Summer Project: Generating Artwork From DNA

For the last few years, I’ve had an idea floating around at the back of my mind. One day, I tell myself, I’m going to create a website selling artwork generated from DNA. Well this summer, I’m going to make it happen!

Here’s how it would work: each customer that purchases an artwork is sent a DNA testing kit, and the results from the DNA test are used to generate an (almost) totally unique artwork suitable for framing. I say “almost” unique, because if one person were to sneakily test the system by purchasing two artworks using different names and payment details then they should get back two identical artworks. Same if two identical twins both purchase artworks. Because that’s how DNA works yo.

This idea is hardly unique – a Google search for artwork from DNA yields many companies already doing this, and in a future post I’ll review the companies already operating in this space and define how my offering will be different.

In the mean time, this post represents the kicking-off of a summer project to build this site. I’m keen to actually release a working product instead of just some interesting tech demos, and to that end here’s my plan:

Build in public

I’m going to be quite open about the design and build process, blogging every step of the way. I believe that ideas are worth very little and good execution is everything, so I have nothing to fear from not keeping my ideas and techniques secret. Being open about how this service is built will help potential customers trust that it really is doing what it claims to do. And making a public declaration that I’ve started the project is a great way to pressure me to finish it :o)

“Perfect” is the enemy of “done”

I have a perfectionism problem. I’m the kind of guy who’ll re-read an email twice before sending, making minor edits and wasting half an hour on it when ten minutes would have sufficed. This product is a relatively complex system and in order to work at all, several systems need to be in place:

  1. Website: sales pitch, customer registration, account management, support forum.
  2. Genetic analysis: obtaining DNA results from customers and processing this into a form suitable for generating artwork.
  3. Artwork: creating a computer program that generates artistic images from the results of genetic analysis.
  4. Print purchasing: integrating with a payment provider and print-on-demand supplier to print and post artworks to customers.

To prevent me from spending too much time trying to perfect any one component I’m going to timebox each of these systems to two weeks, meaning that the whole site should take 2 months.

Use lean principles

The core tenet of The Lean Startup is that the function of any startup is to discover whether an idea can form the basis of a sustainable business, as quickly and cheaply as possible. As such, I’ve already failed since this project is totally a “because I can” enterprise that I don’t expect to make much money from. Still, there are a few important principles to nab from the Lean movement:

  1. Focus on a Minimum Viable Product – don’t let “nice to have” features delay the launch of your core offering.
  2. Start selling immediately – even before your product is ready, put up a sales page and collect email addresses of potential future customers.
  3. Improve your product based on feedback, not intuition – right from the start, make it easy for people to come to you with suggestions and support requests.

For more posts in this series, check out the DNArtwork category on this blog.