I did not expect how big of a difference industrial design would make in the final stages of InvenTABLE's product development. The version of InvenTABLE that you see in most of our pictures and videos, which we built...
I originally came up with the idea for InvenTABLE as a project for a studio course for the Integrated Product Design Masters program. The goal of the project was to address a growing trend in education towards teaching kids design thinking skills as a way for them to build empathy and learn how to solve problems in their local communities.
My first idea was actually for a design thinking subscription box that would offer weekly design challenges and the materials and supplies to execute their solutions - including stencils to trace and cut cardboard pieces to build 3-dimensional prototypes.
When working with kids in going through the design process, I came across an interesting pain point: cardboard, which we use so often for prototyping, is really difficult for kids to work with. The tools that currently exist are either too dangerous or too ineffective, and kids often end up asking the adults around them to do the actual cutting part. At the time, I was also super inspired by the nonprofit Girls Garage in the Bay Area, which is a makerspace that teaches young girls design and construction skills, including how to use power tools. A power tool for kids to cut cardboard seemed like an interesting and empowering solution to the problem.
The original prototype that I came up with centered around a work table made out of cardboard, with a cutting tool that slid onto the side of it. The original elevator pitch actually was "a workstation for 8-12 year old kids to make anything out of cardboard". I made the prototype first by carving cardboard into a table shape with box cutters, then laser-cutting the pattern I had created.
After researching and trying different power tools, I purchased a sheet metal nibbler off of Amazon and was so thrilled by the results. I lasercut the housing for it using clear acrylic that I painted and bent on an acrylic bender.
The whole thing was held together with duct tape and kept getting clogged and stuck (because sheet metal nibblers are definitely not intended for cardboard). Not sure anyone would claim the following prototype is kid-safe, but for a few minutes it did work!
After the class ended, I recruited Max, a graduate of the IPD program/engineer/toy designer/dad, to work with me as InvenTABLE's co-founder and CTO. With his help, we took what we learned from the way sheet metal nibblers work and developed our own tool that is better suited for cardboard and safer for kids.
He helped turn my duct tape prototype into a real working one that we took to the Philadelphia Maker Faire in October 2022 to test for the first time. There, we realized that, while the cardboard table was super cool and a great starter project for kids, a lot of parents didn't want it to be a permanent fixture in their homes. The way that we had designed the power tool attachment, it would be impossible to use it on its own without the cardboard workstation.
We changed the prototype dramatically, and then changed it again, and spent the past year and a half building new and improved prototypes, testing them with kids, making changes, and testing them again until we came up with something that was ready to launch. We applied for a provisional patent, got it on Kickstarter, and you know the rest!
We credit the final InvenTABLE design in large part to the hundreds of kids, parents, and educators who have tried our original prototypes and given us incredibly valuable feedback, and will be continuing down this path with every product we make!