Date
Volume 22, Number 2
0 The Assignment by Dan Halm 0
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Course
Entrepreneurial Design

Students in this first-year MFA Interaction Design course are asked to devise, design and run a business that earns a minimum $1,000 (or, if they choose to work in pairs, $2,000) in profit through online sales or fund-raising by semester's end. Most choose Kickstarter as their platform, and you can find several recent projects from the course on SVA’s curated page, kickstarter.com/sva.

“The best way to prepare students for designing in a rapidly changing, unpredictable world is to make them do something in the real world,” says Chou, who co-founded the course with Christina Cacioppo in 2012. “The ‘$1,000 project’ does just that. Christina Xu, Leland Rechis and I serve as coaches and advocates, not as judges.”

Image credit: Sneha Pai, illustration (detail) from Maker's Alphabet, 2014.

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Archigrams /
Michie Cao

Goal: $3,000 / Amount raised: $11,258

For Archigrams, Cao, who holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture, picked 10 of her favorite buildings from around the world and drew a graphic illustration of each. The works are available individually as 18 x 24" posters ($40 each) or as a full set of 5 x 7" prints ($30). Facts about the buildings are printed on the backs of the 5 x 7" versions, and the set comes with a glossary of architectural.

What she learned
“I learned how important it is to have a vision for your product—I received a lot of advice from established designers and product people, as well as from architects and design students, and all of them were distinctly different in their approaches. One of the hardest but most necessary things to do is to consider all the advice, figure out what you think is the best approach and commit to it. I also realized the power of leveraging social media and reaching out to like-minded people and communities. The tweets and blog items, and being featured as a ‘Kickstarter Project of the Day,’ were what really made the campaign a success.”

How the project changed her perception of design
“I’d previously thought that design was something that’s hard to sell, unless you’re consulting or are an extraordinary artist, which is not how I see myself. This exercise has shown me that it is possible, more than anyone would think, so long as you can appeal to a need or interest and build a community around it. Moving forward, I feel more confident and empowered. I have the business and marketing experience so that, if a compelling idea comes up, I’ll know how to execute it.”

Project status
“I spent last summer making and packaging the posters and prints. Last September, I sent out all my orders and created an online shop, archigrams.com.”

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The UpStanding Desk /
Sam Carmichael and Mikey Chen

Goal: $10,000 / Amount raised: $105,186

Articles in recent years have decried the health detriments of most office workers’ sedentary culture, but few companies are able or willing to provide standing desks to all interested employees, and jury-rigged solutions are often unsightly and imperfect. With the UpStanding Desk, Carmichael and Chen set out to create an affordable, adjustable and easy-to-build standing desk set. The pair created standard ($199.99) and double-wide ($249.99) versions and, for DIYers, a set of construction plans ($49.99).

What they learned
“When launching a product or service, it’s important to release and iterate rapidly rather than keeping it close to your chest in the interest of ‘perfecting’ it. The best way to gauge a response is to have people respond to it in the real world. Second, when looking at crowd-funding operations, it might seem like a lot of the work takes place before and during fund-raising, but for physical products the bulk of the work actually takes place during and after fulfillment. Our desks weigh up to 35 pounds and require boxes that are more than three feet tall, so the logistical side was especially complex.”

How the project changed their perception of design
“The rapid prototyping tools in SVA’s Visible Futures Lab gave us the ability to quickly prototype our very first version, and every time we made a change to the design we could run and cut new pieces on the ShopBot CNC machine. We were used to rapid prototyping and iteration on virtual projects, but taking the same approach with a physical product was a great learning experience.”

Project status
“After we finished our funding period we still had a lot of demand, so we continued to collect email addresses, formed an LLC and launched theupstandingdesk.com to take orders. Since then we’ve shipped more than 800 desks to customers in the U.S. and Canada and many more sets of plans around the world. Next, we’re planning to further expand internationally and to continue to build the company and product line.”

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Engraved / John T. Kim (MFA 2014 Interaction Design)
Goal: $1,500 / Amount raised: $23,929

Engraved offers business cards made of wood, with the words and graphics laser-etched into the surface. The cards are available in “minimal” (from $49 up) and “standard” (from $59 up) designs. Kim came up with the idea after realizing how interchangeable and forgettable most business cards are.

What he learned
“Storytelling is as important as the product itself. I used Kickstarter as my platform, so one page on the web was all I got to tell my story. I created a promotional video and this seemed to work very well. The video was convenient for posting on social media, which is also a great way to tell your story.

How the project changed his perception of design
“Rather than changing my perception, it strengthened my belief that good design will always communicate. At the beginning of the project, I heard a lot of concern from others that everything was going digital. I was able to prove that something as ‘analog’ as wooden business cards can also grab people’s attention.”

Project status
“I’ve developed it into a business with an online store at engravedproject.com.”

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Game of Phones /
Luke Stern and
Sam Wander

Goal: $6,000 / Amount raised: $16,856

Stern and Wander’s party card game ($20 per deck) challenges you to show off your smart-phone ability—and addiction. Players take turns pulling a card from the deck; each card has a prompt for a group competition, like “Find the best #selfie” or “Text a random number. First reply from a human wins.” Game of Phones turns our overreliance on devices, an activity many decry as antisocial, into an opportunity for fun with friends and strangers.

What they learned
“There is often a tendency to over-think execution, but with tools like Kickstarter it is so much easier now to reach a wider audience with less financial risk. Gauging an idea’s popularity is no longer a huge hurdle to get over.”

How the project changed their perception of design
“Perhaps the most striking thing was finding out that people love being involved in your process and feeling like they’re playing a part. The traditional roles of producer and consumer have been blurred, and new forms of that relationship can be really rewarding. We also felt a lot of responsibility in what we were doing, because we were interacting with our backers. They were real people and we wanted to please them.”

Project status
“We shipped to our backers last October, and then began selling through a partner retailer called Photojojo last November. We were unsure what the demand would be after the Kickstarter campaign was over, but partnering with Photojojo has been a great start—they placed two re-orders before 2014 was out, and we’ve seen exciting press, like a short feature on The Today Show.

“We’re now considering selling directly rather than through a partner, and we’ve been approached about licensing deals. We’re keeping our options open and playing it by ear.”

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A Memory Between Us /
Dami You

Goal: $1,000 / Amount raised: $14,212

A Memory Between Us is a make-your-own-postcard kit designed to help travelers memorialize their journeys and share their experiences with friends and families in a vivid, personal way. Each $19 kit contains two sets of 12 cards—one for you and one for a companion. The sets are identical but, since two different people are making the cards, different perspectives, emotions, anecdotes and trip highlights are recorded, creating a dual narrative of the adventure.

What she learned
“Don’t be ashamed of sharing ideas or asking opinions. Right before initiating my Kickstarter campaign, I reached out to people via social networking platforms to gauge their reactions to my idea. These same people recognized my project when the campaign launched in earnest, and it was great to see their support and have them cheer me on.

“I also learned that the Internet is powerful. I had it in my mind that my product idea would be a success if 10 people sincerely enjoyed it, even if I received zero funding. Amazingly, more than 500 people from around the world backed A Memory Between Us. I believe the concept resonated with people, which lead to the project being widely shared online.”

How the project changed her perception of design
“It was an opportunity for me to see a larger picture in the design process. Previously, probably because of my graphic design background, I spent more time on small details. Details are still important to me, but I have come to believe that I need to think about basic values and true meanings in order to create designs that may be meaningfully used in people’s lives.”

Project status
“I opened a shop on Etsy named A Memory Between Us, and the kit is also selling on The Backyard, an online concept store in Switzerland. For details, you can visit a-memory-between-us.com.”

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The League
of Ladies
/
Shelly Ni (MFA 2014 Interaction Design)

Goal: $3,000 / Amount raised: $7,198

Inspired by a Baltimore feminist group’s send-up of the Victoria’s Secret lingerie line, Ni set out to create her own, more feminist underwear brand. After a round of interviews with a wide range of women about their childhood heroes (and their underwear preferences), she designed The League of Ladies: colorful hipster- and boyshort-style bottoms ($20) decorated with prints of feminist icons Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart and Frida Kahlo.

What she learned
“The importance of working in public—that is, sharing the story of The League of Ladies as it came together, sketch by sketch, idea by idea—with a community of online collaborators and fans.”

How the project changed her perception of design
“It can be hard, unfortunately, to engage in constructive dialogue about feminism online. But when you frame feminism through the lens of a superhero underwear project, it becomes more approachable to talk about. The design insight here: The way you frame a story is key. And I got to my way of framing feminism by asking real women about their lived experiences. Good stories reflect real, relatable ones.”

Project status
“I recently collaborated on a limited edition collection [$48 – $58 per pair; $150 – $198 per set of four] with Dear Kate, a women’s underwear start-up founded and run by women. Dear Kate makes wicking, stain-releasing and leak-resistant underwear—‘period panties’ that are cute as hell. And items from my first collection are still available online at theleagueofladies.com.”

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Maker’s Alphabet /
Sneha Pai and Melody Quintana

Goal: $4,500 / Amount raised: $12,737

A primer on all the ways creative people make things today, Pai and Quintana’s children’s book Maker’s Alphabet covers everything from fashion design to ’zines. Pai drew the book’s colorful, cartoony illustrations and Quintana wrote the rhyming text. Maker’s Alphabet will be sent to project backers in either hardcover or e-book versions; those interested in joining the mailing list to be informed of future availability can visit signup.makersalphabet.com.

What they learned
“In addition to the boatloads we learned about printing and self-publishing, we took away a great deal about putting an idea out into the world. Two lessons are:

“One: treat it like an experiment. There is no right or wrong result. There is just the result, and it leads to knowledge that helps set up the next experiment. This neutral perspective helped us offload lots of emotional baggage and focus on managing the elements within our control.

“Two: launch before you’re ready. At the time it was nerve-wracking, but it forced us to bypass any preconceptions of what was and wasn’t possible. We pulled together a concept, proposed it to the world and saw what the world had to say. We built from there.”

How the project changed their perception of design
“It’s inspired us to put our ideas out earlier than we’re comfortable with, to solicit feedback.”

Project status
“We’re in our final round of proofing and hope to go to print soon.”  ∞

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Credits            From the President            sva.edu