Swell Ideas

Branding the Ball – Redefining the Logo


Have you ever created something that you thought was a very swell idea but then, when you stepped back to take a look, your eventual reaction was, “What have I done?” Or maybe you’re oblivious, like me, and it takes the discerning eye of someone else to open yours. Well, this happened to me awhile back.

First, an aside.  I attended a manufacturing trade show some time ago.  I came across a plastics company that was giving away books.  Most companies give away a squishy ball with their name on it or a pen with a sample of the product they sell glued to the end or a pocket protector with their logo on it.


I’m a sucker for free stuff at shows because it makes me feel like Santa Claus when I get home after the show with a bag of candy bars, engraved pens and interesting product samples to present to my kids.  Not only did American Plastic Molding Corp replace their product sample give-away with a free book (an unique offering in itself), but it was a book called, “Our Toilets are Not for Customers”.


Good book; full of anecdotal stories about customer service; written by the owner of AMPC, Floyd Coates.  The book worked better than any squishy ball or candy bar ever could because it gave me a glimpse of what the owner stood for and his company’s values.  I did some business with APMC because of that book and I recommend them for plastic injection molding.  But that’s not the point of this aside.  After reading Floyd’s book, I got excited about publishing my own book (“How to Make a BoogerBall, a Story about Life, Product Development and Keeping Your Nose Clean).  I got so excited, I decided to contact the author to seek his advice about getting published.  True to the image of the customer oriented man I read about in his book, Mr. Coates called me back.  I was so overjoyed to talk to him that I took his call on my cell phone in a dressing room in Bloomingdales at the Mall of America and I took copious notes on a piece of cardboard that comes inside a dress shirt (found on the floor).  He gave me lots of good advice including the name of his printing company, but it was after I directed him to BoogerBall.com and he (and his wife, Anne) read the story that my eyes were opened (finally the point of this lengthy aside).  Floyd said that he liked the story but his wife had trouble looking at it because the BoogerBall looked too real.  “It’s really gross.”

I never thought of my story as being particularly repulsive.  Wacky, funny, ridiculous, but not gross.  It’s not real.  It’s just rubber cement.  Then I got an email from a guy who took me up on my request to send in a picture.  The photo he sent was of a small, smooth, round ball the size of a quarter.  It was somewhat green and looked a little gooey.  It was a real ball of real boogers.  It was so gross to me that I almost hurled on the computer keyboard just looking at it.  My eyes are now opened.  The BoogerBall idea is fun, wacky, interesting, and very gross – especially if you think even for a second that it could be real.

My goal for this project is to teach people something they don’t know, to entertain and to enlighten but not to disgust.  While I can’t ‘not show’ the BoogerBall while telling the story of how it’s made, I can soften the gag reflex by not using a photo of it in the ubiquitous logo.  So this lesson contains various tools and methods for refining our BoogerBall logo.  Let’s make it less gross, more fun, less realistic and more stylized.  It’s true that this product is on the fringe of societal appeal (there are only so many 12 year old boys out there), but with a less realistic logo, we might be able to bring it slightly closer to main stream (by not grossing out their mothers).

I used the following techniques to convert a photograph of the BoogerBall into a stylized vector graphic suitable for use as a logo.  Each of these methods has its roots in my past.  These are tools that I have found useful.  This means that you may conversely find them trite, redundant or obsolete and you may also find them useful but they seem to make sense to me.

The first problem is to simplify the photograph into a stylized line drawing.  The second problem is to create a digital version of the line drawing.  The third task is to create a vector version of the digital drawing.  The final step is to complete the logo with color and line weights.

BoogerBallNotebookI like to work in the real world as much as possible; pushing pencil and paper instead of pushing electrons.  This is why this post was first written out longhand in my notebook.  So, I began with a printed copy of the BoogerBall photo.  The desire is to have a line drawing with maximum contrast (black lines on white paper) to facilitate the future steps.  To accomplish that, I created what can be thought of as poor-man’s carbon paper.  You see, way back in the olden days, in order to make a duplicate copy of a typed letter, a typist would use a piece of black, chalky “carbon paper” sandwiched between two pieces of paper.  Poor-man’s carbon paper is a technique we played with in elementary school.  You scribble on the back of a piece of paper with a dark pencil or crayon.  Turn it over and place it over another piece of paper.  Anything drawn on the first page will be, in turn, transferred to the second page.  The more shading you do to build up the “carbon”, the darker the transferred drawing will be.  So, I shaded the back of my photo good and dark and then traced a simplified version of the BoogerBall over the photo.


The traced drawing transferred to a clean piece of paper.  The result is a drawing with high contrast and cartoon styling (I made the boogers bigger with a little less detail) that is ready for the next step.



Simple scanning converts the line drawing into a digital image for tracing.  You can also use your phone to take a picture of the drawing and email it to yourself.  (I can’t believe I just wrote that – it’s like saying you can also use your elbow to pick your nose – it doesn’t seem possible.)  Once you get the line drawing back to digital format, you’re ready for the next step – vector conversion.

Now, there are a number of ways to trace a line drawing to make a vector version.  If you use Adobe Illustrator (AI), you can use the trace tool to do the job.  Being an engineer and a CAD guy, I find that I am not as comfortable with the free form artistry of manipulating vectors in AI.  I seem to spend extra time trying to make it mathematically perfect which is not always easy to do in Illustrator.  Because I have thousands of hours of AutoCAD experience, my favorite technique is to put the image into a 2D CAD program.  Draftsight is my latest tool of choice because it is an AutoCAD clone so my skills are still relevant and because it is free.   DraftSightI own a license of AutoCAD but I can load Draftsight on all of my computers and teach its use to others more easily because it’s a free download (which, I’m sure, is part of Dessault’s marketing plan and I’m playing right along).  Like AutoCAD, Draftsight lets you load a reference to an image file for tracing and that’s just what we are going to do.

I recommend placing your image file on a different layer from your tracing vectors so they can be easily isolated by turning layers on or off.    LayerControlAnother good use for layers is to isolate different colors.  In addition, the use of layers will help simplify our design.  Our BoogerBall will eventually consist of multiple boogers in different shades of green.  Rather than have every little splotch of color be its own closed vector shape that needs to be created and filled with color, we can create a large background shape of a single color and then layer the smaller booger shapes of differing color on top.  All of the little spaces and gaps in-between will be filled with the background color.   BoogerBallLayersBecause AI will import layers along with geometry from a DWG file, you can begin organizing and separating the different colored shapes on different layers now and save yourself some tedious work later.

I use two tracing methods in Draftsight that eventually converge to produce the desired result.  The goal is to have closed geometric shapes that can easily be filled with color in AI.  The first method is to use the arc command many times in succession to trace a booger.  The CAD tool will automatically repeat the last command if Enter or the Space Bar is pressed so after making one arc on the path, it’s easy to keep going.  Hitting Enter or Space again causes the first point of the arc to be a continuation of the last point of the previous arc making both arcs tangent to each other (a smooth looking transition).  Because of this, you can quickly trace an organic (curvy) object by making one arc and then repeating Enter, Enter, Click, Click as many times you need to complete the path.  The resulting geometry will be many small arcs as separate entities.  BoogerBallArcsWhile AI has tools to convert this to one path (Pathfinder), the CAD tool can do it just as quick (you’re already here, anyway) by choosing the PEDIT command.  PEDIT will convert the first arc you select into a Polyline (a single continuous entity made from many).  Using the Join option, you can add all of the remaining arcs to the path.  With the Close option, you can be confident that the final result is a closed Polyline (i.e. one that can be filled with color in AI).  The alternate method for creating a closed, curvy shape is to use the PLINE command which creates a multifaceted Polyline of small, straight line segments as you make clicks along the desired path.  Again, use Close to be sure the Polyline is completely closed.   BoogerBallPlineThen use PEDIT and either the Fit Curve or the Spline Curve option to make the path smooth.  This second method will be faster than the first because you are just making a bunch of short line segments and letting the CAD tool make the curves, but you will have less control over the final outcome, especially where your booger shapes make sharp corners or tight reversing turns.  As you repeat this process, you will eventually trace all of your boogers onto different layers and you will be ready for color and fine tuning in AI.


 Importing your vector BoogerBall into AI is as simple as closing Draftsight (be sure to SAVE) and opening the DWG file in AI.  The Options box that pops up gives you the opportunity to scale your image, or center it on the Artboard.   DXF-DWG OptionsI recommend experimenting with these options.  Be sure to leave the Merge Layers option unchecked so all that extra work you did to isolate layers in Draftsight isn’t lost in translation.  After the file is opened and you SAVE it to a new AI file, it’s fairly easy to isolate a layer at a time, select all of the booger shapes, and choose a fill color to fill them.


Within just a few moments, you can have a complete BoogerBall design that’s exactly what we are looking for, a stylized vector graphic suitable for use as a logo that doesn’t excite the gag reflex of our “real” BoogerBall.   I did a little extra work to integrate the Wordmark and added a little stylized shadow.  Now we can move on to bigger and better things like building a fun WordPress website and earning traffic to it.








Update:  After working on this one post for over a year I’ve come to realize that the opening sentence applies to this post and the whole BoogerBall concept. I am moving on to a new subject – a new project that has many more redeeming qualities and an infinite range of learning opportunities (with more posts to illuminate them). Look for future posts about Engineering For Everyone, an educational program I have been developing. You’re probably saying, “Thank goodness, that was really too gross!”

Update#2: I just learned last week that Floyd Coates passed away after a battle with cancer. I will miss him as he inspired me to keep going with my writing. I look forward to greeting him in Heaven some day.

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Monday, March 18th, 2013 CAD, Engineering For Everyone, Product Development, Swell Ideas Comments Off on Branding the Ball – Redefining the Logo

Custom Database Software Development with FileMaker Pro

All of the posts on this website to date have been related to product design or development.  A recent project has highlighted a whole facet of our business that hasn’t been represented, custom database software development with FileMaker Pro.

A very Swell Idea, Inc. (AVSI) offers a unique perspective to the sale and development of custom software. Having designed software tools since 1997 for small businesses to manage their daily operations, AVSI has an excellent track record of making practical software tools that match and enhance existing business practices. Having designed custom machinery since 1991 across a wide range of industries, AVSI has an excellent track record of innovative problem solving and building mechanical systems that successfully serve their designed function. While typical software companies follow a standard business model of licensing software to the user that includes an initial per-seat cost and an annual license fee, AVSI approaches database software development with a custom machinery mindset; i.e., a fee is charged for the time and materials of the initial development, but no further fees are charged except for requested enhancements or unexpected issues. For this reason, we believe that our approach is a more desirable way to do business as it does not hold the owner hostage to a specific tool (charging fees for years to come) nor does it escalate fees for expansion of the user base. The only exception to this policy is that the core software tool, FileMaker Pro, is a traditional software tool that requires a per-seat license fee (approx $300) not paid to AVSI.

The primary benefit to commissioning a custom software tool, like when ordering a custom machine, is that the tool will be designed to behave exactly to your specifications. Any business that has been successful for several years will have inherent processes developed over time that greatly contribute to its success. Such processes usually contain checks-and-balances and other key features that have been developed by you, the owner(s), through trial-and-error, business training and industry research. By adopting an “off the shelf” software tool, the owner is essentially surrendering their tried-and-true operating processes in favor of another business’ processes. At times this may be advantageous, e.g. if the owner is planning to sell the company and wish to align their business processes with a potential buyer or if the owner’s business is not yet mature and they are looking for some best practices guidance. Adopting an “off the shelf” solution will be a learning experience, both in learning the software itself and in learning the business practices it promotes. It will require many hours of effort to become proficient at a tool which may or may not explicitly benefit the business in the long term. Some “off the shelf” tools can be manageable if they offer a sufficient level of personalization and customization, but this is rarely the case for small business software because the target market is too small to warrant such extensive up-front development. More often, there will be one or two key features that the owner (or state and local governments) deem necessary for doing business and the owner will accept to compromise their historical business knowledge in favor of the software developer’s offering.

At AVSI, we strive to capture the fundamental structure of your current processes and build them into a software tool that enhances your effectiveness. We tailor the design to your preferences, to your processes, to your existing tools and personnel. As much as you desire, we keep the paper processes intact, understanding that computers are not perfect and your existing processes are still valid. We work to understand what’s important to you and conform the tool’s features based upon that understanding. No extra, unused features will be included, so there will be no “work-around” steps necessary to make your tool work – it will be your tool. For these reasons, we believe that a custom software tool offers the best cost-to-benefit ratio both short and long term without compromising your business.

I encourage you to give us a call to discuss your custom software project and give us a chance to put our creative energy to work for you.


Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 FileMaker, Swell Ideas Comments Off on Custom Database Software Development with FileMaker Pro

Family Style Display

Last July, the pastor of my church began talking to me about a new program he wanted to start called Family Style. The idea was for a daily devotion time shared by the whole family. Just 15 minutes a day to make a connection between the family and God through prayer and Bible reading would produce lasting benefits for individuals, their families and the church as a whole. I was excited about the idea because most churches I’ve attended have taken over the responsibility of the spiritual training of children that has been abdicated by their parents (especially their fathers). This plan gives parents the tools (Biblical devotional materials), encouragement (reinforced every week at church) and accountability (read on) needed to enable success. Pastor Tim’s desire was to encourage the whole church to participate for one year and to keep track of our progress using dimes and that’s why he was talking to me.

His idea was to have every family bring one dime to church for each devotion they did during the week (up to 5). We would then place those dimes in clear plastic tubes that could be on display at church to show our progress. Washers painted blaze orange (called “wildcards” by Tim) would serve as replacements for missed days (nobody’s perfect). As the display fills with dimes and washers we can see in a tangible way our families growing closer to Christ.

The first question he asked was if I knew where to buy clear plastic tubing in the right size for dimes and something to cap the ends with. I pointed him the the place that has everything, McMaster Carr (www.mcmaster.com). I’ve used McMaster Carr for years as a source for everything from metric fasteners to raw materials to tools. Most of my customers rely heavily on their quick delivery and low quantity requirements. From McMaster, Tim ordered 7 pieces of 1” clear acrylic tubing that were 6 feet long (click here for link). As it turns out, I already had a whole box of white plastic caps that fit perfect in the 3/4” ID tubing (if you send me a note, I will share) but you can also buy them (black color) at McMaster (click here for link).

So with the key materials in hand, my task was to come up with a way to build an interesting display. Here are my first concept sketches. The finished product was simply a refinement of these concepts based upon discoveries and choices made along the way.

Upon receiving the tubes, I discovered that they were actually a bit longer than 72”. This was a blessing in planning the cut lengths as I could ignore the width of my saw blade in my calculations. After some trial and error, I came up with a cut list resulting in 19 tubes measuring from 6” to 42” in 2” increments. A few pieces leftover could serve as a sample in presenting the idea to others. I used masking tape to protect the tubing as I cut each piece to length with a miter chop saw (my favorite power tool). Be sure to make your cuts quickly as the tubing will melt if you cut it too slowly.  Scroll to the end of this post to find a link to the PDF drawing showing a detailed cut list for the project.

Next I made a quick drawing in SolidWorks to get an idea of how to make the spacer blocks. As you can see from this drawing, each spacer block is made from standard 1 X 3 lumber which measures 3/4” X 2-1/2” and is cut to 9” long. A standard 8′ piece of 1 X 3 can make 10 spacer blocks with only a few inches of waste. This means that I needed 4 sticks of 1 X 3 to make the 36 spacer blocks. Scroll to the end of this post to find a link to the PDF drawing showing detailed plans for the clamp block.

A miter chop saw and a small drill press proved to be the perfect tools for making the spacer blocks. First I setup a stop block to assure that each of my spacer blocks were cut to the same 9” length. Then I set the saw to miter at 45° with an adjustment to my stop block and I cut the corners off of all 36 spacer blocks. Using a 1” Forstner bit and the drill press setup with a simple fixture (made from some of the leftover cutoffs), I drilled the 72 holes in the correct locations (centered 6” apart). I highly recommend using a drill press for this step to assure the holes are straight and parallel to each other (critical feature). After that I used the drill press to drill a pilot hole in the sides of the stop blocks for each clamp screw. I ended up with 2-1/2” deck screws from the local hardware store. They look good and they clamp well (in retrospect, you might consider a shorter screw as some of them broke through ever so slightly when clamped tight). A 1/8” hole for each screw is small enough to assure a good grip on the #10 size screw but large enough to keep the wood from splitting. After drilling pilot holes as deep as I could, I placed the blocks back in the chop saw for the final cut – in half. It’s important after this step to keep the matched halves together so you might consider using masking tape as a temporary tool. Before jumping into the best part of the project, assembly, I recommend placing one half of your clamp block back in the drill press and opening up the 1/8” hole to 3/16”. This guarantees your clamp blocks will actually clamp as the screw will slip through one half and grip in the other.

At this point, you may choose to apply some type of finish to your clamp blocks. Paint, wood stain or clear coat are all possible finishes for wood. We chose to keep our clamp blocks “au naturel” so we could move right on to assembly without waiting for things to dry making this a one afternoon project.

On to the best part – assembly. The first step is to cap the bottom of each clear acrylic tube. Push the cap with even pressure against a hard surface to encourage it in. These caps have barbs that hold them well in place so you can be sure that you will not lose a whole tube of dimes in an embarrassing pile on the floor should you decide to move your display (or take it to a convention like Pastor Tim). Next, assemble the clamp blocks with your fastener of choice making sure to leave them a little loose for final assembly. Finally, begin attaching the clamp blocks to the tubes in an alternating fashion, spacing them as you go.

The beauty of this display is that it is fully modular. If you are concerned about the overwhelming task of filling a huge display over a long time, only attach 5 or 6 tubes together at first. Consider alternating the sizes in a random way rather than a steady increasing progression. I found that it is possible to tighten the clamp blocks to a point that the assembly is rigid but it can also be pushed, pulled and twisted into new shapes without adjusting the screws. It’s quite fun to play with the thing to make unique configurations.

The practical use of our Family Style display is quite remarkable. Every week the kids go up front and place their dimes or orange washers into the tubes. The smallest and largest tubes filled first (Pastor Tim used extra caps to seal them up). The distribution of washers and dimes shows that our church is not perfect (all dimes) nor is it willing to give up (all washers). The display is a constant reminder of our spiritual growth as a church family and a continual encouragement as it slowly fills up each week. And it is fun (the kids keep changing it so it is always different)!

I couldn’t resist doing a few quick designs in SolidWorks for fun. Maybe they will inspire you. Download the assembly and give it a try yourself. If you don’t have SolidWorks 2011, make an announcement at your church and I’m sure you’ll find some engineer nerd like me that is eager to have some fun helping you.

Techincal notes – a dime is about .050” thick so every inch of display will hold 20 days of devotions.

Aside from the Family Style program, this display concept can be used to visibly track any type of growth campaign (good deeds done for the community, days sober/cigarette free/free from ______, fund raising, etc.).

It’s also important to note that this project was an undertaking of my entire family. My kids ran the chop saw and the drill press, assembled the clamp blocks and made several cool variations of the final display. Don’t miss out on this cool opportunity to spend time working with kids!

Here are some things you can download for more info:
Tubes Cut List.pdf
HeartAssy3D.pdf (3D pdf’s require newer versions of actobat reader and allow cool 3D navigation – click and drag in the window)
DimeDisplaySW.zip (2M)


Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 SolidWorks, Swell Ideas Comments Off on Family Style Display