Picture 31My colleague Seth Johnson tipped me off to LiveSurface Image Template Library recently and I must admit, I’ve become a bit obsessed. Aside from the fact that it is a classic example of “why didn’t I think of that?!?,”  LiveSurface is an extremely user-friendly and engaging tool for designers working on a variety of projects and media. After all, how many hundreds of hours have we all spent rendering and manipulating 3D graphics for presentations, only to be disappointed by the results (or just too exasperated to care). LiveSurface image templates are high-res, pre-masked, multi-layered files with built-in 3D surfaces—dramatically simplifying this process and improving the end result in a big way. When I discovered that it is the brainchild of an entrepreneurial designer, my interest reached a new level.

Joshua Distler, Brooklyn-based founder of LiveSurface, is indeed a designer with an entrepreneurial itch. Currently in private practice, Josh cut his teeth with such renowned studios as IDEO, Metadesign, Studio Dumbar, and Wolff Olins, after which he spent time working at Apple where he was involved in the design of packaging for a number of generations of iPod, Macintosh and iMac. Also the founder of font foundry Shift, Josh is clearly thinking beyond the walls of the design studio.

Josh and I discussed the development of LiveSurface in this recent email exchange:

DP: What was the original inspiration for LiveSurface? Was it born out of necessity, or was the initial vision to grow a new venture?
JD: LiveSurface happened because in my own design projects it was something I needed and I felt that other designers would feel the same way. To be more specific, its origin was in a packaging project that I was involved in while I was traveling. Showing flat vector art didn’t communicate the concept well and I didn’t have the means to show physical mock-ups. I began to build images for this project using many of the methods used to build LiveSurface images today.

DP: Were there factors in your core creative business–or in the marketplace in general–that lead you to think of a different business model?
JD: Considering the tough schedules we all work as designers and the tight budgets usually associated with the more interesting projects, a motivating factor in building LiveSurface was to create a supplemental income source to my design services and consulting work so that I could take on more of these creative projects.

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DP: How much business planning did you do before launching LiveSurface (no wrong answer here)?
JD: A lot of work went into the practical aspects of the launch, such as patents on the methods and image files, creation of the website and building the image library itself. While I was confident that the concept was sound, the site was launched as a bit of an experiment. Despite that fact that I am a customer myself, I figured I would learn a lot more than I could ever plan for from the customers and we have.

DP: The patent process is something most designers aren’t familiar with. Can you tell me more about that? Complicated? Expensive? Time-consuming? But I suppose it’s necessary if you’ve got ownable I.P.
JD: Yes to all of those. It’s complicated, expensive and time-consuming. This is mostly because you’re essentially creating an instruction book for building your invention down to the last tiny detail. Filing a provisional (the more descriptive and less legal specifications document that is filed ahead of the final document) is slightly easier but filing the final patent in multiple countries can be very pricey. Since the first, I’ve filed a second for other aspects of the I.P.; it doesn’t get any cheaper, easier, or less painful. But, I think it is well worth the effort.

DP: What types of experts from outside the design/creative field have you relied on as you’ve built LiveSurface?
JD: A variety of ongoing consultants and advisors: web site developers, lawyers, Photoshop/imaging experts and business/finance advisors.

DP: LiveSurface seems like the type of business that would connect with the social media movement. Are you finding this to be the case? Do you have a social media plan?
JD: It does indeed. There are some things that are happening on the LiveSurface site itself and some things that are being done to utilize larger existing social networking sites. And, of course, we have some things that we’re working on…

DP: Do you have other entrepreneurial ventures in the works? Any new aspects of LiveSurface that you are planning for?
JD: LiveSurface is only the very beginning; I can’t say much more than that. 😉

Here’s a short video that shows the capabilities of LiveSurface: