Architect Michael Marshall, AIA, was called by an acquaintance—telecommunications expert Paul Alston—last year and asked to design an accessory for the iPad. Marshall and his partner Paola Moya not only gained a new client from that phone call, but Alston has now joined the architects in launching a new product design company. Marshall and Moya already had discussed creating a products division that was separate from their architecture firm, and they had completed drawings for simple products like cutlery and dishes. Alston’s request and subsequent collaboration pushed them into establishing the new company, called InNuevo. Marshall describes InNuevo’s mission as producing “cutting-edge, uniquely designed products to accommodate and improve customers’ everyday activities through elegant design solutions.”

InNuevo’s latest innovative offering is the DOCKr, which is set to release in the fall with a retail price of $89.99. A docking station for an iPad plus a wireless keyboard, DOCKr is “a product design idea that leverages the utility of tablet devices with the advantages of laptop computers,” according to the company. The lightweight polycarbonate docking station holds any Apple tablet in both a horizontal or vertical orientation and remains open at various angles for the best viewing options. It also can be used without the keyboard as an iPad presentation stand. The hard plastic material acts as a speaker enhancer for better sound quality and protects the devices as a traveling case. Any of the five translucent colors can be personalized with a logo or name on the back cover. DOCKr is being manufactured in the U.S. and is available for pre-order on the InNuevo website.

Verbatim with Michael Marshall, AIA

How is designing a product different from designing a building?
It is similar (but at a tiny, tiny scale) to designing a building in that there’s a program or function for it. In this case I was studying an iPad to design an accessory and the idea for a docking station rather than just a case came from our partner, Paul Alston, who’s in IT.

We wanted to create a product that let people use the tablet as a notebook. From the start, we said we didn’t want any electronics involved. We wanted to keep it as simple as possible to help us get the patent quickly and to get it produced. Apple already has a wireless keyboard that a lot of people have, so we designed it to fit the Apple keyboard and the iPad.

We took these ready-made products and created the most memorable design that allows the two to speak to each other and act as one unit. The DOCKr makes it easier for people to carry the products or use them on a desktop. We knew we wanted to let people use the iPad in either position. Also if you’re not worried about using the keyboard and just need a presentation stand you can rotate the bottom of the DOCKr and use it that way. We purposely  made it translucent so you can see the iPad and keyboard as stand-alone products. Other products of this type really disguise the products, but Apple worked hard to design these elegant and beautiful products, so we just wanted to be the glue between the two of them. It’s functional and also a way to let people know you still have an Apple product.

What was the process for producing the DOCKr?
We started with sketches and then a video to show how it moves. Then we went into 3D design programs to refine and refine and refine. We took these drawings and found a patent attorney. They took our information and turned them into the proper drawings for the patent.  After that, we started discussions with manufacturers and one thing we decided early was to have it made in the U.S. Our product is designed and made in America. When you look at what President Obama is saying about how it’s important to have things made in the states to help make our country sustainable that’s an important aspect of this to us. We talk about sustainability for buildings, but we need to look at that for products and how we can contribute to economic sustainability.

Do you have plans for other product designs?
Yes. We set up a separate LLC to handle product design called InNuevo. The DOCKr is the first product and now we’re looking at opportunities for other home products. We’re hoping to do a line for the dining room and kitchen and have started working with a chef on this collaboration.

As a firm, we enjoy looking at total design and finding opportunities outside architecture to handle this economic conundrum we’re in. It’s about finding ways to combine art and commerce. As architects, we have this incredible training and all of these technological tools, so why not take advantage of that to complement our architecture business by doing other types of design.