National Engineers Week celebrates the awesome feats of engineers everywhere. Engineering is the branch of science and technology that deals with the design, construction, and use of engines, machines, and structures. On a deeper level, engineering thinking is a creative method of problem-solving in which you figure out the ways things relate to each other to understand and build more complex systems.
Here at KiwiCo, engineering skills play into every aspect of our business; from designing projects and sourcing materials to upgrading our website, fulfilling orders, and shipping our boxes to YOU! It is no surprise then, that many of our team members studied engineering (including our founder!) but more importantly engineering skills are used every day by people who come from a range of disciplines.
The great thing about engineering is that you develop a toolbox of skills that can help you approach most any problem across any discipline. At KiwiCo, every week is Engineers Week! Here is how our team uses these skills every day:
Sandra Lin Oh, Founder & CEO
Studied: Chemical Engineering
I’ve always loved designing and making things. (It started with designing styrofoam container handbags and yarn rugs and proceeding to creating pinhole cameras and glowing chemical concoctions.) At the core, making something from nothing is what engineering is all about. As we’re building a company, we’re constantly creating new products, experiences, systems, processes, teams, and more. Every day, our jobs require problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration – which are core to engineering.
One element of the engineering mindset that is really important to me in my job as CEO of KiwiCo is systems thinking. Systems thinking means being able to see the big picture of a complex problem (or opportunity!), consider it from all its different facets, and then break it down into smaller parts in order to come up with a solution. Our team and I use this approach all the time – whether it’s charting our long-term company strategy, defining a whole new product line (like Panda Crate), or thinking through how to improve every element of our customers’ experience with KiwiCo.
In addition to problem solving (or opportunity seeking!), another characteristic common to engineers that I find critical in my job is perseverance. We certainly encountered some headwinds in the early days of building KiwiCo – and running a business is never without its challenges. But I really love figuring out how to approach these challenges, and am especially motivated to keep at it when I see the joy on the faces of our customers!
Andy Whitmore, Senior Director of Product Design
Studied: Engineering with a specialization in Product Design
I love building things! I especially love building things through a human-centered approach, which is why I specialized in product design. I use my engineering skills on a daily basis at KiwiCo, from generating new product designs, to troubleshooting technical challenges, thinking about and designing for manufacturing, and testing products with users.
One engineering skill that I often use is prototyping. Prototypes are early versions of projects made from cheap materials. When I was working on the Tinker Crate Trebuchet (a miniature wooden siege engine!) I created an early prototype of the trebuchet from hand-cut foam board, duct-taped C batteries for weight, and a tie-dye fabric scrap for the pouch. The prototype was ugly. Very ugly. But it served a really important purpose – the materials were super easy to adjust and modify, allowing me to rapidly test a ton of different variables. Prototypes are really important for the development of each one of our projects. The learnings we glean from these lay the foundation for our development, and are baked into the final, much more beautiful form.
Kim Smith, Senior Director of Product Design
Studied: Mechanical Engineering
I’ve always been fascinated by how mechanical things work and I wanted to build machines that would benefit others like prosthetics. I didn’t end up in biomechanics but feel very fulfilled by creating products that enrich the lives of kids.
One of the first projects I created was the Kiwi Crate Arcade Claw a kit that teaches kids how to build a retractable claw. In the original design, the build got very complicated and when I simplified the design, the project fell apart. 😣 To solve the problem, I turned to a solution that is very common in the engineering world, jigs. A jig is a custom tool created to hold everything in place as you build it. Including the jig in the crate made it easy for kids to assemble their projects while teaching them a useful creative principle.
The claw continues to be a really fun project and the jig is a powerful tool that lets kids create something much more complex than they could have imagined. Our jobs are full of challenges and we solve them everyday by applying an engineering approach. But the best part of my day is just building enriching projects that kids and adults find delightful!
Rebekah Winegarner, Product Designer, New Initiatives
Studied: Industrial Design
Even though I didn’t study engineering specifically, I found that I already had plenty of training tackling big, hands-on mechanical engineering problems. From making a sculptural table, to painting a mural of art history for a local school, art and design had taught me how to plan for and solve complex dimensional problems
Having a background in fine art comes in handy when I have to approach big, scary engineering problems. One of my first projects at KiwiCo was designing the Make-and-Play Fort kit, which is a life-sized, modular, flat pack fort. Where to start? Thanks to the engineering skills I learned studying fine art, I knew I just had to jump in! Studying art taught me that you can tackle a big complicated thing one part at a time, with small “studies” to find what works (and what doesn’t). From there, the process is to keep trying, testing, assessing, and trying again until you solve each little challenge. I tackled the mechanical engineering problems of the fort in this way; solving one bad doodle or failed prototype at a time until I created a product that worked!
Lisa Hom, VP Product Design and Sourcing
Studied: Industrial Engineering and Operations
I majored in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at U.C. Berkeley. Industrial Engineering is all about making organizations and processes more efficient and more productive, while Operations Research is all about using your analytical and creative skills to develop better systems using the data that you have.
I chose this major because it fit my personality and my skill sets. I was always good at math and loved solving complex problems. In my personal life, I am extremely organized and obsessed with planning (you should see my to do lists!)
At KiwiCo, I apply my engineering background to set vision and plan out our supply chain through understanding production capacities or solving inventory issues overseas. I also manage four departments that have to work together to create all the elements that go into the projects in our crates – Product Design, Sourcing, Editorial, and Graphic Design. I am constantly thinking about how to organize information and improve communication among the teams, how to create (or get rid of) processes, and how to increase general productivity through making it easier for people to do their jobs — and most importantly, deliver the most whoa, awesome products to our customers!
Ant Rappai, Director of Operations
Studied: Electronics and Industrial Engineering
I love math and I decided to study engineering because I’m interested in figuring out how to do things more efficiently. Here at KiwiCo, warehouse efficiency is very important. In order to fulfill orders more quickly, we are redesigning the warehouse layout placing fast-moving products closer to the pack lines. Now I’m currently working on systems for better inventory management. We use engineering thinking to optimize all of our processes.
For more awesome projects, kits and activities to help develop YOUR engineering mindset, check out KiwiCo.com