Money, happiness and product design

I blogged about Continuum’s bathroom innovation inspiration center earlier this month. That came out of a reporting trip for a piece I wrote that was part of a series of pieces on Can Money Buy Happiness? published today in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.

Continuum’s offices are almost completely open, with some pop-up conference rooms with walls. It feels like a place where people create things. This story couldn’t get at the full picture of the company and how it works; it’s simply too small.

In the draft, I wrote about a near-failure in the design process. This is what got cut:

Less happy is the process of coming up with a tablet case. Young takes this one personally, because he hates his tablet case and its ‘kickstand.’

But it’s a tough category to reinvent. “It’s really difficult for companies to stand out. A lot of things do their job, but don’t go much beyond that,” Young says.

His own design efforts weren’t working. After a few months, Michaud called Young to say Felix was going to have to kill the product.

That was on a Friday in May. Young, however, wasn’t through.

“It was just bugging me,” he says. “I had this moment at night where I just kept designing things in my head.”Then he had a Newton’s apple moment. He realized he could use gravity to create a tablet stand that would easily adjust to exactly where you wanted it. He came in to Continuum that Saturday morning, six-year-old son Davis in tow. He plunked Davis and an iPad at one of the desks by the window of the shop area, overlooking morning traffic.

While son played games, father was one room away in Continuum’s model shop, building a ‘breadboard,’ or prototype. It was a crude cardboard mockup, but on Monday, when Michaud met with the design team to give them the bad news, they pulled out Young’s breadboard.

Michaud smiled broadly. “You nailed it! You absolutely nailed it!” he said.

Thus was born the Felix FlipBook and FlipStand, one with cover and one without, which debuted in December.

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