Good industrial design is perhaps a bit of a controversial idea, often nuanced by culture and ever evolving through the decades. What it may have been in California's 1960s is nowhere near the same as it is today, in a global 2021. We believe good industrial design to be a simple intersection of personal expression and intentional aesthetics derived from a well-considered functional foundation, and we hope at least a snippet of that belief is noticeable upon receiving and using the cables crafted in our workshop.
The bespoke process is a powerful tool in personal expression. In a globally connected world inundating us with pre-designed products we "needed yesterday", we hope to more intentionally embrace the individual and custom side of our mechanical keyboard hobby. While the rise of artisan cable collaborations run alongside each new keycap set is a fun approach to the "full package" idea, we strongly believe in always maintaining a no-limitation, made-to-order approach consistent with the heavily personalized nature of enjoyment and aesthetics in the hobby.
Perhaps it can be argued that a cable is a cable—it is, after all, a relatively simple tool. There is, however, a wide swath of USB cables in both our niche keyboard hobby and the greater consumer electronics market built across a broad scale of attention to technical detail and execution. In our mission to consistently deliver at the forefront of that scale, to provide zero-compromise, "cost-no-option" cables that fully adhere to the functional requirements in the USB specification (barring hobby-specific exceptional cases), we ultimately work toward three defining quality-centric goals: lasting durability, material authenticity, and sound implementation.
A well-designed product will always be built around maximizing durability, to maintain both function and form with no corners cut nor any semblance of planned obsolescence. With built-by-hand artisan cables in particular, the weakest links—lacking automation and production machinery—will always be the coil and connectors.
Coils are tricky—they can be easily built using a variety of methods that all result in pristine marketing photos and a happy unboxing experience. Yet, in the context of hobby-specific, niche artisan cable assembly, only one method is suitable to deliver durability on par with industrial cable manufacturing. We outline the pitfalls of industry "conventional wisdom" and detail the basic science behind our HELIX coil method on the Coil Durability sub-page. Video footage included.
Connectors (USB in specific) are a common point of weakness in built-by-hand artisan cables due to the lack of traditional yet aesthetically bulky injection overmolded plastic housings that secure internal solder joints and add a high degree of bend relief unlike our hobby's simple and commonplace single-layer heat shrink finish. To completely eliminate heat shrink weakness without resorting to bulkier finishes that may lack physical compatibility with some custom keyboards' USB receptacle case cutouts, we employ a slim internal application of high torsional and tensile strength polypropylene before finishing the USB connector with hobby-standard accent color heat shrink.
QDCs (quick disconnect connectors) introduce a lesser yet undeniably present point of weakness, but this weakness is far simpler to control by way of QDC form factor selection. While we do believe in providing a more affordable option in the form of the humble YC8 connector, the genuine LEMO® holds among the highest degree of durability and reliability in the low-voltage connector market as a direct result of its fundamental engineering and the brand's highly stringent quality control.
As with nearly any product at the highest end of a given market segment, there may be nothing more commonly discussed in the hobby's cable authenticity space than the LEMO® connector and its numerous clones. While there are significant cost savings by opting for knockoff variants, they heavily suffer from inferior engineering, rough tooling, poor surface finish, and an overall disregard for good industrial design. LEMO S.A. maintains a white paper (Electronic Connector Counterfeits and Copies) that details these quality differences as the counterfeit market has grown significantly in recent times with an abundance of rogue sellers operating out of questionable jurisdictions.
At the other end of the spectrum, the least discussed and most overlooked material may likely be the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) braided sleeving, namely Techflex® and MDPC-X®. Unsurprisingly, there are many unbranded clones that appear nearly indistinguishable from the genuine materials but suffer in less easily noticeable areas, such as sloppy extrusion tolerances during manufacturing and very poor lightfastness leading to color loss in under several years.
Ultimately, we believe in working only with brands and suppliers that stand behind their products with confidence; we have no interest in supporting the work of parties that disrespect the concepts of intellectual property, cut manufacturing corners, and seek to profit off the name and aesthetic of well-established brands and high-grade components. In the end, genuine parts and materials guarantee that we (and by extension, our clients) pay to ensure proper quality control and long-term durability.
Finally, beyond durability and authenticity, seeking to uphold a transparently rigorous approach to implementing the USB specification may arguably be the most important factor in achieving good industrial design.
It is our belief that making all attempts to stay true to the USB specification is the only proper way to design and manufacture USB cables. Within the mechanical keyboard hobby, however, some highly desirable and intentionally functional features may sometimes prevent built-by-hand artisan cables from consistently meeting all of the requirements laid forth by the USB Implementers Forum. Consequently, we aim to offer a framework that enables such features yet maintains sound implementation on a true technical level. A more in-depth explanation is available in the USB Specification Issues section on the Technical Info page.