Feb 19, 2018

It All Started with a Critter

By Ken Carbone

On Valentine’s Day last week, I decided to take my first year MFA Design class on a field trip. Our destination was Kikkerland, the product development company now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Kikkerland is a design company driven by originality, humor, affordability and environmental concern that brings to market 300 products a year. These range from the delightful to the dependable and include a solar-powered waving Queen Elizabeth, to very practical multi-tools and computer peripherals. Their first major success was “Critter” designed by Chico Bicalho, a dancing wind up toy still sold in stores today.

The class was treated to a thoughtful presentation by Kikkerland’s founder Jan van der Lande and his design director Jay Lee. In a lively Q & A exchange, Jan openly shared the history of his company, the many challenges he faced and what has contributed to Kikkerland’s success since its inception in 1992. The class asked questions about idea generation, distribution, patents, successes and failures. When asked what was the greatest challenge facing Kikkerland today, Jan van der Lande said, “Amazon.com.” He explained that the concept of retail as we know it is being threatened by online shopping but added that Amazon.com is one of his “largest customers.”

The success of the trip is best summed up by the lessons I asked the class to share with Jan and Jay as a thank you for their presentation:

The logistics behind product development: from idea to consumer

1. Trust your instincts. Intuition doesn’t lie.
2. Produce, produce, produce. Never stop creating.
3. The relationship between innovation, trends, and customers.
4. The importance of storytelling for a brand.
5. Always keep in mind the consumer and their experience.
6. Take risks and don’t give up on your ventures.
7. Judge work by form, function, and beauty.
8. Stay true to your core values, don’t forget where you came from.
9. Collaborations can increase brand value and make lean business models.

In addition to the presentation, Jan and Jay gave us a tour of their showroom housing hundreds of products on display. As a souvenir of the trip each student received a copy of the Kikkerland 25th Anniversary catalog that includes the company’s history and culture, its “greatest hits,” key staff and profiles of many celebrated designers with whom the company collaborates.

As my course is titled “Getting From Theory to Reality,” the visit to Kikkerland was very much on point giving the class valuable exposure to a real life model of a design and business success.