Ayana Klein on Starting 3Dux/design
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
As a child, I was more interested in crafts and creating than specific toys. I was more often covered in paint, glue and marker than not. I would use old cereal and cardboard boxes, duct tape, fabric and art supplies to create anything from beds and table/chair sets for my stuffed animals to castles and kingdoms for plastic characters. I did use Lego more to create my own designs rather than what was on the cover of the box
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
Between my sophomore and junior year in High School, I took an architecture class at Columbia University in NYC. I was surprised and inspired by the realization that math and engineering concepts (my academic strengths) can actually work with art and design (my passion). This past summer, I shadowed at an industrial design firm and again, saw how form and function are both important when thinking about designing products we use everyday. At no point in my education had I been taught about how these two seemingly separate disciplines can really be combined. So this summer, I convinced my younger brother to join forces with me and we came up with a product that integrates math and science concepts with art, design and open-ended imaginative play (STEAM). Our architecture kits are made with 3D printed connectors (yes-we make them for every kit) and geometric cardboard shapes that children can use to create anything they can imagine. We engineered the connectors to fit most single-ply cardboard so kids never run out of raw material and also learn about creative repurposing.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I can’t say that I’m old enough to see real trends over time but I know that in my family, we almost never played video games and electronics. When we went to a restaurant or traveled, my mom packed playdough and crayons, not an ipad. One thing I’ve noticed recently while traveling is that everyone, even adults are plugged in to their devices and plugged out of reality. They are sitting and walking around looking at their devises, typing, talking and laughing at this little thing in their hands instead of the person next to them. As a teenager, of coarse I do that too, but I think its very important to balance virtual reality with “real reality”
There seem to be a lot of new toys that promote coding, CAD, creating virtual worlds, and computer engineering, which is also very cool but I don’t think it should replace using your hands.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
I think you should absolutely market test your product. Last summer, we made a bunch of connectors and cut up an amazon box and went to the public library to find kids. We had as many different kids as possible play with our architecture sets to validate the idea before we decided to go ahead and start the company. I think market testing your idea is key. I think they also need to be prepared for LOTS of hard work, setbacks and time. We had at least 30 different designs for our connectors before we created the ones we now use. There is a lot more engineering in these simple looking designs than one knows.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Find something (anything) outside of your social bubble that you are passionate about and pursue it. It’s super-easy to get caught up in your own social world. I think it’s important to have something that you can be proud of independently that you can call your own.
What does your typical day look like?
Most days I go to school like everyone else. After my work is done, I typically will answer emails, discuss business issues or upcoming events with the rest of the team (my family) and work on finding new avenues to get our product out there. Weekends are often busy for us, selling at markets, making more product, trouble shooting.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
1. I love talking about the business and product we created and watching kids play with the architecture kits. Parents, store owners, and educators are usually interested to hear about what we have created, how and why.
2. Working with kids. We often have a “play station” at markets so kids can test out the kits. They love to play with the sets and come up with the most interesting things to create. They always have a story about what they made and are eager to share their creation. It is a great feeling to know that something I created has such a positive effect on kids from a creative, educational and social perspective.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it? Cleaning the kitty litter stinks!
What and/or who inspires you?
My parents have been great role models, they have a stronger work ethic than anyone I know and they passed that on to both myself and Ethan, my brother. But more than that, they are not the kind of parents that tell us what we need to do. They are the kind of parents that sit down next to you and do it with you. I could have never launched 3Dux/design with Ethan alone. They have been with us every single step of the way, helping to guide and support us but still giving us the power to be the decision makers.
What was your life like growing up?
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today? We live in a safe suburban community with lots of opportunities. It has always been important to my parents that grow up to be citizens of the world. Through community service and traveling to places that you CANT find in the guidebooks, I think my brother and I have a good perspective of life beyond the walls of our town. I think that some of what we created has this thread. The connectors we made are quite cost-effective, reusable and fit most cardboard so unlike some super-high-tech educational products on the market, 3Dux/design is accessible, easy to use and teaches about sustainability as well as math and engineering.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
We have tried a number of markets in the NYC area and found that we do much better when children are at the shop. We now need to tailor our display to be more interesting to adults that shop without their kids.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
I will typically take a break, go to the gym or go out and come back fresh and ready to try again. Luckily, there is no shortage of things to do
Do you have any pets?
Yes, we have two cats and a gecko. The cats love out cardboard creations and infact, have been known to sit in, on and even under some of the prototypes.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Starbucks caramel macchiatto (I only get it on my birthday).
Do you play any musical instruments?
If so, which one(s)? Piano has been a passion of mine since I was 5. I have been teaching piano to young kids for 2-3 years now and some of my students are my strongest supporters for 3Dux/design. In fact, I gave a talk to 60 4th graders at the Easton, CT invention convention because of one of my students.
What’s your favorite cereal?
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
Happy endings for sure.
Summer of Winter?
Summer (except skiing)
Hugs or Kisses?
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
Do you have any special talents?
Art and piano
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Hopefully continue to grow 3Dux/design. If not, maybe an architect or an engineer, possibly a doctor, or start a new business.
Washington U in St Louis, Missouri!!!! Besides having wanted to go to this school for as long as I can remember, I’m also looking to bring 3Dux/design to the St Louis community schools and after-school programs.