Boole start-up of the week: Dublin Design Studio/Scriba

13 Jul 2015

Launching this week on Kickstarter, Scriba is Ireland's newest consumer electronics brand.

Dublin Design Studio is Ireland’s newest consumer electronics business and has created the Scriba stylus to provide artists and creators with greater control and comfort when drawing on an iPad. The company will launch this week on Kickstarter.

In 2013, architect David Craig, frustrated with the inaccurate and unpredictable line output from his digital stylus, decided to take the issue into his own hands — literally. He decided to create his own stylus and, in so doing, improve his ability and that of illustrators worldwide to sketch with greater control and comfort on an iPad.

“We are creating new consumer electronics products that enhance user experience with the mobile environment,” said Pearse O’Reilly, chief marketing officer at Dublin Design Studio, the company behind Scriba, who also works with Craig at Dublin Design Studio where other Irish-created consumer electronics products are being planned.

“By designing innovative and intelligent devices, we focus on bringing people to the forefront of the digital world.

The market


The Scriba stylus

Scriba is targeting a niche of 3.5 million professional creatives in Europe and the US. Building credibility in this market will provide the gateway to the estimated 40 million illustrators, artists, hobbyists, mobile workers etc… worldwide who buy a digital stylus every year.

The ‘top-down’ market is the 650 million iPad owners worldwide.

The download market for creative painting and drawing apps is around 900 million.

‘By designing innovative and intelligent devices, we focus on bringing people to the forefront of the digital world’

According to O’Reilly, the online world has created an insatiable market for digital imagery, while a stock-photo fatigued audience is indicating a strong preference for original works and infographics. This is good news for illustrators and artists.

Tablet manufacturers are increasingly promoting the use of their devices for content creation as well as for content consumption.

“We identified and contacted 5,000 potential customers during our design development phase to identify the key problems and purchasing criteria. With more than 600 respondents we were able to target and position our development to market demand.”

The founders

David Craig, Dublin Design Studio CEO, was co-founder of Burdon Craig Dunne Henry Architects Ltd. The practice was formed in 2003 following their competition-winning entry for the international design competition for the U2 Tower from a list of more than 600 entries. This competition was the largest architectural competition run in the State and the practice went on to win a number of awards and was involved in some of the most prestigious projects of this period.

With the change in economic circumstances in Ireland and the collapse of the construction industry, David went back to his roots to find opportunities that challenged and interested him.

A strong interest in architecture, electronics, design and an understanding of the importance of quality took him into product — what he describes as a form of architecture for the masses only on a smaller scale.

Having received some early industry validation of his concept designs, he began to explore the essence of what made quality products and what it meant to design around users needs.

“That was where the story of Scriba began and the creation of this unique product has been very much guided by these principles and visions.”

In hooking up with O’Reilly at a DIT enterprise event, he found a willing candidate to expand the market research work as the prototypes evolved. O’Reilly has worked in marketing communications and sales for the past 18 years, primarily in the design, animation and digital media sectors.

Ergonomist and UX-consultant-turned-architect Tim Varian worked with O’Reilly to structure the user testing and provided tireless support in refining Scriba’s ergonomics design.

“A product as tactile as a stylus requires constant testing and iteration and we found an enthusiastic expert in human-centred innovation and product design in Trevor Vaugh. He also introduced us to Kevin Hannon, an award-winning product designer.”

Serial Kickstarter campaigner Mike Hibbett was fascinated by Scriba’s concept and the potential that it may have in the internet of things (IoT) zone. With Mike P. O’Keefe they have designed and manufactured precise and efficient micro-electronics and firmware.

“Fraser Heaslip has provided key input in sales strategy and distribution channels,” O’Reilly said. “Stephen Sheridan, Holly Carton and Stephen Early joined the team to provide us with design support. Stephen Giblin turned down a role with a blue-chip company to work on marketing and business planning for what he immediately recognised as a promising start-up.

“Emmanuelle Ruelle, Pawel Sikora and Peter Richards continue to amaze us with the mysteries of software development. Mechatronics engineers Vitor Padilha and Renato Lacerda are researching and developing new product features and ideas that we hope will make Scriba stand out further from the crowd when we deliver to market.”

The technology


The Scriba stylus promises designers greater dexterity when drawing on iPads and other tablet devices.

As O’Reilly explains, a stylus is an essential tool for sketching or drawing on an iPad as it offers greater precision than a finger. Many commercial illustrators use iPads and other tablets to speed up their creative workflow either for initial sketching or for producing a full artwork. An active (electronically-enhanced) stylus gives the user control over attributes such as line thickness via Bluetooth.

Scriba is a groundbreaking new stylus that puts creative control back in your hands. With a flexible body and dynamic squeeze motion, Scriba responds to every touch, empowering you with the freedom to express your creative self.

“Our stylus, Scriba, is a more tactile take on the design of the stylus. It is designed around the ergonomics of the hand and is not merely a digital equivalent of a traditional pen.

“What makes Scriba unique is the revolutionary and highly-responsive squeeze motion that completely changes the way the artist interacts with mobile devices. This provides unprecedented control when sketching or drawing. Unlike a button-controlled stylus, Scriba’s squeeze motion can be programmed to provide instant access to a whole range of tablet-based creative software functions without changing settings or having to fumble with options.

“We wanted to make a product that was comfortable to use, and so, rather than just going back and examining the pen, we examined the hand, how we hold things and how we physically interact with objects and interfaces. What we have designed is a tool that sits perfectly in your hand and offers unparalleled comfort.”

More products in the pipeline

O’Reilly said the team is developing Dublin Design Studio in tandem with Scriba to be a brand associated with quality and innovative design.

“The long-term goal for the growth of the studio is to create a multi-disciplinary team to realise beautifully-designed, technologically-enabled products which we will either develop internally or licence to third parties.

“To date, the focus has been on consumer electronics products, with concepts that provide additional functionality to mobile devices, such as Apple’s iPad or iPhone. We intend to build a family of products within this space and to later develop a complementary offering of smart devices and services that integrate with and enrich the user’s environment.”

‘Kickstarter is the ideal platform to validate Scriba among market influencers’

While the studio currently relies on external technical support, they are building an integrated team to deliver much of the core competencies in-house.

The team is being developed with focus on design and R&D with key competences that reflect this, including: product and industrial design; software development in the form of both apps and SaaS, and micro electronics.

“The studio has expanded to provide employment for 10 people and we are developing a collaborative environment that encourages creative people to work closely with technical people in addition to the necessary business, sales and marketing support.”

21st century commerce will be all about the community

“Scriba discovered its community of customers at an early stage and it has benefitted greatly from their input,” O’Reilly said.

“Scriba has turned out to be a collaboration process involving hundreds of illustrators, designers, architects, animators, artists, mobile workers, tablet users and hardware enthusiasts that we surveyed over the past year. They have taught us, made us understand what they actually want, and have given us validation for our idea.  Most importantly, they have given us direction.

“We have benefitted enormously from the goodwill of hackers and tinkerers in addition to hardware/electronics professionals who were enthused by our ideas from the outset. They have all helped us substantially with our product and market development.

“We are currently working towards a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.  With a history of successful stylus campaigns and a strong community of early adopters, Kickstarter is the ideal platform to validate Scriba among market influencers.”

The company has attracted some preliminary private investment and will be looking to obtain larger investment in the next six months to scale the businesses.

“We have attracted some preliminary private investment and we will be looking to obtain larger investment in the next six months to scale the business.

“Investment will allow us to build momentum in our software and hardware development roadmap. Although Kickstarter is not representative of our final market, many of our potential customers are early adopters and backers of crowdfunding campaigns and this will provide us with a degree of market validation.

“We will be looking to leverage that attention to build traction and attract investment. To a certain extent this process will reduce the risk of our proposition and allow us to more clearly state our goals in looking for funding.”

Like any, largely self-funded, start-up, money and time have been two resources that have been scarce.

“Acceptance on to the second phase of the New Frontiers programme operated by DIT Hothouse provided the support and financial impetus to give up the day jobs and push forward the development of the product and the creation of a sustainable enterprise.

“While establishing a hardware business is exciting, the wide range of outputs that are required (such as firmware, software, manufacturing, R&D, logistics and selling) means it is more like creating a group of businesses rather than just one. Bringing the required people, assets and skill-sets together requires broad oversight and the ability to plan and manage a variety of major ongoing tasks concurrently.

“Barriers to entry in the electronics industry, and hardware generally, are high, which most likely explains why the number of hardware start-ups are few and far between. However, a new group of small hardware companies is emerging thanks in no small part to industry- and university-sponsored hardware meet-ups and hackathons that lure inventors and hobbyist engineers from box rooms, garden sheds and garages all over the country.”

Stay lean


Side view of the new Scriba stylus

O’Reilly says Ireland is a very good place to start a business.

“Though small, it is very well connected. It is easy to network and to make truly valuable international contacts here. We are also committed to working as closely as we can with Irish suppliers and manufacturers as we enter our next phases of design for manufacture, production and fulfilment.”

His advice to other start-ups and founders is to stay lean, à la Eric Ries.

‘Having vision helps you build your team. Enthusiasm attracts enthusiasm’

“It is the only way to go. Hardware requires a multiplicity of inputs and outputs and can be a money pit if you let it. You have to be just as innovative with money and resources as with your product. Keep costs to a minimum by testing quick and often and not being afraid to drop features or functions that are not working. This in itself has provided key learning. It shows what can be done with very little. We have become bootstrapping experts.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You won’t always get it but you will get nowhere without it. When you get help, leverage it, build on it and don’t forget it. Offering to help is just as important: others are going through the same process as yourself and whether its advice or actual assistance, it is important to offer.

“Progress every day, not matter how small the achievement… recognise it, even if the only progress is the learning gained from accepting that something did not go well. Learn and move on.

“Having vision helps you build your team. Enthusiasm attracts enthusiasm.”

Clarification: when this story was first published we referred to the company as Scriba. Scriba is the product and the company behind Scriba is Dublin Design Studio.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years