Part of this research project involves MCQN Ltd putting the theory into practice and making a few hundred of something.

I’ve already unpicked some of the criteria for deciding what that something should be, so in this post I want to look at some of the candidates and which we’ve chosen to pursue.

The Contenders


Bubblino is the oldest product from the MCQN catalogue that’s still on sale, but is currently only geared up to very small-scale production. Author and futurist Bruce Sterling calls that approach (and cites Bubblino as) “hacker craft”.

There is definitely a market for it—the steady sales with no effort from me proves that. Scaling up production would allow me to spend time to update the technology and design decisions to reduce the price, no doubt further increasing demand.

However, the bubble machine mechanism is a key and reasonably intricate assembly, which would lead us straight into the complicated world of plastic moulding. The obvious way around that would be to continue to buy off-the-shelf bubble machines and modify them, but that likely leads to more of the product being made in the Far East.


This is the only product idea in the list that doesn’t include any electronics. It was born out of a separate project which used OpenStreetMap data to engrave maps with the laser-cutter. That sparked the idea for laser-cutting custom map-based lampshades.

Although there would be work to do in building the software—a website to allow people to choose the map area for their lampshade and then the back-end processing system to feed into production—this would be the simplest product to bring together.

It also lends itself well to local manufacturing and it would be interesting to pick at any issues arising from the mass-customisation side. There is also more flexibility in the materials used—would that let us better explore the sustainability or recycling angle?

The Ackers Bell

The last two product ideas both come from the company’s interest in alternative ways of bringing what is happening online out into the real world.

Broadly-speaking we can divide this into two categories: discrete notifications and awareness of continuous data.

The Ackers Bell (like Bubblino) is a connected device to help with the first category. It is a physical bell, which is struck whenever one of a pre-defined event occurs online—you make a new sale from your online store; gain a new follower on Twitter; your build system fails an automated test…

There is already one Ackers Bell out in the world. ScraperWiki commissioned the original a few years ago, and use it to let them know whenever they gain a new customer for PDF Tables.

The design aesthetic for the bell eschews plastic in favour of wood and brass, neatly side-stepping the complexity of plastic manufacturing. It should lend itself to smaller-scale production through techniques like CNC routing or laser-cutting.

Continuous Notification

Our final candidate addresses the second online-display-in-the-real-world category and shows the current value of a metric that changes over time. So, for example, your house’s current energy usage; or the number of people on your website; or the amount of coffee left in your Internet-connected coffee pot.

This is the least-well-formed product in the set. Although it’s a concept that has been knocking around the MCQN studio since 2010, of late I’ve been working on designs that aren’t just a simple dial. There are some sketched out, and I’ve done a fair bit of thinking about how we might go about building them, but nothing has been prototyped yet.

And the winner is…

There are good arguments for and against choosing any of the ideas above as the one we’re pursuing for the #indiemfg project. Regardless of which we select, there’s a good chance that the others will live to see the light of day, just not quite as quickly. If nothing else, what we learn as part of this project will make things easier for the next project, and the one after that.

So, the winner is…

dramatic pause

The Ackers Bell.

For what is only a six-month project, designing and developing a new Internet-of-Things device is an ambitious idea. Streetlamp would have been a more manageable product, but also wouldn’t have allowed us to dig into the thornier questions around electronics manufacture in the UK.

The Ackers Bell will let us tackle that and add some exploration of the housing/mechaincal manufacturing (without needing to solve the scale/funding issues of injection-moulding too!).

It was also the easiest to explain to people, which isn’t to be underestimated with something that is destined to be sold. And speaking of sales, just with talking to friends and people who happened to pass by my desk when I’ve been working on it, ther are already over half-a-dozen orders on the books.

We’ll be detailing progress further on this blog, naturally, but to be first to hear about pricing and order details you should sign up on the Ackers Bell catalogue page.