From Pokia to Hulger
So Nicolas, first, congrats on your impressive success with Hulger. I'm sure you weren't expecting this when you put together the first Pokia.
Nicolas Roope: Thanks. And yes, I never expected this. For me it's a triumph of the idea. Industry would have us think ideas are irrelevant so it's really pleasing to see one so seemingly senseless win out over rational (and boring) business logic. The world is so grey and predictable sometimes so I'm glad to see anything breaking the rules and bringing back some colour. I'm obviously more pleased still because this is my idea.
What are some of the biggest differences you've encountered in going from a DIY manufacturing setup to Hulger?
Nicolas Roope: The difference is enormous. The DIY stuff was a lot of fun and was a great way of getting interest but was actually pretty time consuming and also irritating because the quality was always limited by my own skills and the standard components i could get my hands on. With the new molds we work with on our production models we get to decide everything, external and internal, creating new components when they don't already exist. So there's a lot more creative freedom and the finish and performance of the phones is much better.
In the POKIA days we presented the idea in a deliberately rough-and-ready way, as the hobbyist aspect was part of the project's charm. The move to HULGER demanded that we tighten things up so retailers and customers alike would take us seriously and have the confidence to deal with us.
The main differences though relate to the difference between a hobby and running an international brand. From knocking together some handmade custom models to suddenly having to deal with finance, design, manufacture, shipping, distribution, marketing, branding and all the other operational stuff that comes with this was an enormous step. But taking that step was critical as it meant we could turn the idea into a business and at the same time take control of the idea and project it through this new brand and the products which we now had complete control over.
As a designer who's successfully made it to the market, are there any tips or hints you can give our readers who may be interested in taking products to market themselves?
Nicolas Roope: A lot of our experience is very particular to HULGER so I'm sure our tips won't be universally useful. However i feel like we've learnt some very important lessons. The first is that the most important thing of all is knowing what's at the heart of the idea. We started not just trying to get a single product to market, choosing instead to use this noisy idea to create a new brand which could become a platform to deliver future ideas. In six months we've launched six lines which is a lot for a new business, but it was vital for articulating the possibilities of the initial idea and to show what HULGER was about.
A lot of businesses get confused by what brand actually is and often fall into the trap of applying it outside-in, i.e. giving it a name and a look before really figuring out what these represent. This approach was fine in a broadcast world where advertising could paste over the cracks forming between promise and reality but these days I think people are much more discerning and very skilled at decoding communication. People are looking for what's real, not just a sweetly resolved, superficial promise. There's a growing market who willingly pay a premium to guarantee the source and production of food for example because they know it's good for them, tastes better and makes them feel good supporting the smaller producer. In a similar way people want to feel that the products they consume are rooted in an ideology or story that resonates with them in deeper way than just through its use. Not only does this make them feel better about using these things but in the case of a fashion item like our phones, they feel good about their association with this brand when using them in public.
So we've been very careful to build things inside-out, starting with the heart of the idea, our values, the possibilities of future developments, the context and in the middle of all this the core meaning that glues everything together and act as a guide of all of our decisions and actions.
For us, finding this truth was the single most important task as after that everything then falls into place.
What about Hulger's marketing? How much of its success would you attribute to its unique "aura"?
Nicolas Roope: I'm glad you call it an "aura" as this is exactly what we hoped would grow from our approach.
We haven't done anything with advertising so far. The reason is partly financial and partly because so far we haven't needed to. The press have remained interested in each new step we've taken and have generally represented us well. It creates a very different impression reading about something in editorial compared to looking at an ad. Readers know that the advertiser has to buy into the space so in a way it becomes meaningless because the journalist and magazine aren't endorsing it, the ad's merely there because it's been paid for. When the press talk about us it not only educates people about the idea but also endorses HULGER which is much more powerful and a whole lot cheaper too.
Of course we're not counting on press interest continuing indefinitely but at least for the short term it seems like providing that we're developing the idea in interesting directions that are consistent with our values, we will get talked about. For me this is the ideal as it means we can keep focused on the stuff that really counts; the products themselves
What are some of the benefits and costs of being a fashion-driven product?
Nicolas Roope: The biggest benefit and somehow also a big threat is fashion's momentum. fashion is hungry for new ideas, extraverted and experimental. You drop HULGER into this whirlwind and not only does it get talked about but it gets worn, photographed, customized, accessorized etc, as it gets assimilated. It helps to make it feel real and part of the world as opposed to just being an abstract notion. But of course fashion moves at fast pace and doesn't stick around for the dust to settle. That's why we are resisting being defined only as a fashion item and are thus developing the practical and aesthetic aspects of products; ways of shoring up the brand and (hopefully) making our products less fleeting
It does create some complications though. the fashion retailer expects a different percentage to the design or electronics retailer. as we're present in both design and fashion outlets this creates some issues when we're trying to get to a standard RRP whilst keeping our wholesale prices at the same level. In this respect HULGER is quite interesting as few products can inhabit these quite different spaces. But it feels from the growing number of eclectic, hybrid, fashion/design stores that it's a growing tendency which should make it easier for us.
How have the recent developments in the telecom industry -- cell phones dominating, and VOIP becoming more and more prevalent -- helped or hurt Hulger?
Nicolas Roope: Most developments have been pretty helpful. The biggest problem for us
is keeping astride of new handsfree port types which unfortunately never seem to settle on a standard.
Apart form that, the development of VoIP has been very useful for us. The VoIP use of our handsets has helped to ground the idea by making it more useful. We've also been certified by SKYPE which has given us some legitimacy in the space and also provided another retail context (we sell through skype.com). The VoIP area is very interesting because it's relatively unchartered territory and at least for now it looks like
most companies entering the space are making all the usual mistakes. VoIP isn't like any other form of telephony. Even though the differences might seem subtle, they change the rules enough to require dedicated devices that respond to its unique qualities. Given our position, all this spells meaty opportunity for reapplying our
approach, especially as we have already made some pretty respectable in-roads into the area. In a rather ironic twist, our handsets have become some of the most useable and likable on the VoIP market and that's almost by accident.
Over the last 10 years, these changes have total remapped our personal communication strategies. Where do you see personal communication heading in the next ten years?
Nicolas Roope: I think there's a desire for simplification and unification. The mobile and PC have become the pivotal points of our communications universe and with the onset of VoIP the emphasis will probably shift again. The key to this will be about where a users data is kept, not accessed. What VoIP encourages is the tendency to house more personal data on the web whilst currently the mobile is usually the central phone number database. Syncing has never really standardized so a majority of users still don't back up and have trouble transitioning information form one device to another. So phone numbers have stayed on the phone and email/IM addressees have stayed on the PC. But skype or other VoIP services require the phone number information so we'll see web-sites become the guardian of ALL the information and rather than learning a new interface with every new device, data management will probably end up being totally web-based, multi-format access and probably provided by
the likes of skype or whatever google come up with. The data will always be there online and you will be able to get it through any device, anywhere and action it in as many ways as that particular device allows. The mobile device will not only need to provide the usual comms functions but will also have to act as a window on the
users' networked world, the ultimate and only real killer application for what was once called WAP
Devices will therefore either need to either be much more complicated so that a user can act on all their information or conversely be much dumber as complicated procedures required for set-up can take place elsewhere (e.g. through your TV or PC).
The more complex devices will become more like PDA's or PSPs, with big screen real estate and lots of interface elements for input and control. The PDA-esc type won't be something very pleasant to use as a phone which is where HULGER will come in. The NOKIA 770 for instance doesn't even have a mic and headset so you HAVE TO use a bluetooth headset, but if you're like me and hate using them then HULGER is there
for you. The 770 is also interesting because like most phones of the future it supports Wi-Fi so users will want to flip from standard access to VoIP depending whether they have Wi-Fi access or not. Users will find it harder and harder to work all this out on the device whilst simultaneously using it as the phone so again HULGER's there for the voice part.
The dumber devices also have their precedents. The enormous success of the RAZr resulted from a dumbing down of tech in preference for looks; a tendency I think we'll be seeing a lot more of and which at some point HULGER may participate.
How do you see Hulger playing into these future developments? Do you think Hulger will stay a peripheral forever?
Nicolas Roope: If you follow the logic of my argument so far then HULGER phones become either peripheral to the more complex device or the dumber device itself. The whole tech/comms world have been following a trajectory towards convergence, i.e. everything on a single device. It makes prefect sense from a practical standpoint and yet the closer we get to this ideal, the less realistic it seems. The truth is that this ambition hasn't been driven by users but by industry. Users are idiosyncratic and individualistic and want to define their own flavours of functionality and constellations of technologies and this doesn't always drive in the direction of convergence and minimization. This future world is one of diversity and distinction, where the complexity lives online and the device picks and chooses what chunks of this it represents. It's going to be a playground for the likes of HULGER.
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Nicolas Roope is founder and head creative mind behind the HULGER brand (www.HULGER.com) and recently has been involved in spreading the HULGER ethos with a joint project with St. Martins design program called Hulgarization
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team