Today I'm starting on a series of blog posts outlining our trek toward the "Next Gen" Photobooth. I've got a meeting scheduled with my business partner - a design engineer by trade - this coming weekend, and we're hoping to have the ideas we've already started talking about solidified and on "paper." Hopefully, buy the end of the weekend, we'll have all the info we need to start ordering materials.
Before that, however, I'd like to share the approach, and the ideas we're aiming for. There are a few things that have prompted this next generation: portability for a wider audience; easier setup and tear down; simplified electronics (which goes hand-in-hand with easier setup/tear down); and greater ability to sell the booth at a competitive price.
This was one of the pieces that got the ball rolling. I have a good friend who works for a company that takes pictures for schools in the area. There was an opening to pitch my 'booth to them, and provide my services for school dances through this company. That didn't work out, and I looked at it as a good step that I even pitched to them. A few weeks later, my friend asked about the possibility of a booth that would be able fit into his car - a much smaller amount of space than my Flex allows. I told him I'd think about what I could do, and then he casually mentioned it was for his company again. I immediately saw the next pitch that I could make.
Being able to design a booth that is able to fit in almost any car opens the door not only to the possibility of selling to this company, but to many other individuals, as well. (And, someday, I may be able to downsize my car needs, as well.)
Setup & Tear Down
When we built the current booth, we wanted something that wouldn't need tools to assemble, and, without doing all the homework we have done this time around, figured that the best way to achieve that was with wooden sides that slot-and-tab together. The other great advantage of the wooden construction is the stability it affords. I've seen other booths out there that had fabric sides, and a printer on a table next to the "booth." This is the look and feel I wanted to avoid; I wanted to have more of a feeling of stepping into an old-school photo booth, and I figured that the best way to do that was with a large-ish, solid structure.
The problem with this thought process is the weight of the silly thing. When you are using 3/4" plywood for the bulk of your construction, weight adds up quickly. While we have enough pieces to make this problem not so big, all those "only kind of heavy" pieces are a pain to pack, unpack, assemble, disassemble, repack, and finally unpack again. There were also some errors in construction that led us to some interesting workarounds during assembly.
As I was setting up a friend's wedding reception, my cousin just so happened to be in the crowd. Since I was alone that day, he lent a hand, but was also very interested in the inner workings and electronics of the 'booth. As we talked, he marveled a bit, then mentioned that he saw that, one day, I'd just plug in a tablet computer where the monitor went, and that would be all there was to it. Although this wasn't even a year ago, I kinda thought about it, but then put it off as something that wouldn't be here that soon, since the software I use wasn't made for anything but "normal" computers.
In May, I was browsing the website of the program I use, and noticed there was an update to make the program compatible with Windows 8. That really got me going on the redesign path, since the entire plan for Windows 8 is that it should be the same no matter if it's on a desktop, laptop, phone, or - just like my cousin told me - tablet.
The biggest advantage in the redesign that a tablet gives me is twofold - I get to replace two devices with one (my laptop and touchscreen monitor), and it should make the design process and assembly of the booth much easier and cleaner. (But more on that in the next post).
Making it Saleable
At the first month of Fourth Fridays in Westerville, we had a man ask us if we ever sold the 'booth, or would consider it. From the beginning of this entire project, my business partner bought his way in though funding the booth itself (the wood, paint, construction, etc.). He "made me" (though it wasn't a hard push) consider trying to market the booth once we had an idea of how it all worked. That gentleman in Westerville made us seriously consider, for the first time, really selling the Photobooth. The problem that we wound up with was competitive pricing.
Although we had a great thought process in designing the original, it was extremely time consuming to build, as very few bits of it are able to be completed without modifying beyond just trimming the sheet of plywood to size. Everything from cutting a door, to adding pieces to the back side to form a chute for the prints out of the printer (which requires careful measuring, drilling, screwing, filling, and sanding, among other steps). Labor intensive is a great way to describe the production process.
Labor intensive means expensive, and, by the time we had calculated all of our construction time, electronics and engineering costs, and our profit margin (even a slimmed down margin to try to be competitive), we were thousands more than competitive booths. Not a good place to find yourself, thus the planning for our Mark II.
Next up: The Design Process