Every so often, i see startup companies rehashing an idea that’s been done to death many, many times before, either because they haven’t done their market research, or because it just has that “good idea smell.”
It just seems like such a good idea—the reason it’s never really succeeded is down to execution, they figure. They are the startup who will stick the landing, when so many companies before them hobbled off the mats with shattered ankles.
Home furnishing visualization is just such an idea. We’re working in all three dees now, and e-commerce is a thing, so it follows that people could just use software to knock together a room full of furniture and click a “Buy” button, right? Furniture sites like Raymour & Flannigan already have plan-based tools, but can you really get a good sense of how your room will look by viewing it from overhead? Technology can do so much more now! Software like Sweet Home 3D helps you design your house in 3D and place furniture around the room, but it’s missing that eCommerce hook that could make someone rich. Someone like US.
And lo, there was SuiteQ, a new startup from Waterloo that has developed a try-before-you-buy tool for home furnishings. You begin with four naked walls, and can add windows, carpets, sofas, chairs, tables, and even artwork, using a suite of placement tools. Once you’re happy with how the room looks, you can buy all of the bits from an eCommerce cart.
The drawbacks to a system like this are many, and paradoxically, the more the software attempts to solve the problem, the more problems the software creates. For example, the SuiteQ explainer video starts off with an ideally-proportioned room with no exits, and positions the viewer as if you are standing behind the removable fourth wall, much like a sitcom set. My own living room is oblong, with an angled wall to the left, and the entrance opens from a left-justified hallway abutted by my kitchen.
Software like this needs to be more diverse. But as soon as you start to complicate the software to add angled walls and other architectural curb cases, as in the Roomle app for the iPad, you’re extending well beyond the comfort zone of Joe Average app user.
Tools that position, rotate, and scale 3D objects and place them in scenes, no matter how intuitive they seem to the younger generations who have taken a quick spin through Photoshop once or twice, are nonetheless mystifying to a dismaying number of people. i remember sitting a 38-year-old friend of mine in front of a point-and-click video game i had developed, and she asked me what she was supposed to do with it. i said “Try clicking somewhere.” “Like, where?” she asked. She was too nervous to even put her hand on the mouse. Even if you crack that nut, i am surprised at the number of people i meet who are still squeamish about providing their credit card numbers online.
Beyond software usability and credit card trust, SuiteQ likely works best if you’re starting from scratch. The catalog of furniture, naturally, consists of pieces you can buy from SuiteQ. This doesn’t suit a more common use case of discovering how a single SuiteQ piece fits into your existing room layout, replete with its second-hand faux leather sectional and Jimi Hendrix posters. You would have to recreate your existing room using SuiteQ pieces that approximate your current setup. Something like the Crate & Barrel app might be better suited to that purpose, as it digitally removes furniture from a photo of your room, and allows you to replace those pieces with fresh new C&B swag.
SuiteQ is another offering along the lines of Giftagram (about which i had similar doubts) which targets affluent customers and asks that they place all their trust and confidence in the software, rather than shopping for themselves. i suspect that anyone wealthy enough to have a spacious, unfurnished room or two kicking around, who can afford to drop a briefcase full of cash on sight-unseen furniture and artwork through a piece of software, can also afford a manservant or two to do their shopping and interior design for them. As a preposterously wealthy individual, i’d be more inclined to trust Jeeves than SuiteQ. Add to this the fact that the startup named itself without first buying the domain (suiteQ.com is some sort of political punditry blog), and i don’t know. i just don’t know.
Shakespeare said there’s “nothing new under the sun,” and in a world where originality is often impossible, execution matters. Is home furnishing layout software tied to eCommerce a chocolate-meets-peanut-butter-class concept? My gut tells me that human beings aren’t ready or able to rely on software to this degree. Either SuiteQ are ahead of their time, or no one will have time for their solution.