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November 11th 2015

Published By Steph Driver

Here at HQ we have had the pleasure of talking with the guys at Tingbot. Kickstarter is a great crowdfunding platform for all makers, hobbyists and professionals. We met Tingbot at UK MakerFaire earlier this year showcasing there awesome Raspberry Pi based product. Since then they have launched their Kickstarter and I’m sure it is of no surprise to our readers that the project is going down a storm! But who are the inventors and designers behind the project and how much do we really know about it? HQ had the chance to interview them and here is what they had to say:

1.Firstly could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?

My name’s Ben, I studied Product Design at The Glasgow School of Art and graduated in 2011 with my friend Ken Smeed. After our studies we wanted to continue working with each other so decided to embark on a project together which became Tingbot - a way to transform your Raspberry Pi into a platform for creative applications.

I was working for a design firm in London and Ken was in Glasgow. We initially created Tingbot as a fun way to experience - a new way to make personal, playful animated expressions and share them with others. We felt the best way to experience would be through a dedicated device, like a really personal link between you and your close network of family and friends.

It didn’t take us long to realise the platform we were building could be used for all sorts of exciting projects. We invited others with complementary skills in hardware and software to get involved and join the team: Joe Rickerby, a software engineer who built the platform and spear-headed our development environemnt Tide, Duncan Smeed (Ken’s dad), a computer scientist who has built Tingbot’s hardware, and Philip Gilbanks, another friend from home who has helped us with some of the technical product design.

We formed NORD collective and continued to develop Tingbot in our evenings and weekends. We wanted to make something that made our Pi’s easy to use and fun to tinker with, whilst looking cool enough to sit pride and place on our desks or in our homes.

2.What attracted you to a career in tech?

Basically making things is just a lot of fun. It’s hard and challenging but in a good way. I’ve always loved creating things: from drawing and painting and making things out of Weetabix boxes as a child, … to making things out of Weetabix boxes now (check out our first prototypes)! These interests were really encouraged at home and through school (D&T and Art) and lead me to GSA where I met Ken. Product Design at GSA focused less on old-school industrial design, teaching us more about people and experiences. And we’ve tried to apply that kind of holistic thinking to technology, to humanise it. One of the best things about Tingbot I think is the ability to take some serious hardware like the Pi, make it easy to get creative and make things, then because everything is packaged into a product, you can take whatever you’ve made and put it straight into your life, on your desk, in your home, of give it to your gran. No-one else is really doing this yet.

3.How did you come up with the name?

So the name is a funny one. As I said we started out making a gif-style platform to express yourself. This was originally called gif-ting (like sharing gifs of yourself). We ended up dropping the gif and going with - users share ‘Tings’ of themselves best experienced on Tingbot.

4.What has been your proudest achievement?

Probably showing at Maker Faire. The Elephant and Castle Mini Maker Faire was a real push for us and such a great experience - putting Tingbot in front of people who were really into it. Maker Faire UK was then an amplified version of this, more people, more enthusiasm and a real feeling of support and encouragement - this meant a lot and helped us push towards Kickstarter which launches on Monday 2nd Nov! So not a single moment of pride, more pride in the journey we’ve gone on.

5.What skills have proven most valuable to get you where you are today?

Probably patience! Making a hardware product is not easy and has it’s ups and downs so being able to stay calm and find logical ways to resolve things is so important. We’ve also spent a lot of time working remotely as a team which was really challenging, so being patient with one another as you try work over skype or around someone else’s schedule goes a long way!

Practically though, you can’t begin something without an idea so creativity is essential. Then once you’ve got your concept nailed down you’re into hard skills - from design skills like drawing, model making, CAD and graphics, to software development and electronics - the magic bit that makes Tingbot real! As a team we all have different skills areas but we overlap a lot too - this breadth of knowledge in such a small team has given us flexibility and has allowed us to develop things quickly.

6.What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Building a hardware product on a shoestring budget in the evenings and weekends is pretty challenging. But staying patient and being able to be realistic in our plans and what we can each accomplish with limited time has been essential.

At this point in your career, if you was given the chance to do anything differently, would you and what would it be? Nothing really, I love what I do!

7.What’s next for you and your company? Where do you see yourself in 5 years ?

Right now we’re focused on reaching our Kickstarter goal and being in a position to produce a run of Tingbot’s and get them to people who want to do great things with them. We want to really grow the software platform, building a community of users and apps for Tingbot and really helping people to get creative with technology.

8.Who/what has been your biggest inspiration and why?

Personally probably Berg a design consultancy who are sadly no-longer around. They really challenged people’s perception of technology and how they might interact with it. Again - they had strong design and technical capabilities which allowed them to conceive and then build some really nice things.

9.Why Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a great way to showcase your project and put it in front of those who will get excited about it. We’ve got a pretty focused goal of being able to produce a run of Tingbot’s and we believe Kickstarter will be the best way to give us the reach we need to get to our minimum order quantities.

10.What are three top tips that you could give to anyone thinking of doing a Kickstarter?

We’re no experts - this is our first campaign so we’re kind of shooting from the hip… When planning our campaign we were really keen to be able to show that Tingbot is a real thing, not some vapourware or rendered concept. We’ve opted for real images / footage and case study examples of Tingbot in use. We’ve gone to great length to give real context to how people might use Tingbot as well in order to spark an idea and inspire them to use Tingbot.

Get funding this amazing Kickstarter now! You’d be a fool not to.

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