limited production :: hand crafted :: high performance :: rechargeable :: premium flashlights

This is my blog about creating a startup LED flashlight business. I'm a designer, fabricator, and strategist and I'm passionate about making ideas real. I believe that products are about people, that they should be built to last, deliver real value, and that we need to do a better job than we have in the recent past.

Most of my career has been contract or freelance work and I've crafted products and strategies for both big international companies and startups. I also used to work in the "industry" fabricating special effects for film and TV, along with the occasional hot rod. Bottom line, I love making things.

I'm starting this blog so you can follow along, from day one, and see what it's like to start a business, or fail in the process. Only time will tell, but I hope you find this interesting enough to stay tuned, comment, link, like, tweet, and (most importantly) participate in turning this idea into something tangible and valuable.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jayson's Question Answered!

Jayson A. said...
"Besides the mechanical aspect of light making, are you considering getting into or partnering with someone who can program to make the UI? I mean, the UI is really important nowadays."

I would love to have my own custom drivers made some day. I'm going to need to sell a fair number of lights before this is possible though. Ideally, custom drivers would be exactly the same size as the current drivers. They could be upgraded by the user, or sent back to me for an upgrade.

Unless you are a flashaholic you probably don't give much thought to flashlight UI (User Interface). The most common flashlight UI is an on/off button. However, we live in the age of micro controllers and the on/off button (or twisting action) becomes an access point and not just a simple switch.

Apple knows good UI
UI is an interesting design challenge and I agree that a good UI is critically important. The problem is...they sky's the limit when you start using programmable controllers. A lot of interfaces are VERY programmable and correspondingly complicated...I think that is excessively complicated for the average user. You thought setting the time on your VCR was hard?

My philosophy is that simple is better. It's just a flashlight. In all, I think the current interface is very solid for a general purpose light. 3 modes and a simple switching scheme. Is it ideal? No. Does it work well? Yes. Who knows what the future holds though!

I'm not an interface designer, and I think it would make sense to work with an actual interface designer when doing the engineering for a new UI...especially one that has any level of programmability.  One of the core aspects of that would be lots of field research, prototyping, and user testing...none of which I have the current resources for. I should also mention a custom driver/interface/switch would increase the cost substantially; especially at the small volumes I'm looking at.

The existing UI works like one of these "plunger" type pens
So what does this mean for the interface that I'm currently using? My UI consists of a tailcap switch and a 3 mode LED driver. 

First the switch:  I selected a "forward" clicky switch. The other alternative is the "reverse" clicky. Let's see if I can explain the difference. First two terms that will help:

1) click: fully depressing the button to the point you hear an audible "click" and the switch latches in the "on" position. This is like one of those pens you click to extend the writing point. Push the button down all the way and the point comes out and latches in place.
2) press: pushing the button down a very small amount...if you push the button on the pen just a little bit, the point will come out, but it will NOT latch in place.

The forward clicky affords a "momentary on" function if you "press" the button. "Clicking" it latches the light "on." Every time the switch makes electrical contact (click OR press) the light turns on and cycles one mode. The driver has a "memory" function that remembers the last light level used...if the light is left "on" at the desired level for 2 seconds or more, it will illuminate at that level the next time the switch is activated (click OR press).

The reverse clicky (which some people prefer) operates a bit differently. The light will not turn on until the button is "clicked" and then released. This means you can't have a "momentary on" function because the switch has to be latched first. The advantage is, you can cycle the power levels by using a "press" when the light is latched "on." The forward clicky cycles the power levels by using a "press" when the light is in the "off" position.

I can tell by the amount I have typed this probably doesn't make any sense at all. Perhaps this should be the topic of my first video segment?

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