The Qwerkywriter started as a very simple idea. One day, while writing a lengthy email, it suddenly dawned on me how terribly boring and ugly my keyboard was. Here is this device that I use everyday to communicate with so many people yet it was the cheapest and most grimy thing ever. It was then that I decided I needed to do something about it. Thus, the Qwerkywriter was born.
The “Mark Zero” was my very first effort. A lot went wrong while making this board but you can see the early shapes taking form that would eventually become the Qwerkywriter.
The Mark 1 was great fun but it was lacking one thing. It wasn’t a mechanical keyboard. Not all mechanical keyboards are “clicky,” but I was particularly attracted to the real loud “clicky” sounds of the CHERRY MX BLUE switches, a type of mechanical switch very popular in the professional gaming and typing community. I was initially very hesitant to tear down a perfectly good (and quite expensive) mechanical keyboard. But after finding one on sale, I got to modding it.
I chose copper after messing around with every type of metal spray paint there was. I didn’t have access to anything super fancy like plastic “dipping” or some crazy chrome coating process. But copper spray looked the most compelling. Even simple things like what spray paint to use took up a considerable amount of time. But people looking at the Mark II would never know that I bought dozens of bottles of various metal colored spray paint and tested them over weeks and weeks. I think as a creative person, you are constantly making decisions, for better or for worse. But I think as long as you are carefully aware of those decisions and re-evaluating assumptions, you get better at it. And I believe that’s the key to getting great results, consistently making great decisions over a long period of time. Heck, that’s probably good for everything in life.
This was something that took quite a bit of time and I was fairly proud of it. I decided to post them online and the response was very positive.
First it was picked up by Lifehacker with tens of thousands of views. Then Razer, the company that made the host keyboard posted pics of it on Facebook. The response was tremendous. What was really curious was how people wanted to actually “buy” one, if they could. Up to this point, this was a hobby project. But the thought of making a commercial product had never crossed my mind until now.
After a while, I thought long and hard about what I would need to do to make something like the Mark II be commercially viable. Well there was only one way to find out. I needed to build another prototype. The goal here was to create and entirely new kind of a keyboard. With a very limited budget, I set out to build a proof of concept prototype.
But first, there was one thing I’ve really wanted to get right, the keycaps. I wanted to make sure that that I understood how early typewriter keycaps were made and why they were special. I bought a whole lot of typewriter keycaps from a wide range of time periods (very expensive, I might add). This became a bit of an obsession for me actually.
I chose the round 3 piece as the aesthetic bar I wanted to hit for various reasons. But the biggest reason of them all was how it felt like a piece of jewelry, like an expensive cufflink or a ring. When I polished one of the keycaps, it was simply brilliant. In fact when I took one of these keycaps to a professional metal fabrication manufacturer, the engineers marveled at the quality and asked where we had it made. They didn’t know that it was salvaged from a typewriter almost a hundred years ago!
Now that the keycap concept was done, it was time to finalize the overall frame construction. I love LEGOs still to this day and in many ways constructing the frame was just that. It wasn’t important that the pieces didn’t look quite right. It was important to move forward and getting something made. Again with very little resources, I made do with the parts I had. As you can see, early mockups were quite crude. But even from here, I gained a lot of creative insight. Had I chosen the more “ornate” mockup, the QWERKYWRITER of today would have taken a very different path.
I occasionally type on this keyboard for fun still and I get a great sense of satisfaction knowing that while crude, there is no keyboard in the world that looks quite like this! Armed with all this experience and with great positive response from all over, I set the target date for my Kickstarter launch for June 2014.
For the Kickstarter prototype, I knew I had to step up the game by quite a bit. Following the lessons I learned from the construction of the Mark III, I prepared a very quick visual target mockup of the Mark 4, or now officially the QWERKYWRITER.
Looking back on this mockup, I see a lot of problems in the details. But the overall look still gets me excited! It’s feels inevitable and wholly fascinating. Something about it draws me toward it because is so familiar. We all type on a keyboard of some kind.
In order to taking it up a notch, I looked to 3D printing as a way to get ideas construction. 3D printing, much like crowdfunding, is a revolution and I was ever grateful to have access to it because of its affordability.
With a help of a good 3D artist, I tackled the frame first. It took several tries but finally got it to a place where I wasn’t entirely unhappy. Here’s the thing. Even with 3D printing being so affordable, it can still add up quite a bit in costs if you are not careful. For someone working out of the garage, spending several hundred dollars per print can add up to funds that just can’t be justifiable. I was definitely feeling the pressure.
After many months, the Qwerkywriter finally became a reality.
In the end our Kickstarter was successful thanks to great friends and strangers who believed in the project.