Thought Starters

Kill your darlings: Lessons in product design

Darkboard iPad drawing stand
Darkboard iPad drawing stand

The story of the Darkboard stand we never launched

With the 12.9” Darkboard now shipping, I’d like to share a story we haven’t revealed until now. 

When we first launched Darkboard on Kickstarter last fall, we planned to launch it with a stand. But just weeks before the launch, we made a tough last-minute decision to kill the stand and launch without it. 

So here’s the story of the Darkboard stand we never launched.

The Iceberg Stand

We always knew Darkboard would be a better product with a stand. 

By itself, Darkboard worked great in your lap for drawing on the couch or in bed. But we wanted artists to be able to use Darkboard comfortably at their desks too. 

So early on we designed a stand we nicknamed the “Iceberg” because of its white color and geometric design. 

The Iceberg stand was made out of molded EVA foam, the same material as the Darkboard itself. The stand’s unique design accomodated two drawing angles and one vertical angle for an iMac-like setup. 

I had a prototype Iceberg stand and I really liked it. I used it almost constantly in the vertical position next to my computer with Luna Display. 

But in the weeks leading up to our Kickstarter launch, problems started to appear…

A prototype of Darkboard iPad drawing stand
An early prototype of the original Iceberg stand for Darkboard

Problems arise

We’d been spoiled by our earlier hardware product Luna Display because of how small, lightweight, and easy to ship it was. Not so with Darkboard.

Our original plan was to ship Darkboard and the Iceberg stand in two separate boxes, as they were completely different shapes. However, when we priced out how much it would cost to ship extra boxes, we were shocked – it was dramatically more expensive than we had planned because of soaring freight costs. 

This is why so many products require assembly when they’re shipped to you. Shipping something in a flat box is much cheaper than fully assembled.

As novices, we learned this the hard way.

On top of the logistics issues, the large shape of the Iceberg Stand required lots of foam material to fill, making the material costs much more expensive than anticipated. 

And because of its bulkiness, the Iceberg stand wasn’t very portable, and we wanted artists to be able to use Darkboard on the go. 

So we were in a conundrum. We were weeks away from launching our Kickstarter, but a major piece of the product was too expensive to manufacture and ship with our target price of $120 per unit. 

We knew we didn’t want to pass on the exorbitant costs of shipping the Iceberg to our customers. So we did something unexpected: We killed the Iceberg stand, cut the price of Darkboard, and moved forward with the Kickstarter.

A new iPad stand with legs

It felt like a huge risk (and marketing challenge) to launch the Kickstarter with an incomplete product. But even without the Iceberg stand, we successfully raised over $100k for Darkboard.

As soon as the Kickstarter ended, we started investigating new stand designs that could fold flat to fit into the existing Darkboard packaging. 

After months of revisions, we fell in love with a prototype that met all of our criteria: 

  1. A stand that could position the iPad at two different angles: a comfortable drawing angle, and a vertical angle for desktop-style use; 
  2. Made from a high-quality, durable material (the stand is made from vegan leather);
  3. With a compact, foldable profile that didn’t add to Darkboard shipping costs. 

We had a winner. 

We wanted to surprise our Kickstarter backers with the new stand. So we scrambled to get production going, and then fly the stands to Atlanta where we could re-open the boxes and insert the stands. The timing was uncertain for a while, but I’m happy to say that we pulled it off!

The new foldable stand design for the Darkboard iPad drawing stand
The new design for a foldable stand for Darkboard

Kill your darlings

Why didn’t we delay the whole project to perfect the stand? It’s because, at some point as a creator, you just NEED TO SHIP. We had been experimenting with foam materials for two years, and we needed to see if customers liked it as much as we did. 

There are always reasons to delay a project, to try and make it perfect.

But perfectionism is like chasing the horizon: the closer you get, it just keeps moving further out.

Ultimately it’s most important to just get your work out there, to get feedback, and keep moving — and that’s what we did. 

The creative community has the expression ”Kill your darlings” – meaning that sometimes it’s necessary to remove something that you’ve become attached to for the sake of the overall design. In our case, we needed to kill the Iceberg stand to ship our initial Darkboard Kickstarter. We pivoted, giving us room to rethink the original idea and create something even better.