Moving on from OiDroids

From late 2011, one of the very first sketches I did for OiDroids – you can see the beginnings of Wun there, character 1 in Series 1, and the very first OiDroid I created.

Back in early 2013 I launched a series of collectible robot trading cards called OiDroids. They were really well received and at its high points the project seemed like it really might turn into something special.

However earlier this year, I had to accept the business I’d built around it was a very long way from what I’d originally hoped to create, and, for numerous reasons, a toxic and drawn out redundancy from a design agency I’d worked in for a number of years was the final nail in the coffin for my journey with OiDroids.

I’ve used the time between freelance jobs this summer to restart work on some long stalled projects which have developed into a series of new paper toy products, the first of which I’m now in the process of launching. And it’s been amazing to rediscover the joy of making these cool little paper toys again.

Some very early OiDroids development work. The 8-bit/16-bit computers of my childhood were a big influence on the whole look and feel of the first set of characters, hence my obsession here with characters based on data cassettes!

Getting in touch with that feeling takes me back to when I was just starting out with OiDroids and, as I clear out old sketchbooks and workings, it’s interesting to reflect on the beginnings of that journey when it felt like I’d discovered this thing I was actually good at along with a compulsion like I’ve never felt before to work on the project.

OiDroids began way back in 2011 when I was becoming disillusioned with my career path as a graphic designer, having gone from specialising in creative and conceptual work for retail to being circumstantially demoted to more of an artworker type role as the agency I was working for lost its mojo before grinding to a close not long after.

Always my favourite OiDroids character, Cypops. Based on a fish character I used to draw in my graffiti art inspired art college days, these initial sketches show how he didn’t change much in the transition to the printed character

I knew I wanted to start my own business and in an effort to decide what direction I’d like to go in I’d started making a daily list of ideas for businesses I could start. I did it for months and had some ideas I knew were good but they just weren’t quite doing it for me and I kept coming back to a list I’d made of the ‘ideal’ business: I’d like it to be fun, I’d like it to be a physical product and I wanted it to make some use of my existing skills if possible.

Moving on from sketches. here’s some of the initial Illustrator work on OiDroids using a very early – and impossible to commercially produce – tab and slot design. Four of these characters made it to the final set of 96, though they’re barely recognisable at this stage.

The idea which finally made the stars feel like they’d aligned was what came to be OiDroids. The initial thought came to me when my, then, eight year old son was going through his collectibles phase – he’d beg to have a pound to buy a pack of Moshi Monsters cards which he’d bring home, take a quick look at and then file away in a wallet. For all the hype that led to the begging, the fun was over in seconds.

Some of the very first sketches for the logo along with the finished result. At the time I was going for an 80s/90s inspired 16-Bit aesthetic which was probably a bit lost on today’s kids and well overdue a refresh.

It made me think back to being a child when I’d built little cardboard models of all sorts of things, including spaceships in which I had a series of cardboard robots called the Dogs (who I have to admit looked a lot like K9 from Doctor Who). The Dogs battled the Cats and I wondered if I could create a trading card which popped out into little spaceships and robots that’d offer lots more play value for a child’s money.

It started with some rough sketches and cut up bits of scrap paper and then a few basic designs in Illustrator but it soon seemed entirely doable and I found myself with a drive I’ve rarely felt before to work on the project and develop it.

QB was in there right from the beginning – here are some of the initial drawings along with the character he turned into. I definitely took some inspiration from Wall-E in those first sketches!

Over the weeks, I ditched the spaceships and concentrated on the robot characters. I worked through many different tab and slot mechanisms and designs, but it’s interesting to look back on the sketches and see that some of the very first drawings became characters in the final set that was released, even though that process took well over a year.

I had a lot of doubt that what I was doing was just a silly, whimsical idea but I finalised 16 initial characters and had a test set printed. This meant the product could finally be put in front of it’s intended audience – kids, and the reaction was amazingly positive. It’s at that point I started to gain confidence that there really was something worth developing here.

Marv was a deliberate attempt to create a cute OiDroid – he’s yellow because I’ve been a big Pikachu fan since we went to Japan in the late 90s. I’m not sure the end result was actually especially cute, but he was at least yellow, and seemed well liked by collectors.

From there, I’m afraid, it’s a mix of highs and lows – so many unrealised opportunities, ridiculous mistakes and regrettable business decisions.

For me the biggest and hardest-to-swallow screw up, on my part, was ignoring my gut at the beginning and allowing too much of my shareholding to be dissolved by bringing on partners who seemed to lose interest and become inactive once their initial enthusiasm had dampened down.

The early sketches of Croc along with the finished product. The need to simplify the design meant this is one of the characters I was never entirely happy with and I tweaked the design with every reprint to try and get closer to what I’d originally envisaged.

It’s easy to see retrospectively that’s why I’d gradually become so unhappy with the way OiDroids had developed. Here’s this thing I really, really want to do and make happen more than anything and instead I’d ended up setting up a situation where it no longer felt worth investing the love that goes into making these types of products. I got to the point where I felt like I’d painted myself into a corner and it was clearly time to call it quits.

I do remind myself that my mantra at the beginning was ‘I just want to learn from this’ and, I can, at least, say I’ve definitely done that! There are many mistakes that I will never, ever make again, so I’ve definitely taken something of value from the journey.

The final lesson, I think, is that once I realised how unhappy the situation was making me I should have quit sooner. Falling for the old sunk cost fallacy had me stay on for a good two plus years of needless suffering because I didn’t want to just hand over the characters and brand I’d worked so hard to create.

Initial sketches of Diag along with the final character. Even as ‘Mr OiDroids’ I always found the characters based on this shape fiddly to build – he always seemed to work his way to the top of my pile of cards in any product demo I did in meetings for a bit of added pressure!

On a more practical level the OiDroids project helped me develop confidence in my work in this area along with the design skills to go with it. My new Monyamo set of 90 characters was fully developed in a quarter of the time OiDroids originally took. That design process has included answering some of the criticisms of OiDroids I’ve had over the years, as well as ensuring all my new products are more environmentally conscious as they are all free from plastic lamination as I later found out that the supposedly ‘biodegradable’ stuff used on OiDroids still takes up to 40 years to break down.

Initial sketches for Uzzle along with the finished character. I’d have liked to have gone back and replaced the shrugging arms with some of the later designs I did for the slow selling Nuts ‘n’ Bolts sets.

As one final kicker I’ve left myself in the unusual and frustrating position where the remaining partners in the business could just reprint this thing that I created, that is so personal to me, and continue with OiDroids. But trying to prevent that from happening is all that kept me in there way longer than I should have been, and I’d have continued feeling too defeated and bogged down with it all to start the work I’ve enjoyed doing so much on these new projects. It’s sad, but leaving it all behind is clearly the healthier option.

No more OiDroids - this is Monyamo!
My new paper toy product – Monyamo 3D Battle Monster Cards

I could very easily write a ’13 lessons you can learn from my stupid mistakes with OiDroids’ type blog post (‘Don’t give away shares just because someone gets excited and asks for them’ and ‘Fiercely maintain ownership of your creative work’, for starters) – though it’d be hard to avoid full-on hydrochloric-grade sour grapes. I would quite like to write the stories of the more ludicrous moments – and there were quite a few – which seem funny now, but at the time, not so much!

But, hey, the time to move on and do all I can to better OiDroids is well overdue…

…keep an eye on my new Box Buddies site for updates on my new products as soon as they’re released: