time and boom! Your website comes crashing down. While this does take a LOT of traffic to happen, it doesn’t mean it won’t. Just to be sure, you should use tools such as LoadImpact.com or Blitz.io to ensure your site is robust enough to handle any spikes in traffic.

Test your brick and mortar store for demand surges too

If you or your team create your product yourselves, then you need to plan a new production schedule to cope with the demand on these two days. This may mean putting non-sale items on a temporary production freeze as a means to free up some time to put together the other items that are going on sale. Alternatively, you may need to ramp up production hours or start working on added production runs right away to keep stock in check.

If you rely on a supplier, you need to have a frank chat with them to ensure they are able to cope with your increased supply requirements. Also, you need to double check on the delivery schedules to ensure there are no bottlenecks, which leave you with shelf stock but limited, inventory.

Don’t be afraid to get creative
Remember, on these two days there are literally thousands of brands competing for the attention of customers. If your brand hopes to stand out from this noise and make an impact, you have to leverage your creative skills. Here are some basic tips:

Build banners and hero images specifically for holiday sales

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It’s a proven fact that people respond better to images. And during the holiday season, showing someone the perfect gifting idea is potentially the best way to lead to a sale. To achieve this, a well-designed and well-placed banner can often help do the trick. Try to use you product as much as possible and keep the copy crisp and to the point.

Another key area to focus on is the header image on your homepage. Given that it is the first thing customers see when they come to your site, it is a great place to grab those first few seconds of attention and guide them to your best-selling products.

And even if you aren’t able to design these banners or site headers yourself, there are plenty of free templates and resources available to help you. Or if you are really pressed for time, consider hiring a freelance designer to put together something creative.

Stay prepared by planning your ads ahead of time

Creativity is not a faucet that you can turn on minutes before you need it. Especially when you need to churn out something really unique and eye-catching for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That’s why it’s better to plan your banner and search ads ahead of time so that closer to the day, you can spend more time focusing on timing and placement.

It’s also important to remember that bids can get more expensive during the competitive holiday season depending on your niche. This means you may need to increase your bid price on certain keywords to increase visibility of your ads during this time. Now is also the best time to plan your holiday sale ad budgets as well.

Add suspense to your sale and try to build buzz

There’s little fun in just announcing your Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale. This simply lets people know that you are running a sale. But you haven’t given them a compelling reason to come.

Instead, what you can focus on is building anticipation. Start by sending out teaser emails, which offer snippet previews of what will be on sale. Use your social channels to post sneak peeks of your warehouse to show how much your overall stock is or how limited your stocks are for certain products (to drive home the ‘limited editions’ feel). By doing this, you retain top-of-mind recall for your brand and give customers something specific to look forward to at your sale.

Get down to the brass tacks of your website

Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now heavily driven by online traffic. This means your website is often the first place customers land. Given the high dependence on this medium, you need to optimize every pixel and squeeze the most value from every corner of your site, not just the shopping cart. Here’s how:

Design an easy-to-use website.

This may seem like stating the obvious. But if you’ve ever encountered a website that’s badly designed or difficult to use, there’s another Hollywood blockbuster which sums up your frustration at that point – Fast and Furious.

To get your website past this obvious stumbling block, here’s a list of the things you need to check for in your usability rundown:

How simple is the navigation? At this stage, you need to look at the design of individual navigational features such as menus, search boxes and sidebar widgets.

Is your site easy to read and understand? This includes every bit of text on your site from the product descriptions to the image text. You need to ensure you’ve used web-friendly fonts and that all necessary text is easy to zoom into. In terms of content, you must make sure all language is simple and the descriptions kept concise because a large percentage of your users will be reading the copy off a mobile device.

Are your design elements consistent? You need to check that all headers, subheads and body text are consistently designed in terms of colours and fonts. Each of these elements should also be placed in the right areas in order to maintain a consistent visual language. Also, they need to be the right size across the various pages of your site and adapt accordingly for different screens.

Is your website speed sufficient? This refers to the average time taken for a page to load on your website. If you have demo videos on your site, you need to check the load times for these too.

Is there a clear access to support? In the event that a visitor has a question, you need to ensure that he or she can easily contact your business for help. This is especially important during the holiday sale season when people have technical or aesthetic questions about your product simply because they are giving them as gifts.

Is your website user friendly? The simple act of being user friendly can have a significant impact on visitor retention. It also has a positive impact on conversion rates and even affects the overall size of checkout.

Keep optimizing your efforts

There is no magic bullet guaranteeing better sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The road to success lies in your ability to simultaneously run multiple aspects of your promotional machine and optimise at every stage. Here are some of the things you need to consider for this process:

Focus on creating abandoned cart emails

Shopping cart abandonment is very real and a very serious problem. Especially during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That’s because given the number of sites a consumers switch between during these two days, their attention span is severely limited and fickle. In fact, according to a report by Barilliance, the average cart abandonment rate during these two sale days was as high as 65% in 2014.

An easy way to short circuit this process is by setting up compelling abandoned cart emails. These emails are targeted based on the product (as much as possible) and offer clear, distinct reasons for them to come back and complete their purchase.

Keep testing your site and getting fresh feedback

Imagine being able to sit behind a potential customer as they navigate your site. Just think of all the wonderful insights you could glean from that process. But since it’s not possible to track down and physically monitor interaction with your site, the next best thing is to use a tool to do the job. One that we recommend is UserTesting. This tool lets you watch a random user go through your website and listen to their feedback. You can also get a video of the process in action. If you can repeat this process a few times, you may spot a few recurring kinks in your site and address them immediately before the sale days.

Get smarter results by using tracking pixels

If you use paid advertising such as Facebook Ads or Google Adwords, you should place retargeting pixels on your website so you can re-market to your holiday sale traffic. This may seem like digital stalking but on a day when every brand is out to get the most share of mind space and share of wallet, tracking pixels help you outsmart the competition.

Build with a ‘mobile first’ strategy in mind

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Consumers continuously shift between smartphones, desktops and tablets throughout the day. This means they expect their digital storefront and shopping cart to sync across all these devices. Proving this point, a 2014 IBM report claimed that mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic on Thanksgiving for the first time. Plus, according to Custora, Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend in 2014 saw over 26% of orders come through a mobile device. This means if your website isn’t fully set up for a seamless web experience, yow won’t just miss traffic, but revenue.

To minimize the chances of this happening, you need to begin by examining what your website’s UX looks like on a mobile device. You need to begin by ensuring your site is mobile optimised. Because as per a 2015 update by Google, websites that are not mobile optimised will actually be ranked lower by the search giant. Meaning that long before users decide your site is hard to navigate, they move on to your competition because they haven’t even found your site.

You also need to see if your mobile shopping experience is intuitive and leads customers to not just the right products, but also unobtrusively nudges them toward the products you want to push. Finally, you need to check the shopping cart experience to make sure the process is seamless and doesn’t have any glitches, which may lead to cart abandonment.

Mobile ecommerce revenue stood at $42.13 billion in 2014, and forecasts indicate that number could grow to $132.69 billion by 2018. By optimizing your site for mobile, you make it easier for customer to transition their shopping experience across devices and thus increase your chances of closing a sale.

Make social media matter in every way necessary

We now live in a world where consumers are more connected with the brands and the things they purchase, than ever before. The nerve centre of this interconnectedness is social media. But while connectivity is always a good boost for sales, sellers now have to be doubly careful to set the right level of customer expectation (especially on big days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday) and maintain full transparency during the process. Here’s some the key stepping-stones sellers need to tread to nail their social media efforts.

Build a spreadsheet to see the broader picture

Social media is not a one-trick pony. But just because there are multiple channels to choose from, it shouldn’t become a carousel either. To ensure you have the right marketing mix, make a spreadsheet of all the social channels you are present on and the ones you think you need to establish your presence on. Next, put down the number of hours you spend per channel on your active social accounts. Then put down an estimate of how much time you intend to spend on the new channels. This allows you to have a realistic overview of the time needed to maintain a successful social presence across channels. If the number looks too unrealistic given your other time commitments, then (take a deep breath) and consider dropping a few channels from your mix.

Have a mission for each social channel

Your brand needs are bound to change with every social channel. So, it’s a good idea to evaluate your messaging priority and brand objective for all your social media profiles individually. For example: your Instagram profile may be for sharing in-store customer interaction. Pinterest may be your online sale catalogue. And Facebook may be a mix of the two.

Last but not least, do a brand check

During a sale, a customer is looking at dozens of brands. To make sure your brand is not lost in the crowd or worse, giving out mixed messages across different social platforms, you need to ensure all your accounts speak the same language. This includes profile photos, cover photos, icons, bios and product descriptions.

In our next blog of the series, we’ll look at working in seasonal batches and getting your easy-to-ship products out the door faster. But for now, when it comes to planning for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, remember to plan ahead, stay consistent and adapt quickly. Do you have any tips for these big sale days?  Let us know in the comments below.

#HolidaySales Tip #5: Give Your Product Line Some Holiday Swag

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Charm is a great tool for any retailer. In our last blog, we saw how it can be an effective tool to impress bloggers. But, where you really want to turn on the charm is with your customers during the holiday season. Bur rather than you doing all the talking, why not let your products speak for themselves? In today’s blog, we’ll see how you can use photography and product packaging to really entice your customers into making your line up their first choice for gifting during the holiday season.

Lights. Camera. Action.

When you look at the websites of major online retailers during the holiday season, the first thing to grab your eye is the clean look they achieve with every product shoot and the attention to detail on each product, no matter how small or cheap. With the huge access to tech we all have today, getting super-professional results doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Here are some simple tips you can follow to make your product line pop off the webpage on your site:

Gear up, but not too much

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You need to choose your gear based on what you plan to shoot. Don’t go overboard with lenses and camera bodies. Remember this is still just a product shoot. Not National Geographic! A good place to start is with a mid zoom as then allow you to set up in one spot and then just zoom in. We also recommend getting a tripod because handheld can get tiring and tiring equals blurry after a while. When it comes to lenses, try go for one around f/35 or less. This will help blur out your background and compensate if your lighting isn’t great.  

Skip the background, stick to white

We’ve all seen these awesome product shots on Instagram where the product is made to fit into a pristine natural surrounding – maybe a tree, on a wooden table, up against a red brick wall. These shots are the exception and not the rule for two reasons:

 

  1. On Instagram, these pictures are a one-off and hence are easy to look at. But on your site, if every product sits against a different background, it will be a big visual distraction.
  2. It’s easy to find an appropriate background if you only have one or two products. But if you have multiple lines, you’ll quikcly run out of ‘natural’ surroundings to place them in. The result will be multiple products shot in awkward looking locations like this!

Try using a long white sheet of paper to create an ‘infinity backdrop’ look or use white pieces of cardboard to create a mini light box. Alternatively, you can also use black to offset any bright colored items. For the holidays, you can accentuate your product shoot with a few holiday themed items but make sure they don’t distract from the product itself.

Use bright lights, but in moderation

There’s a fine line between “Damn, I can’t even see it” and “well, what is it anyway?” Using too much light leads to a washed out effect on your product while too little light obscures the uniqueness (or even the shape) of your product.  When you light your product, aim for moderation. Choose a mix of ambient and synthetic lights. Try to ensure your product doesn’t develop any shadows (you can use a flash to fix this problem) and doesn’t look bigger or smaller than it actually is.  

First frame, then aim

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Just because you’ve got a fancy digital camera, doesn’t mean you should take dozen of shots of each product and just slap every high-res one on your website. Instead take a minute to compose the shot before you click. Try to keep it simple, stay on the same angle and zoom in as much as possible. Also, avoid shooting from any angle which might distort the product or make it hard for the viewer to understand what they’re looking at.

Aim for the product, blur the background

When you shoot against a background (even just a plain white one), you want it to be out of focus just enough for your product to shine through. To achieve this effect, place your product just a bit in front of the background and set your camera to the widest aperture to absorb as much light as possible. This way, especially against a white background, your product gets a halo effect from the background and really shines out.

Start on the camera, end on the computer

Shooting the right images is only half the process when you’re trying to nail a good product shoot. Once you transfer your images to the computer, you get a sense for some of the finer things you may have missed or just not been able to capture – a bit of dust on the product, a small shadow in the corner, a flash spot. Luckily, with the help of technology, you no longer have to reshoot to correct these tiny imperfections. Using the right software, you can fix and even enhance each image and have it looking perfect for your catalogue.

The Sale Lies in the Detail

Photos alone are no guarantee of a sale. Without the right mix of shots, you could end up telling only half the product story. Also remember, when customers buy online, the product shots are filling in for their ability to pick up and examine your product carefully to their satisfaction. But this doesn’t mean overloading your website with images either, at the risk of ruining the mobile browsing experience. With that in mind, here are a few tips on getting the finer details right, after you’ve taken the right shots:   

Sell it from every angle

Photographs don’t just act as stand-ins for the real product. They carry with them vital visual information, which customers need to evaluate before they can make a decision. This includes decisions about color, size, weight, fit and even just general aesthetics. At a minimum, you should offer at least two views of the product (a front and side view). But research shows, the ideal number for e-commerce product images is around four views or five views. Any more and you risk annoying your customers.

Replicate the in-hand experience

There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to inspect a product from all angles in your hand. But replicating this would involve dozens of photos per product. What you can do instead is offer a 360-degree view of your product using multiple shots merged into one seamless gif image. This allows customers to thoroughly investigate your product and make a purchase decision only when they are fully satisfied.

Every colour and style needs highlighting

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If you make a product in 16 colours and 10 textures, don’t imagine people will be able to visualize what your product will look like in every variant. Instead, take the time to photograph each variant and present it visually. Chances are once a customer sees your product in one specific variant; it might be all they need to convince them to buy your product.

Let customers pour over details

Some products always require a closer inspection for varying reasons. For instance, clothing needs finer inspection to examine texture and color. Handcrafted products need to be examined to inspect the finish. Even items that have been produced with a mould or through 3-D printing need to be examined for consistency. By taking high resolution pictures of your products, you allow customers to zoom in and get a clear idea of what they are about to buy and assure themselves your products are of the highest quality and free from defects.

If you tell it, let the pictures sell it

This is a simple rule of thumb. If you mention it in a tag line or in the product description, back up that information in at least on of the product pictures. For instance, if you describe how many pockets a bag has, show the pockets – from as many angles as necessary. This allows the customer to get a good sense of what your product could look like in a variety of situations and helps them imagine it as a part of their daily lifestyle.

Don’t Forget the Brand while Chasing Sales

While it is imperative to push for sales as much as you can during the holiday season, you must remember this quote “People don’t buy products. They buy brands”. If your sales rocket but it leaves your brand coming across as a pushy one, or worse still an ordinary off-the-shelf one, you may win the battle. But you’ll lose the war. To keep this from happening to your brand, here are some simple tips:  

Make consistency a priority

This may sound like an antithesis – how can you stand out and still stay consistent? Well, you can do it by aiming to stand apart from your competition but maintaining an internal standard of excellence and consistency. These include factors such as magnification, lighting, background and number of images per product. You might need to vary the number of images per product in case you have products of vastly varying sizes or types. But by and large try to stick with a set number.

Take the time to create style sheets

While your product images need to pop, they also have to be consistent across your online catalog. This is where a bit of creative direction comes in. To ensure your images have a consistent tone and manner, you need to create a style sheet. This sheet needs to include details such as your preferred background for different types of products and the minimum and maximum lighting requirements. Also, if you have a preference or need a product shot from a particular angle every single time, make a note of this as well. The idea behind style sheets is that it frees you to outsource product imaging, without worrying about wild variations in the results.

Start building a brand image

Your product catalogue is not just a series of photographs. It is a collage that ultimately represents your personal brand. While it won’t happen overnight, you need to aim for a level of color, image and lighting consistency that can be replicated for every product you shoot. That way, when people browse the web looking for products you offer, your brand will be able to stand out from the competition and become a visual mnemonic that is recognized and accepted as one to trust.

Moving from Visual to Tactile

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Once you have your product photography worked out, the next thing to imagine is the delivery of the product itself. And one of the key aspects of delivery is the packaging. If you’ve walked down the aisles of your local grocery store recently, you’ll see packaging as an industry keeps growing exponentially. And if someone cares enough about biscuits to invest in over 30 unique designs for packaging, surely you must see the importance of focusing your energy on getting packaging right for your product. Having said that, let’s dive a little deeper into the subject, shall we?

Start with What You Don’t Know

It’s easy to make assumptions about packaging based on one’s personal tastes. But while stark minimalism may appeal to you, perhaps your customers expect a little more energy and colour in their packaging, especially around the holiday season. Here are a few ways to keep assumptions at bay and prevent making a potentially expensive mistake this holiday season:

Research your customers

A good place to start is by observing your customers. Notice how long they spend with each item. Look for which items they are visually drawn to. Notice if they circle back around to certain items. Based on these factors, you’ll be able to make your first educated guesses on what kind of packaging will appeal to the customer. Also be sure to ask yourself if a certain product package is meant to bring new business or promote loyalty to your store.

Accept feedback from potential consumers

You may not have the budget (or the need, really) to set up a physical focus group just to test out your packaging designs. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek multiple opinions outside the limited set of people who have visited your store or purchased from you online. To do this, you can use services such as Survey Money to get quick results to key questions. Of course, what is a good ‘key question’? While there is no universal answer on this, there are a few things you should steer clear of. For starters, be careful not to lead the questioning towards an answer you would like to hear. Also, try to avoid friends and family from your survey. Their answers may be helpful, but they might also be too polite to tell you the truth.  Your mission is to get objective feedback which you can put into action when designing your packaging.

Don’t forget to scope out the competition

This may seem like a no-brainer (few things ever are when selling) but it pays to research your competition and even the overall category you’re selling into. Look for what has worked (and not worked) in the category over the last few years during the holiday season. What was their primary focus – Design? Portability? Durability? Now reexamine your choices and see which areas you need to improve on. Think about how your product will be displayed. Think of whether your packaging will help the product survive a fall or mishandling. And most importantly, during the holiday season how easy is your product to ship with the new packaging.

Build a Story, Not Just a Box

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Good packaging is more than just an outer layer to peel through to get to your product. If done well, it can tell its own story, enhance the story around the product and if you are really creative, good packaging can even turn into its own product.

Take the consumer on a journey

If you consider your product your hero, then the marketing behind it is the story of that hero. And the book which carries this story to your customers is the packaging. To make sure this story is compelling, you need to study your competition’s stories told through their packaging so that you don’t repeat a story the customer has heard before or too often (think of the how words like “handmade”, “fine craftsmanship”, “unique” have become packaging cliches). Your packaging needs to tell a strong story that is both creative yet concise.  

Build a 2-second shelf story

This may sound harsh but customers really don’t spend as much time as you imagine looking at your product. In fact, it’s usually just a pithy two seconds before their attention shifts focus on to something else. And with the flurry of items screaming for their attention during the holiday season, this attention deficit only gets worse. Which means you need to pick a few key images and words to convey your product’s unique selling points. Your focus is to get the customer to pick up your product so that you have a few more minutes to convince them with a fuller story.   

Keep the name simple

This can be a particularly touchy subject. Naming a product is often a polarizing choice. You may be set on a name that resonates with you but may be hard to pronounce. Our advice? Ditch it. When naming your product, we suggest sticking to these simple rules a) Make sure it’s easy to pronounce. b) Make sure it fits easily on the packaging without cluttering up the design. c) Make it (as much as you can) memorable. If you choose to rename a few of your products around the holiday season, don’t get too clever with it.

Getting Down to the Brass Tacks

After all the research and planning, there’s still one last step involved – building the actual packaging itself. While this may seem like a straightforward job, it can prove to be the most complex part of it all. So to simplify the process, here’s some key considerations to bear in mind:

Learn to think in colour

Colour can be a powerful tool, which can vastly influence both perception and buying choices. When choosing colours around the holiday season, don’t just stick with the traditional red and green palette. Use colours complimentary to the season such as blue or white. And don’t be afraid to use your brand colours in conjunction with the holiday theme.

Build a focal point in the packaging

Your packaging has to stand out not just on your shop shelf, but on shared shelves (if you have a kiosk at other retail stores) and especially online. When a customer browses for a product during the holiday season, both online and offline, he is met with a rainbow of colour and shapes. You need to create a distinct focal point, which is instantly recognizable and unmistakeable for any other similar product.

Go for a handmade look

The holiday season brings with it a flood of packaged goods that are so similar in look and feel; you might imagine they all came off the same assembly line in some mega-factory. To get past this ubiquity, try to incorporate a handmade look into your packaging. Even if you can’t actually create something handmade, if you offer a handmade look, it can often provide enough visual relief to draw a customer’s attention and get them to pick it up.  

Get creative with materials and shapes

Remember, at the end of the day, packaging is meant to be tactile. Which means you need to focus on the in-hand experience as much as possible. Think of whether your product needs to have packaging that fits to its shape or perhaps it could live inside another shaped pack. Does your packaging have texture? Is it easy to pick up?

Build in functionality if possible

Customers like packaging that’s functional because of its added value, says Marianne Rosner Klimchuk, professor and associate chairwoman of the packaging design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Rather than create more waste, is there a way your packaging can be up-cycled once the product is removed?

Skip assumptions. Hire a designer.

With all this information at the ready, you might be tempted to assume you could just start designing your product packaging itself. And who knows, if you have access to a 3D printer, even make it yourself. But don’t. Good designers bring more to the process than just information. They come with the unique ability to blend their knowledge of colour, fonts and imaging into one cohesive design. They come with the experience of past projects and know what will and won’t work. But most of all, they have a specific sense of creativity which when allowed to flourish can take your product to the next level in both aesthetics and desirability.

In our next blog, we’ll look at how to push your well-designed product through the marketing maze of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For now, remember that building a product is only part of the process. How your product looks and how its packaging feels helps people decide if your product is worth buying. So remember to give both these tasks the attention they deserve.

Hiring a Maker / Designer to Make Custom Products For Our Designer Customers

ARE YOU A MAKER / DESIGNER WHO WANTS TO JOIN A DIGITAL MAKING PIONEER?

We have a part time Production Manager role for a maker / designer to make custom products for our online community of 150,000 makers / designers. And to help us change the world.

ABOUT YOU

* You believe what we believe … That mass production is going local.

* You value what we value.

* You have a deep desire to help other makers / designers make their own custom products. This will make it easy for you to smile, persevere and shine through the ups and downs our customers experience on their personal creative journeys, and the ups and downs we experience on ours.

* You are:

  • A designer / maker. With a proven eye for detail.
  • Experienced working with laser cutters for at least one year in a production facility, nailing quality and speed.
  • Experienced with vector design software, specifically Adobe Illustrator.
  • Familiar with the properties of the materials in our catalog here.
  • Someone who works harmoniously with your team members to delight customers.
  • Cool under extreme pressure, and you radiate this with your team members and suppliers.
  • A happy soul. Who communicates well (including online with our global team).
  • Proactive. Detailed. Process driven. *All three.*
  • Someone who likes to lead, and enjoys working independently.
  • Effective at multi ­tasking and prioritizing the daily rush of tasks that come in an evolving company.
  • Someone who understands you get out of life what you put into it. And to change the world this means stepping forward and grabbing at responsibility.

ABOUT THE ROLE

You’ll be our part time Production Manager (32 hours per week, with the ability to go to 40-48 hours per week as needed). You’ll be the trusted maker of our customer’s product designs. You’ll enable us to deliver on time as our customer demand is growing. You’ll be working at our workshop in Emeryville, CA

Your typical day includes:

* Achieving 2 key goals – product making quality and speed of making service. Both measured and reported weekly.

* Managing our online customer order queue, and making customer’s orders using our laser cutters.

* Managing our materials stock so we do not run out. And communicating with our materials suppliers as needed.

* Carefully packaging and shipping customer orders. And communicating with our shipping suppliers as needed.

* Lending your expertise to assist our customers improve their product designs, as needed.

* Liaising with our customer team to ensure on-time delivery of quality custom products.

* Delighting our customers with the unexpected, and putting a smile on their faces, particularly when all seemed lost.

* Attending 2 weekly meetings – one full team discussion about company and individual results, plus one customer/production team discussion about customer experience.

* Identifying problems with and improving our workflows to delight customers.

BENEFITS

* Freedom and independence to run your own shift.
* Feeling that your work day makes a difference in other people’s lives.
* Market salary.
* Unlimited paid time off.
* Employee rates on laser cutting your own stuff.

ABOUT US

Dreamed up in 2006, Ponoko believes consumers of the future will download and make products locally (kinda like a ‘digital Ikea’, followed by a ‘Star Trek Replicator’).

We foresaw the third industrial revolution (distributed digital mass production) growing out of the first and second industrial revolutions (centralized analog mass production).

Hence in 2007 Ponoko launched at the first TechCrunch conference in San Francisco and became the world’s first to enable designers to make & sell downloadable product designs online (open, free, paid).

Since then a community of more than 150,000 makers, designers, hackers, brands and businesses have made over 450,000 custom products online. And they’ve sold them via our website, their own websites, ETSY, Kickstarter, design events, and to main street retailers.

With no minimum order size to get started and on-demand production available within 1 day to eliminate investment in stock, we’ve make it 10x faster than ever before for designers to prototype, make and sell their custom product ideas online.

Recognised as a pioneering leader of the online digital making industry, we have been featured in places like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, CNN Money, Inc. Magazine (cover), Forbes, Wired, Core77, TechCrunch, Makezine, MIT Technology Review, BBC News and The Economist.

Your appointment will enable us to continue to support our new and existing customers, while we pioneer a new direction for our industry.

TO APPLY

Send an email to dan.devorkin@ponoko.com to introduce yourself, send your resume, and your answers to these 3 questions:

1) Why do you want this role?
2) What gaps might exist between what we need and what you have?
3) Why are you the best person for this role?

We’re looking forward to meeting you :)

Laser Cutting? You Bet!

Laser cut poker chips, a styracosaur, a lamp, and a fox!

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Above is a steampunk poker set. All pieces, including the box, are laser cut from plywood like Ponoko.com‘s own Birch Plywood  and comes from Plywood Science.

After the jump, a styracosaur, a lamp, and a fox… (more…)