Over a year ago, engineer Ian Schon set out to design the perfect pen. For the young Boston-based designer this meant a pen that would last forever and could be passed down from generation to generation, as opposed to the types of throw-away products that have become ubiquitous in today's modern society.
Schon launched the Pen Project on Kickstarter on July 17 and quickly raised the meager $1000 he needed. With 16 days to go the project has raised over $50,000. iDesign talked to Ian Schon about the lengthy design process leading up to the launch of his Pen Project and the overwhelming support his design has received.
Jacob Kleinman: What was your inspiration for designing a pen that will last forever?
Ian Schon: Sustainability in this day and age is key. Anything that is long-lasting, in terms of aesthetic and the ability to be used for a long period of time is a step in the right direction. The idea of forever-types of heirloom objects replaces the wasteful object we fill our lives with. Think about how many pens you use and have thrown out. One step at a time, designers and engineers can make this difference in the world.
JK: How long did it take you to settle on a design?
IS: I started this about a year and a few months ago. It was a very long process of prototyping, different cartridges, different sizing, different tips, angles, feel etcetera. I settled into the design you see on the Kickstarter after about 10 months or so and lots of user interactions.
JK: Why did you decide to fund the project through Kickstarter?
IS: Kickstarter is an easy way to launch to an audience I wouldn't necessarily reach otherwise. 50 percent of my backers are from Kickstarter directly and I know maybe one to three percent of them. It's a good way to get out there and I always love scanning Kickstarter to support great projects and innovating ideas.
JK: The Pen Project has far surpassed its $1000 goal on Kickstarter. Why do you think people are so enthusiastic about your product?
IS: The $1000 goal was for some packaging costs, but the project cost much more than that. I decided to set the bar low and plan for small scale success. Who knew it would get this big! I think people are so enthusiastic about the pen because of the story and process. Without the help of filmmaker Mark Kammel, I wouldn't have been able to document this as elegantly. The story is one of American MFG and pride in the local economy and community. I know that's what I like to see and support, so maybe other people appreciate this as well.
JK: How does the product represent your style and vision as a designer?
IS: I don't want to walk down the street and see my product broken and tossed away, creating trash. If anything, I want to see my products outlive their users and be part of the heirloom culture that past generations were so fond of. How many things do we own that can outlive us? I want to bring back this notion and focus my mission on sustainability and feeding the local community and economy while I do this. As a designer I hope to create objects that people can really use and appreciate. I do not compromise for cost, I do not bend to fit a specific market or have all the features that other products have just to sell more. If I am going to do something, in my mind, it needs to be done right. It's important to stay true to a mission, and this is exemplified well in my opinion by the Pen Project.
JK: What is your professional background and how did you get interested in design?
IS: I am a recently minted engineer from Boston University. Design was my way of going outside the curriculum and expressing my interests in the form of project based work while incorporating key engineering principles. A friend back in Baltimore introduced me to Core 77 and I was hooked on what it means to be a good designer and what makes a well-designed product.
Right now, I work as an engineer at Essential where I am learning from excellent engineers and designers in a fast-paced product design-based environment. I hope some of the skills I learn in industry will help me launch more successful and meaningful projects in the future. It sounds cheesy, but I am really living the dream of being a design engineer right now!