Alternative Routes


7 November 2016

Last year, Peter Marigold used Kickstarter to successfully fund his mouldable bio-plastic product, FORMcard. One year later, the designer has launched Cass Starters, an initiative that encourages students to launch products using crowdfunding.

Cass Starters draws upon the existing networks of The Cass School of Art and Architecture and its umbrella institution London Metropolitan University to support the products of select students graduating from the university’s BA product and furniture design courses, which Marigold tutors.

The initiative relies upon collaboration. Students participating in Cass Starters work collectively to create their campaigns and are provided with the expertise of filmmakers from the university network to make their campaign videos. Cass Starters seeks to offer an alternative to conventional career routes for design graduates, providing just-graduated designers with an opportunity to launch their products without the financial backing of a company.

Four projects have been launched as a result of the initiative: Wobbly Peyote, a cactus-inspired desktop game; Hooked, a steel clothes hook inspired by the ubiquitous form of barbed wire holders; Test Cups, a collection of coat hooks and handles that use metal patination to give each piece a unique appearance; and Cardboard Ceramics, tableware that is created from moulds formed from discarded coffee cup sleeves. The projects launched on Kickstarter on 31 October and will run until 30 November. With over three weeks remaining, all four Kickstarter campaigns have secured funding that surpasses their original goals.

Before the Kickstarter campaigns launched, Disegno spoke to Marigold and three of the students involved in the initiative. In the interview below, they discuss the concept behind Cass Starters, the value of Kickstarter in a designers’s early career and the need to diversify the career routes for design graduates.

Can you introduce the general idea behind the project?

Peter Marigold I launched FORMcard on Kickstarter and it totally opened my eyes to the platform. It is on everyone’s doorsteps, but universities don’t seem to be promoting it as a way for graduates and students to launch their products. Kickstarter is an immediate way to put an idea out there. It’s something that everyone should have a go at.

Why is Kickstarter a good platform for graduates at the beginning of their careers?

Peter Students, and young people in general, already have an understanding of how to use social media and digital platforms. I could also see that the Met has a really amazing network and infrastructure already in place. We have filmmakers and loads of really talented people already working here, as well as students. These networks allow you to bring these little ideas into the world very easily. Once more, the graduates have already been through the traditional processes that designers all have to go through, such as speaking to companies and going through the whole product development stage. They have already done all the hard work, and the business side of launching a product, having conversations with companies, is such a slow process. Perhaps it is not necessary. Kickstarter is a way of shortcutting everything.

Why do you think crowdfunding is not more widely used in schools?

Peter Kickstarter campaigns tend to be quite well made and polished. If you look at those as a graduate, it can be quite intimidating, but the reality is that often it’s just a well produced film. A well put together campaign is not really that complicated compared to product development. With Cass Starters, I am hoping that I can show graduates that the difficulty of crowdfunding a product is not that great.

What other options are available to students upon graduation? It is difficult for designers to find manufacturers and brands to work with but self production brings its own challenges.

Isabel Farchy I get the impression that it is really tough. It is limited in the way that there are so many opportunities for graduates but they are offered in exchange for nothing. That is the biggest problem. That is why this is such an interesting project because we are fundraising. It feels like a big problem with the industry: working for free is a huge in-built part of what happens when you graduate.

Peter It is an interesting comparison: working for free for somebody else or working for free for yourself. You have no idea what is going to happen with these Kickstarter campaigns. They may work out or they may not. You have no idea. You are taking a risk but the fact is, it is your risk. You are working for yourself so you can invest all of your efforts and all of your thoughts into your own project rather than risking working for free for a year in the hope that you may be offered a job at the end.

Ray Gonzalez Brown It is empowered free work, as opposed to passive free work.

Obviously, there is a practical element to this. You are fundraising for your projects and you hope they go ahead. This feels as if this is quite a pointed thing to do and a little bit of a critique of options that are available to designers. Is that fair?

Peter I am not a great fan of positioning crowdfunding as cutting out the middle man. It is just a different way of doing things. Rather than lumping all of the work on a manufacturer to develop a project and manage the marketing side of it, you take control of the whole thing. Through Kickstarter you are basically doing all the work, therefore it is fair that you reap all the benefits if it works out. It is hard, but the reality of going to a manufacturer and trying to get something into production is also really hard.

Isabel As a graduate it makes a lot more sense for us to do a campaign where we are doing all the work for ourselves rather than taking it to a manufacturer. I don’t know if I feel ready for that. I feel much more able to develop a product that I understand and test it on the market within this platform. I just don’t know if I have the confidence to go straight to a manufacturer just yet.

Nicholas Marschner It is interesting to see it almost as a market test. There is no point making 2,000 units when they are just going to sit in boxes. Instead make 20 that you can put out and test the market response.

I researched Kickstarter a while ago and its implications in design. The criticism that came up then was that Kickstarter is good for certain sorts of design projects: it really likes tech for example. The negative side of that is that it veers towards the gimmicky. Do you think it is still the case that Kickstarter favours particular types of design projects or do you think it is broadening out?

Peter When I approached students about the project, I deliberately chose products that were small and could be easily packaged. Not gimmicky, but small enough to lend themselves well to Kickstarter. Furniture generally doesn’t do so well on Kickstarter so it had to be things that fit well in a box: internet-scaled products.