One year on: perfecting the pencil sharpener
How three BA Product Design students spent their year-in-industry introducing the world to the perfect pencil sharpener
During his first year studying BA Product Design, Odin Ardagh started to experiment with pencil sharpeners. He was dissatisfied with the typical twist sharpener, often breaking his lead and working for particular sizes of pencils only. Alongside his student work, he began prototyping an alternative design that worked like a hand plane. The result is Høvel, inspired by traditional woodworking tools; it is designed to last a lifetime and sharpen any pencil. Bringing on board fellow BA Product Design student Benjamin Weininger, the duo put the idea on Kickstarter and raised an impressive £25,000 to go into production.
As the project grew, the duo became a trio, with another student Noah Bier joining the team. Together, they decided to take a year in industry – offered in between the second and third years of the course for students to work on placements – to focus on their fledgling business.
“As designers we use pencils all the time,” says Bier, “we realised that pencil sharpeners are rubbish. If you are an artist or a designer you’ll be spending lots of time drawing something and you’ll be using a crappy tool. You’ll spend £1,000 on your laptop so why not buy a proper tool for drawing? It’s meant to last a lifetime. Most sharpeners, the blade goes dull… This is quite an unusual object. it’s a very slow-moving consumer good that creates a ritual.”
Between second and third year, Bier’s intention was to complete six months working at Maker's Cabinet and six months of internships but the company was accepted on a business accelerator the Central Research Laboratory. “We were really surprised because we thought we were bringing a pencil sharpener to a really serious space that deals with taking battery recharging units and VR gloves to market,” he says.
The expectation over this year in industry was that Bier would be learning how to take and idea and make it a reality. Asking him now what he’s learnt and the list seem endless:
“We’ve learnt the realities of running a company that designs, makes and sells something. We have an idea for something crazy, we tone it down, we go through six months of prototyping. We speak to manufactures, we know what they want, we find out what they can and can’t do. We know how much it costs to make something in China and the UK. We know how to organise that process, which is really complicated. That’s just the design and manufacturing, then there’s the packaging, then once the product is at your door, there are the routes to sell it. Building our website, our social media, our retailers, our market stall. How you get something into a store, who and how you speak to them… that’s quite a lot.“
Stocked in 13 retailers, Maker's Cabinet is nominated for an award at the London Stationery Show this year and has been awarded an exhibition stand. In the spring, the trio are launching the company’s second product, a compass called Iris which, like Høvel, elevates the everyday.
In October, all three return to College for the final year of their degree. Bier thinks they’ll return as not just better designers but better students, more able to meet deadlines, structure their work and focus on tasks in hand. The year in industry has also put into focus what the future looks like for Bier individually. Asked if he’s looking forward to working on individual projects again, he responds (perhaps surprisingly):
“Not really. I’m not a gifted designer. There’s a need for people who are part of the design process who aren’t actually designing. That’s what I’m good at. This year has demonstrated to me what I’m good at. It’s been very valuable.”
The kickstarter for Iris launched 7 May and exceeded its funding target in 72 hours.