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Designer Q&A: Laptop Sticks by Dice Yamaguchi

Ben Kaufman’s company Quirky is all about finding great ideas from regular people and turning them into real, marketable products. Throughout the Quirky series, we’ll be bringing you stories from designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve either already brought their product from concept to completion or are right in the middle of that process – and all without the help of a company like Ben’s, like Dice Yamaguchi and his Laptop Sticks.

Tell me about Laptop Sticks.

Dice: LaptopSticks is a portable stand for laptops (primarily MacBooks) and Wacom tablets made of laser-cut bamboo plywood and two rubber o-rings. The LaptopSticks provide passive cooling by lifting the back of the laptop as well as better ergonomics with an angled keyboard and raised screen. The thin interlocking form allows it to fit into any bag or sleeve containing a laptop. It was designed for the user who wanted a thoughtfully designed product made of renewable and durable materials.

Where did you get the idea for it?

The LaptopSticks came about when I realized I would always be looking for a book or a pen – anything to prop up the back of my laptop to keep it cool when running CPU intensive applications. An added benefit to the position was that I didn’t have to crane my neck to look down onto the laptop screen. Looking for a more permanent solution, I came across a number of plastic, metal and mixed material construction products to provide a lift for a laptop. To me, they were all unappealing in both the aesthetic sense (including hinges, latches etc.) and from a sustainability perspective.

How did you get it made? Tell me about the production process.

I began to research alternative materials and existing products for inspiration. I looked into wood as a material and wanted to create a folding form so laptop users could take their stand with them everywhere. The earliest models looked like crossed chopsticks, which led to the product name LaptopSticks. I eventually chose bamboo plywood as the source material, a fast growing, renewable grass, and plywood, since solid wood tends to split along the grain.

The construction method had always been to laser-cut, as it allowed quick changes to the design for better fit and function and, more importantly, I was able to create close to 250 pieces from a single 4′ x 8′ sheet of ¼” plywood with very little waste. Laser-cutting allowed me to quickly have a large number of pieces made with minimal investment (no tooling and no inventory), as I was still a student when I developed the concept. I partnered with a furniture maker who had access to an industrial laser-cutter that would be able to cut 4′ x 8′ sheets in one shot. He took care of the logistics of getting them made and shipping them in bulk to me, and in turn, I created the packaging, communicated with customers, and fulfilled orders to individuals and resellers. I was able to request a sheet to be cut when I accumulated enough orders for another batch.

Before shipping the LaptopSticks out, they had to be cleaned of laser-cutting burn dust and sealed to keep from drying out. I experimented with various wood sealers, but finally arrived at olive oil, a non-toxic, pleasant smelling and simple to apply treatment that users could reapply themselves as needed.

I initially considered loops of material made from the interior of the LaptopSticks, but that was soon eliminated as the natural swelling and shrinking of the bamboo led to uneven fit when the loops were put around the three main parts. I switched to rubber o-rings as they were readily available, elastic to fit properly and provided a nice non-slip footing when the stand is used.

Now that it’s out there in the world, is it pretty much out of your hands at this point?

After selling a large number of LaptopSticks to individuals, customized versions for company promotions and to a reseller in Singapore, I quickly realized that I was no longer developing the next product and was simply an order taker. I ceased production and decided to use the remaining pieces as sort of a calling card for interviews, as I was nearing graduation. It has been incredibly successful as a tool to illustrate my interest in sustainability and my thinking process. I sell individual pieces occasionally and fill orders for large requests, but for the most part, I’ve moved on to other projects. There has been occasional interest from companies about licensing the design, but nothing firm yet.

What are you working on now?

I’ve joined two start-up companies, TRLBOT, a sustainable iPhone accessory maker who manufactures all of their products in the US, and the Conscious Commuter Corp., a folding electric bike company who will be building their bikes outside Portland OR out of recycled aluminum. After working for a year at office job, I’ve come to realize that I function best under multiple fast developing projects. I am currently preparing to teach design at both Art Center College of Design and Pasadena City College in addition to the two start-ups.

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