How KiwiCo Product Designers Deliver Wonder with Every Crate

Oct 6, 2020 / By Cailyn Bradley

KiwiCo is nine years old! The company has come a long way since the humble beginnings in our founder and CEO’s garage. Today, KiwiCo is delivered to doorsteps around the world! And each dropoff is jam-packed with hands-on projects, activities, and content so kids can learn as they do. That’s in part thanks to our brilliant team of product designers. Collectively, they’ve helped design more than 1,500 KiwiCo projects. To mark this milestone, we want to introduce you to some of our product designers and give you an inside look at how they deliver a sense of wonder in everything they create!



Time at KiwiCo: 3 years
Favorite Product Designed: Froggie Lab Dissection
Inspirational Inventor: Ada Lovelace

What did you study in college?
I studied Industrial Design at the University of Kansas and tried internships or contracts doing experience design, consumer electronics, and app development before finding toy design.

What’s your favorite part of being a KiwiCo Product Designer?
I still can’t get over the fact that my real, grown-up job is to make stuff. Real, grown-up constraints like costing and time can make design work challenging but that just makes the end result all the more rewarding.

Product Designer Rebekah during kid testing session for a Marble Run + Art Easel prototype.

What product are you most proud to have designed?
As a kid, my parents would explain the vascular system or neurons, complete with sound effects and total, unabashed enthusiasm. It taught me some anatomy & physiology, but more importantly a sense of wonder and the confidence to learn more. I’m proud I got to share that in a way with Froggie Lab Dissection.

How do you know when you’ve created something that’s “Whoa, Awesome”?
It’s a hierarchy of hype: 1) if my prototype makes me say “Whoa, yeah, that’s pretty awesome”, 2) if my prototype makes a coworker accidentally say “Whoa, that is awesome!”, and last but most importantly, 3) if kids try out the product and say “Whoa, Awesome!” or an equivalent statement, including but not limited to “woooooah” or *indiscernible squeals and arm-waving* or “MOM LOOK!”.

What product has posed the biggest design challenge for you thus far and why?
Marble Run + Art Easel. The colorful rubber pieces that the marbles roll down were so tricky because they needed to be easily placed, positioned, and removed by kids as young as 3. But we did it! They’re easy to press in with little force, hold their angle as marbles drop on, and are easy to move.


How do you build and maintain your creative confidence?
Just keep creating. It seems to work for robots, music albums, buildings, menus, vehicles, art etc. — make a little part of it, test it, make some more, rearrange, improve a little, get some feedback, fix a thing, learn something new, remake a chunk, put it together, test it, and so on! The confidence will come once you realize it’s just time and effort.


What STEAM pioneer would you want to collaborate with?
Ada Lovelace! She was a brilliant mathematician who wrote the first algorithm for a computer, basically the first programmer! I’d want to collaborate on a computer that looked even cooler than Babbage’s “Analytical Engine”.



Time at KiwiCo: 8 years
Favorite Product Designed: Tinker Crate Trebuchet
Inspirational Inventor: Leonardo da Vinci

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Designing multiple, brand-new products every single month is both incredibly exciting and incredibly challenging! There is absolutely never a boring day being a product designer at KiwiCo. Another amazing part of the job is hearing from our subscribers. The notes, drawings, ideas, and feedback are all so heartwarming. We see you, hear you, and love you guys!


What product are you most proud to have designed?
The Tinker Crate Trebuchet still holds a special place in my heart. I was a bit of a medieval nerd growing up (I even made chainmail armor), so working on it really transported me back. It was also one of the earliest Tinker Crate projects, which helped define the product line and our approach to STEM.

What product posed the biggest design challenge for you thus far and why?
Oof. There have been a lot of challenging crates. It’s hard to pick just one. One particularly memorable crate was our Halloween Motion-sensing Spider from years back. You built a little module that could be hung above a door, and would drop a spider on a string when someone walked through! Then the spider would get pulled back up to scare the next unsuspecting passerby. The electronics posed a number of challenges… But that’s what you get when you’re constantly innovating!

Product Designer Andy gazing into the eyes of his challenging creation.

Where do you go for inspiration while designing a crate?
This is one of the magical benefits of being on such a creative team, ideas are everywhere! Our brainstorms and research sessions are always a blast. This collaboration with teammates is one of the best ways to get inspired and come up with “Whoa, Awesome!” ideas.

Andy and fellow Product Designers brainstorming with KiwiCo’s Kid Design Council.

How do you build and maintain your creative confidence?
Practice, practice, practice. Creativity is like a muscle, it grows stronger the more you use it! More than that, anyone can foster their own creativity (yes, I’m looking at you, self-described “non-creative” types). One major element here is suspending judgment. To really let those creative juices flow, you can’t be constantly shooting down every idea before it even gets off the ground. This means you have to feel free to get a little silly and have some bad ideas (or really, LOTS of bad ideas). Genius is often just on the other side of crazy, so don’t pass judgment too early and keep pushing!

If you could collaborate designing a product with any STEAM pioneer throughout history who would it be?
Leonardo da Vinci! Perhaps stereotypical, but I’m sticking to it. He came up with some insanely creative ideas. I would love to see how he would look at, and what he could do with, all of our modern technology.



Time at KiwiCo: 5.5 years
Favorite Product Designed: Kiwi Crate Arcade Claw
Inspirational Inventor: Leonardo da Vinci

What did you do before you came to KiwiCo?
I studied Mechanical Engineering in college and after getting my masters, I worked in the Aerospace industry designing and manufacturing large communication satellites.

What project are you most proud to have designed?
The claw from Kiwi Crate Arcade was one of my first designs and has stood the test of time. My kids volunteer to put together samples all the time because it’s just fun to see all the pieces come together and watch it work. I think I get extra satisfaction out of it because when I first put it together, everyone was convinced it was way too complicated for Kiwi Crate’s age range of 5-8. Their doubt made me determined to find a solution because I knew the kids could do it. I ended up making a jig to hold all the pieces as it is assembled and that was it — success! I’ve heard of stories of the claw rescuing keys from storm drains, retrieving socks from under sofas, and even cleaning up trash from communities. I never even imagined it could be used in so many awesome ways!


What product has posed the biggest design challenge for you thus far?
I once tried to make a fishing game inspired by the classic battery-powered toy with the fish that move up and down and open their mouths. I simplified the motion and powered it with a water weight, but ultimately the friction in the system was too complicated to manage easily. We ended up retiring the project but I’m still waiting for a bit of inspiration to find a clever solution to overcome the problems we had before.

What is the most exciting part of your job?
There are a lot of fun times working as a product designer, brainstorming with colleagues, building things with your hands… basically, we get paid to let our imaginations run wild! But my favorite part is product testing with kids. This is where it all comes together and you either nailed it (kids loved the project, they learned all about the topic and beg to do it over and over) or you have a really funny story to share afterward (a small group of kids covered up to their elbows in failed gold glitter slime, but at least they had fun and their parents had a good laugh).


Where do you go for inspiration while designing a crate?
Lucky for me, I don’t have to go far. I have two testers and sources of inspiration at home. I have literally asked my son what my next crate should be (his response was “trees” which prompted me to create the Kiwi Crate Capillary Action project). The whale sweeper was born after trying to use my hands to scoop a floor full of LEGO blocks… I knew there had to be a better way.




Time at KiwiCo: 2.5 years
Favorite Product Designed: All the Eureka Crate projects
Inspirational Inventor: Leonardo da Vinci

What’s your favorite part of being a KiwiCo Product Designer?
Creativity! Using your noggin’ to problem-solve and thinking up new ways to solve everyday problems. I love getting lost in a good design or engineering problem.

Product Designers Barley brainstorms Panda Crate designs with CEO & Founder Sandra.

Where do you go for inspiration while designing a crate?
Everywhere! That is the coolest thing about this profession — inspiration is everywhere. It’s our job to know as much as we can about everything and then make connections where there aren’t obvious connections. You have to be a sponge for information (different ideas, concepts, mechanical function, and science). Then, distill this information into something new and exciting for our customers.

What product are you most proud to be a part of?
I am most proud of the Eureka Crate Line. I wanted to help create a line of products that would connect people in a meaningful way with everyday objects in their life, and instill a sense of pride and confidence that they not only understand a specific technology but then translate that into an actual functional product that they can use for a long time. There is nothing more exciting than exposing the “magic” behind the objects in our lives — it’s empowering!


How do you know when you’ve created something that’s “Whoa, Awesome”?
It is a process that starts with yourself and radiates out from there. You know that you’re onto something when the idea has gravity: people want to touch the product and play with it (their eyes light up!) — they have questions about it and ideas on how to make it better. I’ve discovered that the more input a concept generates the more potential that concept has. A good idea will eventually take on a life of its own and become meaningful and fulfilling to different people in different ways. It does not happen often, so clearly, but when it does it is truly a magical experience.

What product posed the biggest design challenge for you thus far?
Every project is a journey involving thousands of educated decisions along the way: what material, what connection method, what hardware, what technology, etc. The journey can be long and convoluted — the challenging part is maintaining flexibility with the process: a willingness to change direction or scope as needed, or even recognize when the problems are too great to overcome with the given requirements of time, cost, or complexity. My greatest challenge is letting go of a project that I feel has promise — all the products that never made it across the final finish line

How do you build and maintain creative confidence?
This takes time and patience. True confidence doesn’t happen overnight, it is one deliberate step after another. You have to learn to appreciate the little successes along the way. It’s important to build this strong foundation because you will fail, and you will likely fail a lot! But you need to recognize that failure is part of the process — often your biggest failures will lead you to your greatest success!




Time at KiwiCo: 1.5 years
Favorite Product Designed: Atlas Crate The Netherlands
Inspirational Inventor: Marie Curie

What did you do before you started at KiwiCo?
I founded and ran a small business for five years that designed and manufactured eco-friendly window displays for retailers across the nation. We once made a display for Adidas that was 99% biodegradable!

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love when I can design a project that makes a kid laugh with delight at what they’ve created. It’s so joyful!

How do you know when you’ve created something that’s “Whoa, Awesome”?
Surprisingly enough, a lot of times they’ll actually say “whoa!” But I also love when a child runs to proudly show their parents what they’ve discovered.


What product are you most proud to have designed?
I really enjoyed designing Atlas Crate The Netherlands! My family is from Holland, so it was awesome to share about our culture while creating this crate. And I love how the windmill magically spins on its own when you walk with it across a room!


If you could collaborate designing a product with any STEAM pioneer throughout history who would it be?
Marie Curie! I got to learn a bit about her while researching Poland, and she sounds fearless! She’s the first woman to ever receive a Nobel Prize, and also the first person to win a second one!! But what I love about her is how she left her research to design mobile x-ray stations during WWI. She raised money with the Union of Women in France, obtained used vehicles, and converted them into mobile x-ray stations that could be used on the battlefield. Not only that — she trained 150 women to operate them! I love how she used her knowledge to care for others.

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