Dan Harden

Cofounder, CEO, Whipsaw

Dan Harden
The Livescribe 3 Smartpen

For being design’s secret weapon.


Between a yoga studio and a pool hall in downtown San Jose sits a small office where Dan Harden quietly crafts some of the world’s smartest products. Harden, a Frog Design veteran who has collaborated with Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs, has made his 36-person shop the go-to firm behind such landmark creations as Nike’s FuelBand and Google’s Chromecast device. Here’s how it shaped 2013’s award-winning Livescribe 3 Smartpen, which links with an iPhone or iPad to digitize handwritten notes.

Dan Harden

Hide the tech.

“Livescribe came to us with a mess: a circuit board with a battery, an optical component, a pen cartridge, a Bluetooth antenna with a USB connector for recharging. They said, ‘We also want a nub on the end for touch-screen [interactions],’ says Harden. “We got rid of the display and removed ­evidence of a battery or circuit board. We didn’t want to overburden the end user with a lot of techno-design.”

Appeal to emotion.

“There’s a certain joy from writing with a pen. It’s a direct extension of your cerebral cortex. The narrative we wanted to create was, ‘Hey, I’m just a pen–pick me up.’ ”

Study the lineage.

“We wanted it to have that premium feel, so we highlighted the end with a chrome tip, as almost a reference to quill pens.”

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.