Ideas are Things

This Blog is devoted to awesomely designed toys.  I define toys rather loosely to include dual-functionality products that have a fun aspect to them and could be considered toys for the bigger kids (myself).

I absolutely love to inspect and admire well designed products.  I also really enjoy toys.  They make life fun for everyone.  Who does not have a toy that they played with and remember most from childhood?  My favorite toy growing up was Lego because of all the possibilities from just a simple set of snapping bricks.

Some folks think that when you grow up you should not play with toys anymore because they are for children…  Well, to be brutally honest, they can go be sad grownups who work their lives away hoping to save for some kind of retirement so they can enjoy toys again.

Toys do not just appear out of nowhere.  They are being designed and created and tested and manufactured using highly detailed engineering techniques and practices which include various high-tech technologies in manufacturing and design.  It never ceases to amaze me when I look at a clever toy such as an action figure or puzzle that has numerous joints and detailed parts.  Each one of those parts were thought of and sketched out then taken through the conceptual design phase.  Then being created individually inside an injection mold and assembled with skill to achieve the proper movements and quality.

Through my experiences as a product designer I have learned every aspect of this process.  My own cool toy – the Swirl Wowflute has been such an enjoyable experience to work on.  It has been in the research and development phase for nearly fifteen years and may not ever leave this phase – there are always ways to improve upon an existing design.  I find it rather interesting when I compare some of my year old handmade Swirl Wowflutes with newer ones I made last week.  They are completely different!?  I did not intentionally change the design, but it gradually morphed into what works better and better.

I finally decided to make a manufactured version of the Swirl Wowflute in 2012 as part of a University capstone project.  I spent many long hours attempting to use Autodesk Inventor to make a digital replica of my popular handmade flutes.  I look at the design process as a form of art – even when you are designing a manufactured product.  That product was a concept, an idea – that suddenly becomes tangible in the real world.  This is the purpose of art, is it not?  Producing some kind of physical product from an idea.

I got to use the $10,000 3D printer on my project to print out prototypes for testing.  In this capstone project I was not able to produce a working prototype that was tuned because the time was limited in class.  I did get a functional prototype that whistled though and played it as part of a presentation.  It was not enough for me to just make something that was just there.  I like interaction, and dual-functionality.  I wanted an end product that would build on someones creativity.

Onward and upward.  After I graduated college I had the desire to make this manufactured Wowflute a reality.  I could see the prototypes that were once just simple ideas in my hand – it gave me a sense of excitement and awe.  Ideas truly are things!  It was an ah-ha moment I will not easily forget and it’s worth repeating – Ideas are things.

During my final semester at Southern Utah University I had decided to throw out all my required classes and took what I wanted to learn about.  I took a marketing class from a talented Professor Ellen Treanor who knew how to make a subject interesting and exciting.  I always looked forward to her classes.  One class she introduced us to a website called Kickstarter.  The opportunites I saw almost made my head explode!  I saw the potential to make the manufactured Wowflute a reality in a simple project based platform.  After graduation I took a boring job to make ends meet all the while selling my handmade Swirl Wowflutes on the side.  I soon felt the urgency to quit my well paying salaried + commission job and pursue the dream of bring my Wowflutes to a much larger audience.

I acquired some investments from an awesome friend of mine and started on the process in making a quality manufactured version.  I spent the next five months finding a manufacturer and a product designer who knew how to design for injection molds.  I created a high resolution prototype using the SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) method and tried it out.  It worked well but was way out of tune.  I asked my designer to make the walls thicker and the holes 25% larger.  This would effectively reduce the chamber size and increase the change between holes.  I had another SLS prototype made and to my great astonishment – it sounded better than expected!  It was in tune perfectly.  The many years of making the handmade Wowflute (30,000 of them) had paid off.

I then took that prototype and ran with it on kickstarter.  My kickstarter project was a success and the Tritan Wowflute was brought to life.  This did not appease my appetite – for I had tasted it, Ideas are Things!

So as you pa-ruse my website, know that I am passionate about design in general and I beleive in making ideas reality.  Optimism is key in anything great.  You will always have the naysayers and the haters who are really just jealous.  You can feel sorry for them.  You can use their negative energy to instill what I call “the Oh Yeah Factor”.  The “You wanna make a bet?”  The “I’ll show him”, this is powerful stuff.  I use it all the time.

Thanks for taking the time to read to this point.  Now I will reward you with some pictures of awesomely designed toys that I like:

The Creepy Face Woody Doll:

woody - ebe whistle wide

The loveable, babylike Baymax:

Endurance is patience concentrated. – Thomas Carlyle 

A photo posted by Joseph Cowlishaw (@joecow) on

Pixar’s Carl Fredricksen from UP:  

Good timber does not grow with ease. The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees. – Thomas S. Monson A photo posted by Joseph Cowlishaw (@joecow) on

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