A House Of Cards

Among the many difficult classes at MIT:  toy design.


“It seems silly,” admits Nate Fox, a 2008 Staples grad now majoring in mechanical engineering.

Nate Fox pitches his idea.

“But toy product design involves really interesting challenges.  Toys have to be dirt cheap to make.  They have to be safe and functional.  And they have to work, look good, and be fun to play with.”

I’m exhausted just thinking about toys.

In Nate’s toy design class, students did lots of brainstorming.  They plastered Post-It notes all over the place.

Voilà!  A new toy idea was born.

Nate and an MIT friend, Michael Lo — who grew up in Stamford but competed for the Saugatuck Rowing Club — took the simple idea of card houses, and made it marketable.

Little kids love building houses of cards.  The problem, of course, is that they fall down with spectacular regularity.

Cardigo allows kids to express your innovation using common household objects.  A small plastic clip holds cards together, enabling construction of large, complex structures out of index, business playing cards — or anything else that fits into the clip.

A Cardigo castle

Nate and Mike’s clip enables cards to be used to construct castles, hats, abstract shapes — you name it, kids can build it.

It’s a lighter, more flexible Lego.  Of course, it’s nowhere near as popular as Legos — at least, not yet.

To help reach Lego territory, Nate and Mike turned to Kickstarter.  The innovative website links people with an idea — for a toy, a movie, a non-profit foundation, whatever — and folks who want to fund it.

The site shows how much is needed (in Cardigo’s case, $18,000 for custom molds, manufacturing costs and legal work, among others).  Various donation levels earn different rewards (special Cardigo cards, sponsor t-shirts, etc.).  A deadline is set; pledges are collected only if the entire goal is reached.

Nate and Mike also sell their product directly, through the Kickstarter site.

So far, they’re over 10 percent there.

Their project “really encourages out-of-the-box thinking,” Nate says, in full funding-seeking mode.  He’s gained experience in that aspect of toy-making, having already pitched to the MIT community, toy blogs, “mom” blogs, and online design communities.

“Making card houses can be tedious and frustrating,” he notes.  “This makes it easy and fun.  It’s great for kids who are very tactile, and like to build things.  It’s very educational, very spatial.”

Like their target market, Nate and Mike use their hands as well as their brains.

Leave it to a pair of MIT engineers to make money off a house of cards.

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