John Borden | April 19, 2018
A while back we posted that we had gotten rid of some of the red boxes of old. To recap, in the early days of Business Toybox (and by early days I mean from the beginning up until early March this year) there was this interesting, well, “feature” where if you took a Token (a Business Toybox element which represents a key idea or thought about your business idea or organization) and got a closer look at it, you were treated to a lovely spinning 3D box. This was intended to be a temporary placeholder that would eventually be replaced by something more substantial. Namely, a 3D representation of the Token.
Well, after 2+ long years, we’ve finally replaced not just some of the red boxes, but all of the red boxes.
These new models aren’t perfect. The “Value” token (which is used to represent really valuable ideas using a mysterious gift-wrapped box) has some minor design quirks. The ribbons don’t quite look like ribbons. Overall though, you get the impression that you’re looking at, well, a gift-wrapped box.
How We Did It
Alright, bragging time. So the way we pull this off is actually kinda neat.
Quick aside, if you haven’t figured out yet, it’s actually just me over here. I just use “we” a lot because I’m speaking on behalf of Business Toybox, which isn’t me, it’s a product, and because of that it just feels more natural to say “we”.
With that out of the way, I wanted to create a bunch of tangible, 3D repesentations of the Tokens because I felt strongly that this was a better way to represent important thoughts and ideas. Problem was, at the time the default way to do that was to use one of the existing 3D modeling tools on the market and teach myself how to use it. This added additional costs and, more importantly, work. No thanks.
For that reason, I quickly decided that the way to go would be to create my own modeling tool which would make modeling a breeze, hopefully be more fun than the existing tools out there, and possibly even be spun-off into it’s own thing. The first take on this idea honestly wasn’t too great. I won’t go into the details, but the idea was to create a modeling tool that used voxels, which is really just a fancy way of saying blocks. It was basically a little bit like Minecraft. It wasn’t a terrible idea, it’s just that you needed a ton of blocks to represent even the simplest of objects in a way that felt decent.
The second idea was inspired by the fact that every token already has this cutesy little 2D icon representation when you view it in your Canvas. What if we could take that 2D image and turn it into a 3D object?
And, as you can probably tell, that’s exactly what I wound up doing. Each icon Business Toybox uses is something called an SVG. I won’t go into the details, just know that it’s really just another image file format (like a .png or .jpeg) and it’s pretty easy to actually read the actual “code” of the file itself and figure out how the image is made. If you know how to read this code, then you can break down the image into a collection of rectangles, circles, crazy paths, etc, and then rebuild it using 3D representations of all that stuff from before. Really crucial here is the idea that some program or software could automatically do this for you. This way, you just need to take something you’ve already made, feed it into the software, and get a 3D model with little extra effort.
The initial demonstration of this thing was pretty crude (it was made in half a day), but it got a lot of love from friends. So much love, that I figured I should maybe invest a little bit of time into making it a bit more user-friendly before I put it out there on the internet and open-source it. By open-source, I mean that the actual code itself has been made public, free for anyone to use and remix, so long as proper attribution is given. It also has a name now, it’s called Layercake, and you can find it here.
Why is it called Layercake? Well, for clarification, it has nothing to do with the film. It’s actually inspired by this cool little feature that it possesses. If you can break up your SVG into layers (or groups, same concept) then Layercake will take those layers and place them on different “levels”. It can take 2D images and give them depth-defined detail. To me, it looked a lot like stacking layers of cake to create a larger, more detailed cake.
Why It All Matters
Business Toybox’s Tokens are one of those ideas that initially strikes some people as confusing. In a world where tools are defined by spreadsheets and text, Tokens are weird. What’s the point?
We already addressed some of the thoughts behind the why in our last blog post, but there are some other ideas that I want to cover.
Let’s set up a quick thought-experiment. I want you to explain what an elephant looks like to a 5-year old. You could try describing the elephant’s key characteristics to this child, but that won’t get you very far. What would be best would be an actual elephant, but that might be impractical if you don’t live near a zoo with an elephant. Okay, so how about a picture of an elephant? Not bad. I think you could do better with a toy elephant though, something they can touch and hold and move around.
Explaining what an elephant is like to someone who’s never seen an elephant is a lot like explaining the thoughts and ideas behind a business idea to both yourself and the people around you. You could try describing these thoughts and ideas, but what if you had a more tangible representation that you and others could look at and play with?
Business Toybox is a tool, but it isn’t a tool used to calculate or compute, it’s a tool designed on a fundamental level to help you think better. How do we help you think better? Well, largely by helping you play with your ideas, rather than just writing them down.
When you think of it that way, expressing ideas using objects rather than words really isn’t that weird.