An idea is not the thing.

In this post, I’ll give away an idea. I’ve been holding on to it for a long time. I’m pretty happy with it - but an idea just sitting on the shelf is good for nothing.

It’s a pencil. A regular pencil with a few words to encourage you to do the thing a pencil represents. Practice.

But even thought the idea was “ready”, I haven’t made the product out of it for nearly a year now. Here’s why.

An idea can feel right

I’ve fallen in love with this idea a while ago, and thought that surely, I’ll make the product right away now that I know what I want. I thought being clever was all that’s required. I thought, by giving away the clever idea I’d be giving away something valuable. Not true.

Here’s why the pencil idea feels right: it’s a simple giveaway tool. You might keep it for a long time. It’s minimal in material and useful to almost everyone. And by using it, you'd make out the message. As the pencil gets shorter and shorter, it transforms... wait for it... through practice :)






So here: I still think this is clever. And, I’ve set aside a budget to cover its cost. Surely I’d be able to have a neat pencil made for me within days?

Not so fast.

…it takes more effort than we expect to make it real

I’ve heard it many times that execution is important, and ideas are cheap. And this example of a pencil has taught me how much effort it takes to execute even on a simple idea.

Because, you see, there’s nuance.

The pencil is a simple giveaway and because of this each detail is important. Each detail has to represent in my brand. To get something like this from plan to reality is not a trivial matter.

As I looked into ordering, I saw many options to satisfy one or two of my criteria. But not all three, and definitely not at a small quantity I’d be ordering.

Who knew a pencil has so many details?

1: To start, I’m looking for a relatively small batch: two hundred or fewer. There are many options for larger quantity custom orders, but you’re much more limited on the smaller scale. Understandably, with smaller orders manufacturers have to reduce costs. So they offer fewer customization options.

2: As a designer I care about good typography. So I want to set type myself, or at least select a high quality typeface from what’s provided. This proved to be difficult to find. The easiest option (for both buyer and seller) is to allow the customer to type in the words. Then, the manufacturer would set the type themselves. Often, the machine they use has only one typeface, and it’s monospaced. This can look good if the type is designed for monospace use, but will look choppy if not.

3: I want to have a great pencil to begin with. It would be neat to match the color of the pencil body to my brand - or keep it neutral with wood and a clear finish. Many small batch custom pencil makers did not have my preferred color, or added a poor quality eraser.

4: I wanted physically stamped or engraved pencils. Some of the custom pencils are made by rolling a printed color film around the wood base. I prefer engraving or stamping on a pre-finished pencil. A rolled finish can be low quality. Even though you could have any design on the film, the surface just doesn't feel right. An engraved or stamped pencil has the words pressed into the wood, making them last longer. It has a more interesting texture - while a printed design might wear off quickly.

5: This was the biggest surprise discovery. I might not have noticed this if my design did not depend on it. Most custom engraved pencils are set up with the text ending, not beginning, at the eraser end of the pencil. One such pencil (see below) became famous a couple of years ago. I need mine to read starting at the eraser end of the pencil of course.

My design needs to have text beginning at the eraser end, “using up” the the extra “PRACTICE” as the pencil is sharpened between uses.

My design needs to have text beginning at the eraser end, “using up” the the extra “PRACTICE” as the pencil is sharpened between uses.

Tl;Dr: finish it :)

In summary, this post is not to vent about the trouble I went through so far. I don't look to make an excuse for not yet getting the pencil made. I only want to illustrate how even the designs that seem straightforward will need work to push them to completion. You need time, care, and attention to make a thing real. It doesn't matter if you’re hiring someone to do it for you, using an automated service, or DIY.

Most things you'll produce will be like a home improvement project... They'll take twice as long and maybe even turn out twice as expensive. Our work will require our care even after it seems complete. But it’s worth it in the end, and that care is what separates projects that remain ideas from things that became a reality.

Maria Matveevasixth-9