Crowdsourcing Innovation: Corey Stone, HERO Keyboard

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

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Corey Stone

 Job title: Founder / Designer

 Organisation: Corey Stone LLC

 Location: Lawrence, KS


Product: HERO Keyboard app

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What it does & how it works / What makes it special:

The inefficient QWERTY keyboard layout was designed in 1873, for a typewriter! In English, just nine letters are used 80% of the time, so the patent-pending HERO keyboard layout enlarges and centers those nine keys right in the middle where your thumb likes to be. Keys are in a circular layout to match how your thumb naturally moves. Common letter combinations are adjacent and can be dragged over for faster entry. The result? Finger travel is reduced by 30%, and the most-used keys are 30% bigger.

What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?

After degrees in Industrial Design (BFA, U. of Kansas) and Ergonomics/Biomechanics (MS, U. of Iowa), I've been working as a web and user interface designer for the past 18 years.

The general concept for the idea occurred to me 15 years ago - long before the first smartphone - when I was designing a small touchscreen keyboard for an in-vehicle messaging system. I realized it wasn't possible to fit all the keys at the recommended touch-target size (which is about 1/2" diameter), which got me wondering if all the keys needed to be the same size, since some were used much more often than others. And if they weren't the same size, they'd no longer be in even rows, which led me to consider arranging the keys based on frequency of use and common combinations.

Why choose Kickstarter?

This was my first crowdfunding attempt, so I didn't evaluate the crowdfunding options too thoroughly. I knew Kickstarter had a good user base, seemed to have lots of tech projects, and the NEXT Keyboard had a very successful campaign on it several months ago, so it seemed like a good bet. As to why I'm trying to crowdfund at all -- I designed HERO, but since I'm not a programmer, I paid a contract developer to build the first version. Version 2 will require quite a bit of coding, so I need to either fundraise for it, or find a developer to partner with.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

Definitely! It provides another option to fund a new idea, while simultaneously allowing for lots of feedback. Plus, unlike venture capital, it allows the founder to work with few strings attached.

Reactions from users on KS?

Most people like the idea and see the value in it, even if they're not brave enough to try it! Many have asked when an Android version will be available, which we're starting work on now.

What lessons have you learned from your campaign?

Wow - a lot! The biggest lesson that I learned too late is that you need to really plan ahead, which I didn't. I thought I'd just make a nice video and write a good story and let the dollars roll in, but it's really more like running a PR campaign first, then 30 days of hustling. I learned from my service (which I would recommend) that my "social capital" (i.e., number of social media followers) put my odds of success quite low. Oops. I wasn't even aware of the crowdfunding services industry until my Kickstarter went live and they all bombarded me with spammy emails!

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What’s wrong with QWERTY keyboards or other traditional keyboard layouts such as Dvorak or QWERTZ?

QWERTY isn't too bad for 10-finger typing (which is what it was meant for), but for one or two-finger typing, some of the most common letters are too far apart causing wasted movement.  Dvorak's intentions are similar to mine, except HERO is optimized for small-screen typing.

How do you compete against something as ingrained in modern society as keyboard layouts? Many have tried but none have ever succeeded – is it really possible to reach critical mass without a big push from device-makers such as Apple or Google?

We'll see! Haha. I think the key is to not make too radical of a change. Even with HERO, it's still essentially a "tap the letter" input method, whereas some solutions require new gestures to be learned. I suppose it's hard to define what "critical mass" would mean, but since the audience for a keyboard is everyone, even a niche solution could be financially successful.

Will the rise of wearable tech – and the limited screen space - mean people are more open to alternative keyboard designs than ever before?

That's a great point, and I'd agree - smartphones were barely able to fit a traditional keyboard on them, whereas tiny screens force a new model. When you think about 10-finger typing on a full keyboard, there's a lot of muscle memory built up over years, even decades, within most people. But since smartphones haven't been around that long, and people often type in different methods at different times (two thumbs, one finger, etc.), I think the physical and cognitive habits don't run as deep.

How long does it take someone to learn the HERO layout, and what sort of feedback have you gotten from people?

People have said it takes them about three days to get fairly comfortable with where the letters are, and it definitely helps that the letters you use 80% of the time are big and right in the middle. It's the J's and V's and K's that people have to hunt for. In general, a lot of people really like the idea, but it needs more functionality like improved auto-correct, auto-complete, and key-touch feedback, all of which is the plan for version 2.

Possible business use/advantage?

If I'm able to get full drag-to-type implemented with good auto-complete, typing speed should surpass QWERTY keyboards, thus potential productivity benefits.

What's next for the company and the product?

I have an Android developer lined up, so my focus right now is getting funding for the version 2.0 iOS development, or finding an iOS developer to partner with and share equity, so if you know of anyone, please let me know! Beyond version 2, I have plans for additional language support, more themes, and a really fast efficient way to access emojis, numbers, symbols, snippets, and more. 



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