Thursday, May 30, 2013

Own the Genre

Ia Orana Maria by Paul Gauguin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ia Orana Maria by Paul Gauguin
After the National Stationery Show last week, Terri joined me in New York and we spent the weekend exploring. We visited the top of the Empire State building, went shopping at Macy's, were dazzled by the lights of Times Square, walked along the High Line and strolled though Central Park. We also visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This was the third visit of my lifetime to the Met and it was a great joy to see some of my favorite paintings again and to watch Terri's reactions as she saw them for the first time. At one point, as we stepped into a room with several flower paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, I commented that some artists have a style so unique you can recognize their work immediately.

That stuck in my mind as I reflected that a few artists master a particular technique or concentrate on a particular subject matter so intensely that they own the genre. Vincent van Gogh had his bold, thick paint strokes. Georges Seurat worked with dots. Edgar Degas captured the grace and energy of the dancers. Roy Lichtenstein also worked with dots, but in a completely different way than Seurat.

In the realm of photography there have also been those who have developed a style so unique it is instantly recognizable. Mathew Brady, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz come to mind.

Stepping beyond the visual arts, think of the companies that have so uniquely captured their niche that they own it in the minds of the consumer. Pullman railroad cars, Fender guitars, the Beatles, the Apple iPod and YouTube are a few examples.

What about you?  What are you doing to find and claim ownership of your genre?

You might also like:

The Age of Creativity

Gateway to the Artistic

The Price of Canvas

The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Creativity in Company Research

Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Philip A. Fisher
Philip Fisher, one of the pioneers of modern investment theory, identified fifteen points to look for in a common stock. The list begins with: Does the company have products or services with sufficient market potential to make possible a sizable increase in sales for at least several years?

That is a powerful question.  But how do you find the answer?  Imagine yourself as a new salesperson preparing to represent the company's products in a competitive market place.

One of the best places to begin is the company's website. Most sites have an "About Us" page which provides a brief history and stresses the core values of the organization. The product pages are usually categorized by market segments and teach the main features and benefits of the company's offering. The product pages are also a great way to learn the terminology and technology used in the company's offering.

Wikipedia is a good source of historical and technical information. Check out the entries on the company, the company founders and the technologies they developed. While the Wikipedia entries themselves are usually well organized and thoroughly hyperlinked, the references and external links at the bottom of each entry often lead to even more detailed and interesting articles.

Reading the company's most recent annual report is essential. In the annual report, the company officers share their point of view about the market they serve, trends in the marketplace, competitive strengths, and strategic plans for continuing growth. The annual report also contains the recent financial results which allow you to judge the success of the company's past decisions and if the company has the resources to implement the plans it has outlined.

After completing the research above, you would be ready to make your first sales presentation if yours were the only company in the industry. The next step is to identify each of the company's primary competitors and do a similar analysis on them. Review their web pages, read their product literature, learn their history of success and failure. Make sure you understand why your company and your products are better.

When you feel you understand the company well enough to make a sales presentation, you are in a good position to determine the quality of the investment.  If you believe you could close the sale, the investment is worthy of consideration.

How do you analyze investment opportunities?

You might also like:

Stages of Investment
The Thrill of Ownership
Looking Forward

The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Nothing Stationary in Stationery

Wedding Shower Invitation from Paper Muse Press
Shower Invitation from Paper Muse Press
I have just arrived in New York to attend the National Stationery Show for the first time. I am looking forward to seeing all of the creative new card designs and making new friends in the stationery industry. It will be particularly interesting to hear their views on the trend toward personalized stationery.

Like many industries, there is a steady shift taking place in the stationery market.  The large social expressions companies including Hallmark and American Greetings are struggling to maintain their sales while smaller, more specialized companies are gaining market share. A birthday greeting on Facebook may be sufficient for casual acquaintances, but more important events are worthy of personalized cards from Tiny Prints, Minted or Paper Muse Press.

For most of the show, I will be working in a booth for Black River Imaging which is exhibiting for the first time at a stationery show.  We are well known as a professional portrait lab, but more and more card companies have discovered that the printing, boutique packaging and drop shipping services that we provide for photographers are also a perfect fit for personalized stationery.  Exhibiting at the National Stationery show will make it easier for these types of companies to find us.

The card samples that will be in the booth are from Paper Muse Press, a brand new social expressions company that just launched their web store this morning. It has been more than a year since Emily Walters, Rowena Raborar and Sarah Carney-Norris launched Paper Muse Press as a lifestyle blog featuring do-it-yourself decorating projects and some printable downloads. The blog posts are beautifully photographed and clearly explained.

In addition to blogging, the ladies of Paper Muse Press, and a talented team of design artists and web developers, have been working frantically behind the scenes to furnish their shop with over 3000 unique card designs that can be personalized with images, names and dates. Emily and Sarah will also be attending the National Stationery Show, so be sure to congratulate them if you run into them.

If you will be at the show in New York next week, come by booth 2888 and say hello.

You might also like:

Gateway to the Artistic
Print Can Be Art
Are You an Artist

The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Unforgettable Summer Job

In the summer of 1981, Carl Decker had completed his freshman year studying mechanical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. He traveled to Houston for a summer job with a machine shop that made parts for the nearby oil fields. Many of the parts were made from castings which had to be shaped using handcrafted molds. Decker recognized the need for a method to automatically create castings from CAD drawings and began thinking of ways it could be done.

By the time he was ready to graduate, in 1984, he had developed the idea of using a beam of energy, such as a laser, to melt particles into a solid 3D object. He continued to work on the idea, developed the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process and formed the company DTM Corp which was sold to 3D Systems in 2001. SLS continues to be an important part of the 3D System product line.

Selective Laser Sintering is a 3D printing method that uses a high powered laser beam to fuse small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass into a solid layer. After each layer is fused, the part is lowered, a new layer of powder is applied on top of the first layer, and the fusing process is repeated. The bulk powder in the SLS machine is preheated to nearly the fusing temperature to reduce the amount of laser energy required.

Selective Laser Sintering Diagram
Selective Laser Sintering Diagram from Wikipedia

The most common uses for SLS technology are rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing of complex or low volume plastic parts and fabrication of casting patterns.

When the SLS process is used to manufacture metal parts, it is usually called Selective Laser Melting (SLM). The Swedish company Arcam AB has a similar system which replaces the laser beam with an electron beam and is appropriately named Electron Beam Melting (EBM).  These processes are typically used to make parts for aerospace companies, personalized orthopedic implants and jewelry.

In 1993 Ely Sachs and Mike Cima of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a process that uses a powder bed like SLS, but binds the powder with glue injected using a print head similar to an inkjet printer. The process, which they named 3D Printing (3DP), was sold to Z Corp which was acquired by 3D Systems in January 2012. Z Corp created the first full color 3D printer by combining color print heads with the binder print head.

The invention of the SLS process by Carl Decker after three years of reflection on the idea he originally formed during his summer job is a great example of the need to let ideas simmer to allow the brain to connect the dots in a new and unique way.

What's cooking in the back of your mind?

You Might Also Like:

Ideas are like Chili
The IDE3A Process
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The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Changing the World with a Glue Gun

In 1989, Scott Crump wanted to make a toy frog for his two-year-old daughter. As he worked in the kitchen shaping the frog with a glue gun, he was also inventing the 3D printing process that would transform manufacturing in the 21st century. Crump formed Stratasys to commercialize the process he named Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and the company is now the largest manufacturer of 3D printers with a 44% market share.

FDM works by depositing droplets of melted thermoplastic in a computer controlled pattern much like a regular desktop printer jets ink.. The plastic solidifies after it is deposited to form one layer of a 3D object. When each layer is finished, the print head or print table are moved to allow the next layer to be added. This process is repeated layer after layer until the 3D item is completed.

The raw material for an FDM printer is typically a coil of plastic filament which is fed into a heating block to heat the end of the filament to the melting temperature. Stepper motors or servo motors move the print head to the precise x, y and z position to extrude each droplet.

Diagram of Fused Filament Fabrication
Diagram from RepRap Wiki

Stratasys manufactures a wide range of FDM machines from desktop models for designers to large industrial models for manufacturing plants.  Stratasys has a trademark on the term Fused Deposition Modeling and the abbreviation FDM so the RepRap, Makerbot and most other small 3D printers which use the same process refer to it as Fused Filament Fabrication or FFF.

The FDM process works with several types of thermoplastics including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) polymer, polycarbonates, polycaprolactone, polyphenylsulfones and waxes making it suitable for a wide variety of prototyping and manufacturing applications.

You Might Also Like:

3D Printing Crosses an Inflection Point
Additive Manufacturing Pioneers
It Started with Stereolithography

The Creativity Paradox is sponsored in part by Convertible Solutions which supplies specialty paper substrates to digital printersdirect marketing companies and photo book fulfillment companies.