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facebook mentions box

WHAT IT DOES

It's a custom-wrapped tablet that allows celebrities to respond to fan questions submitted through Facebook. A brand, like Entertainment Weekly, posts a thread on their Facebook page that says "Hey, we're going to be on the red carpet. Post in your questions for the following celebrities here," and you'll get a response. 


For example, at the 2014 Emmys, the red carpet hosts would pull somebody like Matthew McConaughey aside as he's walking through and then all the questions that were tagged with his name would come up. As he's holding the box, he would be able to select the question he wants to answer, record a video response, and then that video response would be posted to the comment thread. 

WHY I MADE IT

Facebook was looking for a better way to bridge the gap between celebrities and fans, specifically at live events. If you watched any of the red carpet coverage, especially over the past two years, social media companies are making a heavy push into that area; Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram especially are making big pushes on red carpet activation. It's very much a Facebook-branded device, a Facebook-branded experience, but it's meant to take place on a company's own Facebook page. 

FACEBOOK MENTIONS

HOW I MADE IT

The box is basically just two components. The first is a Samsung tablet running an Android app. That app is pulling the data from Facebook and recording the actual video. The second component is the enclosure which we designed. We wanted the celebrities holding the box to have an experience that didn't feel like they were using an off-the-shelf tablet. We wanted it to be something that's a little more unique.


We built two versions. The first one was tank-ish because the original requirements called for 12 to 16 hours of battery life. It's fairly thick and fairly heavy, but it could go all day long being constantly on and constantly recording. We deployed I think three or four of those before Facebook realized they didn't need that much battery life. The boxes were only being used for about an hour at a time, which makes sense when you think of a celebrity recording a 30-second response. 


At the time, I had just bought the new Moto X phone for our office. When we got it, we were trying to think of a way that we could slim down the entire enclosure and make it easier to hold. For version two, we took inspiration from the Moto X because it had a nice arched-back look. We rebuilt the box along those lines so it allowed room if we wanted an external battery. We incorporated wireless charging too. We used Autodesk Inventor for that work, but we've now started shifting more towards Fusion, just because the rendering is nicer.

WHAT I LEARNED

I think one of the main things we learned, and I think our graphic designers would hate me for saying this, is that being a graphic designer does not mean that you are an industrial designer. What seemed beautiful in a sketch turned out to be this huge, clunky, heavy product. We quickly realized we needed to bring in an engineer.


With the second version,  myself and a mechanical engineer designed it together, and we were able to slim it way down. The other thing that really helped cut down prototyping iteration time was a newly purchased Type A 3D printer with a 12×12" print bed. We were able to develop a concept for  the box and then 3D-print and come in the next day with a nice real-scale version to play with. 



What's next

We're researching some light-scale manufacturing of the Facebook Mentions box. This would involve injection molding so we can quickly pump out several hundred for Facebook when they want them. Or even more, depending on demand.