As you may know, the thing I enjoy most about being a design journalist is meeting and hearing from designers themselves. The effort of designing and producing something from scratch is not for the faint-hearted, and I’m always impressed to meet people who’ve followed their passions through to create something unique (especially when they’ve abandoned a previous career to do so!). When I saw the pieces from IO Kids Design, I knew I had to find out a bit more about this wonderfully fresh and contemporary design brand, and so it’s a real pleasure to introduce founder Mina Panic to the blog today…
How long ago did you start IO Kids Design, and how did the idea come about?
I have always been intrigued by products for children as they represent a different challenge and having a family of my own was another reason to explore this interest further. With children’s products the challenge has a lot to do with creating products that can stand the test of time in order to get the maximum usage whilst at the same time designing eye-catching pieces that are functional, that have friendly appeal and which are also easy to use. Our range was partly inspired by this challenge as much as a personal desire to create interesting and functional pieces for my own children.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you did before?
My background is design, art history and documentary film. I studied at Goldsmith’s College in London and worked on a number of exciting projects before founding IO Kids Design to produce my own furniture. I think my diverse background has created a valuable pool of skills that I regularly utilise for different purposes at IO Kids Design, including design, photography, styling and branding amongst other things.
Where do you start when designing a new piece?
The ideas for new pieces come from most unexpected places. Often the pieces are created as a response to a problem or a task to solve (like my daughter wanting a bunk bed!) and sometimes the inspiration comes from making connections with something that is already familiar and then applying it in a new, unusual and fun way. In each case there has to be a need for a product and a good concept behind it.
We tend to do a lot of initial research at the beginning of every project to understand better how particular design can be used and how it can fit into children’s and parents lives. After sketching and model making we quickly move to prototyping which is as exciting as the early stages of research because it is often full of surprises with design evolving further, sometimes to suit a particular production technique. Each stage is as exciting as the one before and of course seeing the finished products and how children react and interact with it is the best part of the whole process.
Throughout each of those stages it is important to remember to continue seeing the world through children’s eyes and to observe how they use, play and interact with objects around them.
How do you combine work with parenthood? What’s the most challenging aspect for you and how do you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been creating the right balance between family life and investing enough time into managing the growing business, with an equal amount of time dedicated to ensuring that the studio also comes up with interesting pieces and projects which will enable us to maintain the visibility on the market and continue creating innovative pieces. It is a constant juggling act.
Luckily my children love being involved with the research stages and their insights can often inspire ideas and aid the creative process. They are also the first ones to try out the new pieces and provide constructive feedback.
You work mainly with plywood – why is this?
Some of my favourite designers worked with plywood and I have always thought of it as being a special material. I remember with great fondness having plywood furniture as a child. For me the very nature of plywood evokes certain emotions and memories – comfort, playfulness and safety – it is material that is very much close to my heart.
We also enjoy working with plywood because of its warmth and resilience and also because it is such a versatile material that is easy to use in different ways such as bending and flexing. Those processes actually enhance the very essence of this material, bringing out its beauty, grain and texture.
Can you tell us a little bit about the background of the Doodle Box, as this is such a unique piece?
Like the IO Bunk Pod, the IO Doodle Box was inspired by my daughters. Since art and design are both mine and my partner’s passion, it was probably inevitable and certainly welcomed that the girls’ interests would tend in similar directions. The IO Doodle Box was very much conceived as an encouragement of this interest as well as an exercise in creating as many usable functions relating to arts and crafts in one piece of furniture that will hopefully become an important part of their childhood and growing life.
The Doodle Box is designed with integrated wheels that allow children to easily move it around. It also doubles as a bench seat with internal storage for art work and removable tray for drawing and painting accessories which ensures that materials are always to hand. The piece also accommodates a roll of paper which when pulled over the lid creates a drawing board.
What’s your hope for the company’s future?
We have started a few exciting collaborations with Scandinavian-based designers which will make this year and beyond very interesting for our brand.
In terms of our objectives they remain the same, we want to continue creating exciting, fun and innovative pieces. In terms of practice our aesthetic is definitely related to function and it has kept evolving in that direction – continuing the exploration of ideas and techniques that will help strengthen the core principles behind the concept of creating adaptable and multifunctional furniture that can be used not only for a long time but also in different ways thus reducing the need to replace it.
What piece of kids’ design do you most admire?
There are quite a few pieces that come to mind, from successful newcomers to older brands with a long tradition so perhaps the best answer may be to say that I am always drawn to pieces that are surprising and innovative and which demonstrate good ergonomics, quality, function, craftsmanship and also meticulous execution in materials.
When you’re not running the business, how do you like to spend your time?
With my friends and family.
Anything else you’d like to add?
With IO Kids Design we aim to create good design that will be enjoyed by children and adults too. Good design for us is not only about the way things look but also very much about how things work or function. If the design is well considered and can be easily used then this will ensure it will be around and in use for a long time. Good design should excite and delight and we hope that with our pieces we will be able to do the same.
Thanks Mina for your time! Check out IO Kids Design here>