Designing in Orbit
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”
- James Thurber.
How do you bring a beautiful concept to life? We caught up with fellow Melbournians Rex Kuo and Charles Ng, a Pharmacist, and a Product Designer, who are the co-founders at Orbitkey. The Melbourne duo shed some light into the world of design, product creation, starting a company in the digital age and taking an idea from Kickstarter to the world.
Tell us about your design process? How do you come up with new ideas and refine them?
Charles: We are constantly looking for better ways to do things. We usually draw inspiration by observing how others operate and interact with their surroundings. The design process usually involves a few cycles of prototyping, user testing and refinement until we end up with something that works really well.
Charles: I carry my notebook everywhere I go because I hand sketch a lot of my ideas in it. I find that it works best when I’m trying to visualise my ideas. It’s the most natural thing for me. Digital tools have their place though - I tend to jump back and forth between hand sketching and digital tools during the development and refinement stage.
Is it fair to say that you wouldn’t be standing here without crowd funding?
Do you think there is a formula to a killer campaign?
Rex: If there wasn’t crowdfunding, we would have still probably found another way of launching our ideas, but we really think it’s helped us get to where we are right now in a much shorter time. For us, a Killer Campaign = Unique Product + Great Video + Great Photography + Engaging and Transparent Communication. Of course, we could list another million things to consider but we believe they are the main components of our formula. Lastly, sharing the idea with others and involving as many people as possible really early in the process also helped us immensely.
Image: Orbitkey Founders Charles Ng and Rex Kuo.
How different are your thoughts now about the pathway to market than
what they were before you went ahead with the idea?
Rex: Before we launched our campaign, we honestly didn’t plan how we were going to grow the brand or how to bring it to market. It was meant to be one of our side projects while we continued our 9-5 jobs. A lot of the opportunities came naturally as we went, and we just decided to grab onto some of them. Luckily, it’s worked really well for us so far.
Rex, you were a pharmacist by trade, what skills do you think have transferred across the best from your previous life?
Rex: Besides from supplying the team with drugs to keep the creative juices flowing, working in a community pharmacy where you’re often the central point of the business, provided an excellent opportunity to sharpen my management and delegation skills. Through pharmacy I was also able to gain a lot of experience in the day to day running of a business.
Charles, you have a keen eye for minimal design, where do you draw your passion from?
Charles: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” - James Thurber. The concept of true beauty has always intrigued me; the people and things around you that don’t scream for attention but there’s something so special and unique about them that they just stick in your mind. I’ve always been drawn to designs and things that are simpler in appearance - the fine balance between function and form.
How does technology enable you to stay on top of the business?
Charles: All of our communication can be done through the internet and it’s definitely allowed us to be based in Melbourne (or overseas at times), work with our manufacturing partners in China and have 4 fulfillment warehouses in 4 different countries across the globe. So it’s pretty enabling, we’d say!
What didn’t you expect to encounter and what were the biggest challenges along the way?
Rex: We can list out so many challenges but a few of our biggest obstacles were time management and knowing when to deliver the product, especially when we were starting out. It was not easy starting a business and juggling full time work at the same time.
As a designer, Charles would often get caught in the pursuit of perfection in design, and I would have to pull him back in to ensure the deadlines would be met.
We were able to overcome these challenges by having a strong trust in our working partnership, enabling us to share the workload. It’s also great having different points of view when it comes to making important business decisions.
It has been a steep learning curve but we see learning to be one of the most important things in our lives.
When did you know it was time to leave your day jobs?
Rex: Pretty much half way through our first campaign, Charles quit his day job. It has worked out really well as it allowed him to spend his 100% of his efforts on making sure the product was made to its highest quality. We were also able to deliver the Orbitkey on time, as we promised our supporters on Kickstarter.
Orbitkey solves a problem we experience everyday. Orbitkey 2.0 is on kickstarter right now and killing it a great evolution of 1.0. Tell us about the future of Orbitkey as we move deeper into the digital age.
Charles: Interesting question! We can’t see keys being obsolete for at least another decade or so. In the time being, we’re currently looking at other ways we can make our customer’s lives even better!
Whilst it is in our best interest to expand our range, we do not want to launch other products just for the sake of it. Whatever it is we come up with next, we aim to stay true to our brand and current customers. We want to create innovative products that are both beautiful and functional – not just one or the other.
You can expect a few other product releases in the next few years - watch this space!
What advice do you have for someone with an original idea that they’d
like to make a reality?
Charles: Create, or do something that you would use, and something that truly adds value. There’s a big difference between coming up with an idea and actually making it work - especially for the end users.
We spent many months trialing different designs and refining them until we came up with something that we were truly happy with. It’s a lot easier when you believe in the product or service you are selling.
But remember, don’t get caught in the pursuit of perfection. The most important thing is to begin something! And… on a final note. Prioritise! It’s important to be realistic and know that even if you can do anything, you can’t do everything. The challenge is to decide your next move.
Catch Rex and Charles' Orbitkey 2.0 on Kickstarter now | Click here