This compact multi-tool acts as a portal between digital information and our physical world.
VIA, a handheld printer and scanner, is designed to reduce the pain points of conventional printing while bringing ease of use and excitement to the process. By allowing the human to be the driving force behind the printer, size is reduced, paper jams are avoided, and points of failure are lessened.
VIA uses emerging wide printhead technology and guidance rollers to achieve a single swipe, simple printing process. Current printers have limited use cases by having the paper advance through the printer, but by instead allowing the printer to be moved across, you can print on any flat surface, expanding the products use cases. Particularly in situations such as printing shipping labels directly on boxes. By providing a screen close to the printing surface, the user is able to preview the print as it comes out, providing both guidance and understanding of the print process. To further improve the process of sharing information between physical and digital spaces, it was important that we also included a scanning feature so that photos and documents can be seamlessly uploaded to one's phone for sharing.
Printers are notoriously frustrating and unpleasant to use. Though they feel outdated, they are still a part of many people’s home and office. We decided to bring new life to the printer by taking inspiration from traditional mark making, eliminating pain points, and reimaging printing as an exciting new experience.
Initial Research & Opportunity Discovery
Researching the current market for desktop printers revealed that most users who have a printer at home only use it occasionally. Tasks such as printing out an event ticket, shipping label or scanning a photo were the most common. When the printer is needed, it is important that it functions reliably so that the user can move on to the next task. In our user interviews we found that this is not always the case with current printers.
With this new information we were able to identify three major opportunities for improvement and innovation.
There are advanced printing components that are not yet utilized in consumer printers. These make small handheld printers currently available for the packing industry but their narrow printheads limit use for copy print.
They are far too big, demanding valuable space on small desks.
The user experience with printers is challenging to understand and navigate, creating frustration in the process.
By removing the traditional architecture of printers from our minds, we were free to reimagine the user’s printing experience. By looking to traditional mark making processes, like screen printing and carbon copying, we explored familiar yet refreshing printing experiences.
We investigated four main concepts ranging from full autonomous robotic printing to ultra portable handheld options. After constructing weighted physical prototypes out of wood, we were able to assess the ergonomics and comfort in the experience. From this testing we settled on a squeegee inspired concept for its efficiency in printing paragraph text and its flexibility to print on multiple surface types.
Once we decided on the overall form factor, it was important to validate some of the details. These include things like the ideal angle for balancing control and screen visibility. When designing solutions for an integrated cap that protects the print head, we focused on choosing the proper hinge. 3D printed hinge prototypes helped us evaluate a hinge that has a far enough range of motion, is rigid enough to support the cap, and fits seamlessly inside the product to maintain a smooth exterior.
To communicate the new features to a consumer who is excited about the latest technology, a color palette and material investigation was done. On the exterior, a monochromatic bead blasted aluminum texture evokes a sense of precision, reliability, and high technology to compliment the surrounding devices. This texture also improves grip and extends the lifespan of the product. Meanwhile the print head itself is highlighted in orange once the device has been opened. This draws the viewer's attention to the technology and surface which is used for printing. Finally, the linear patterning on the molded edges accentuates the two distinct positions when either in use or stored. This visual cue gives the user confirmation that the printer is in the proper functioning position when the lines are connected.
In order to design a product that can replace your current printer, we focused on features that have the ability to print up to a full sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper. To further improve the process of sharing information between physical and digital spaces, it was important that we also included a scanning feature so that photos and documents can be seamlessly uploaded to one’s phone for sharing.
To make these tasks possible in a streamlined user experience we focused on four main interaction points:
User alignment and ergonomics:
Screen previews outgoing print to allow for better prediction and alignment.
Designing the product itself to be the same width as a standard page further guides visual alignment.
Long roller wheels reduce friction and keep the printer on track.
Print surface flexibility:
Having a handheld printer allows you to print directly on the surface allowing you to skip steps in applications like shipping or labeling.
Product transport and storage:
Hinged printhead cap protects components for storage and adds stability when open and in use.
Ink refills and sustainability:
The refillable ink cartridge is integrated into the sidewalls for easy access and reduced number of parts.
Constructing the body out of aluminum and greatly reducing the number of moving internal components means the product will outlast traditional mechanical printers.
Given that VIA is intended for light, flexible printing within the home office, we wanted the final form to exude its function but blend into its environment. When closed, the book-like form factor allows it to feel at home on a bookshelf or in a drawer. When open, the squeegee like shape imbues a sense of familiarity while providing a sense of stability in use. Contrasting the flat edges for increased precision, the single rounded side signals to the user to hold it in their hand. The concave side wall indicates that the user can push to access the ink cartridge while maintaining a flush profile.
As the need for reliable, flexible printing continues in the home office, VIA updates the process of transferring information. This sets it apart from traditional printing architectures. Through design, emerging technologies can be adapted to new applications to not only enrich the user’s experience but fulfill the unmet needs of compact offices. With VIA, we hope to excite users through the printing process, while simplifying the steps to get what they need.