The purpose of this post is not to gloat and to say you should be like me. That declaration would make me an entitled narcissistic douche bag. The purpose of this post is merely to share an element of my design process that has kept me going from the very beginning that may be of use to you. Maybe you're in the pits and feel that both you and your work suck. I have this feeling daily.
What exactly does it mean to fail? Failure seems to be a focal point of the aesthetic and overall sound of this company. Almost everything I make exploits manufactured failure with the intention of creating a musically useful end result. Lately I've been doing a lot of reflection on the concept of failure, how it relates to my own life, how it relates to my design practice, and how it has been an integral role in the development of both myself and these products. When talking to my buddy Peter recently who was in a rut, we discussed the difficulty of learning new skill sets and how at times repeated failure seems to really just take the wind out of your sail and ultimately it beats you down into a depression. It can feel paralyzing at times and can prevent you from becoming a better version of yourself.
Everything that I have made to this day and every aspect of this company has been an experiment. If you've spent any time talking with me you'll know that I'm not declaring to be someone who has any clue what they are talking about. I am a horrible programmer, an awful electrical engineer, I can't really navigate the Adobe suite, I'm a scatterbrained pothead who often places incorrect part orders on Mouser, I probably could have made much smarter business decisions, and as evidence by our media I wouldn't necessarily be the best candidate to do a talk on effective marketing strategies. I have no formal background in electronics and everything I've learned has been taught to me by people who do know what they are talking about. What I can declare with complete confidence about myself is that I am insanely stubborn and I refuse to accept defeat. There is no such thing as failure with this mindset. Something is only considered a failure when you quit and give up on yourself. I fuck up almost every single day of my life and often times it leads to me losing large amounts of money. I just refuse to stop fucking up :D.
For those of you who design circuits, you will know that the design process has a similar cycle from project to project regardless of complexity. A design can take anywhere from two to as high as eight circuit revisions before it hits the market. Obviously, the better your experience and abilities the lower that number will be. If you're a shitty engineer like me it averages out to about five revisions per project. A common piece of the puzzle for my own process is the bane of my existence: that very first printed circuit board...
The first PCB for me is always a catastrophic failure. Most of the time I either made the PCB the wrong size or fucked up an incredibly important aspect of the circuit. My first prototype usually doesn't turn on or it emits magic smoke. If it does power on, it's so insanely fucked up that I can't even kludge it into working order. I have to figure out what I did wrong, ask for help, make the edits and order another board. My turn time start to finish from an initial idea for a project to shipping the product to market is usually an eight month long process. This is a very long time to be stuck with one idea and repeatedly work on the same task. At times the process is so insanely stressful that I break down into a severe depression and can't think about anything else other than the project that I'm working on. The only thing that keeps me going and helps me see a project through start to finish is one very simple ritual I have created for myself that may be of use to you in some other capacity.
I take the prototype PCB from the very first order, I frame it, and I title it with the working title of the project. I do this immediately after I submit the order for the second revision of the PCB. I assemble all the framed PCBs on my wall as my wall of failures. I put the wall of failures right next to the bathroom so that I see it every single time I'm taking a mandatory break from working. This is my inspiration for continuing with the revisions and seeing something through to the end. I have a visual reference for the amount of stress I've been through in the past and a visual reference that I've done this before and that things will work out in the end. Some of the things on this wall never have and never will make it to market and that's ok too.
When I look at completed modules they don't really mean much to me. By the time a module ships to stores or customers my time with them and the joy I receive from them is pretty much over. The demos, talking about them, hearing people use them, or even playing them myself don't really equate to the intimacy I had with the circuits when I was the only person living with them. There is a high that is achieved when something is finally working right after slaving over it for several months. Framing the very end of that process wouldn't mean nearly as much to me as these framed pieces of shit do.
At the end of the day this image by Benjie Escobar helps. It pretty much sums up my human experience in a simple to digest Venn diagram:
Courtesy of Benjie Escobar. Used without permission (sue me).