As the former Executive Creative Director of CNN, Andy Bergmann has designed websites, data visualizations, and even one cult hit iPhone game. But he’d never created a physical product before the SpoonStar. It’s a teaspoon/tablespoon set molded into a single cross, intended to be a more elegant solution than jiggling for the right measuring spoon on a ring.
And even though it’s his first attempt at a product–one that was designed, prototyped, and manufactured after Bergmann’s kids go to bed–SpoonStar will go on shelves at 35 Bed, Bath, & Beyond stores in the next few weeks. If it sells, the
SpoonStar could reach 1,000 stores or more.
“I walked into the kitchen one day and thought, ’I wonder what I could create that would be a fun physical project?’ That’s probably the opposite of how people approach these things! This idea just popped in my head, and I started sketching it out,” Bergmann tells Co.Design. “Every day I have 5-6 ideas like this. I sketch them out, deal with my day, and leave them in a notebook. This one I came back to.”
The process that followed occurred over seven months, mostly between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Since he’s not a 3-D modeler by trade, Bergmann started his work in Illustrator, mocking the design the best he could in 2-D. He emailed the design to Bed, Bath, & Beyond. As he says, he had “no in” with the company, but the design was passed along to the right people and he received a positive response. Emboldened (but still entirely self-funded), he began cycling through free but frustrating 3-D modeling programs to sculpt the product, eventually landing on Rhino.
“While I was designing the 3-D model, I was using their beta,” Bergmann says. “And they were releasing new versions of the beta so I could do more and more.” From there he printed the device on his 3-D printer. “The actual shape of the spoon came out good enough that I could get a sense of it, but it was mangled at the bottom of the cups, which is a harder part for them to handle,” he says. The domed geometry of the spoons is a tough build for a low-end 3-D printer, as it requires each layer to tenuously stack out like a staircase built into the sky. Bergmann was vindicated by the low-fi print–it proved out his idea–but it wasn’t good enough to share with a retailer. A friend of his suggested that he send the files to the online service Sculpteo. For a negligible amount of money, they printed his design with a much higher end printer, capable of realizing it properly.
Then he ran to the craft store, picked up a bunch of spray paint, and did his best to spray the spoon to match his ideal Pantone color. “Once I sprayed them, they were pretty close to what the final spoon was going to look like. Obviously it wasn’t usable, because it had spraypaint on it, but you could see what it was going to be.”
At the same time, Bergmann designed and mocked up his own packaging. For this step, he picked up a Silhouette Cameo–which is kind of like a printer that cuts instead of inks. His design was just a simple card back, fastening the spoon through two holes with a ziptie. But he wanted a premium feel, meaning the paper would have to be too thick for the machine to cut.
“So I had to do it in eight or nine layers, and align them perfectly–paper, adhesive, paper, adhesive–with double sticky tape,” he says. But what he ended up with looked pretty good. So he packaged up his spraypainted Sculpteo spoons with his home-printed backs, and he sent them off to the retailer.
“They were like, ‘Let’s do this, this is cool, we like it,’” he says. “Actually making the final product was incredibly expensive. I had to know that someone was at least slightly interested in this before going through to that next step.”
And with that, Bergmann began the process of mass manufacture. Still self-funded, he found an injection molding company in New York that would take his 3-D file as a reference, and essentially begin the process anew to figure out exactly how two pieces of metal could come together to make this shape–while leaving room for a small seam, a nozzle to inject the goop, and a pin to break the mold apart when done.
“The process of making the mold is crazy. It takes several weeks. You’d think, now that we’re all used to 3-D printed things, it couldn’t possibly take that long. They must just have a backorder!” he says. “But really, it’s labor intensive. My 3-D model must be transferred to engineering software. And they have to figure out how to make the mold. They model [the object] in carbon. Then they hook it up to a machine called [an] EDM–electrical discharge machine–and what that does is, it’s a machine that has a bunch of electricity coming through the carbon, and that actually melts the mold.
“Every mold is totally different, and each person is an artist in their own right,” he says.
Then there was choosing the right food-grade plastic. Matching his ideal color. Finding a manufacturer to print and cut his packaging. Mailing 3,000 units to a distributor (who then mails them to the stores). Filing for a trademark and patent. Oh, and drawing up the patent, too.
“I’m a [graphic] designer by trade, so that was the easy part,” Bergmann laughs.
As of now, Bergmann’s personal investment is under $15,000, and there’s no promise that the product will actually sell for him to break even or cut a profit. He’s not leaving his day job, and doesn’t have aspirations of launching the next OXO. Rather, projects like the SpoonStar seem like a necessary escape from the daily grind for Bergmann. They’re passion projects that are about more to him than financial return.
“They keep asking me already, if I have another idea. I have a few…I always have a ton of ideas,” Bergmann says. “There’s a toy I want to make. Again, it’s time. If you only get a couple hours at night…”
You can order a SpoonStar online for $7, or pick it up at select Bed, Bath, & Beyond stores soon.