Last July, we saw Isohedral’s Rocket Espresso Cup go viral. We were excited about the espresso cups, and clearly we weren’t the only ones! The espresso cups also caught the attention of Fred, of Fred and Friends, and now, a year later, a mass produced version the cups will be hitting shelves worldwide. We are very happy that Shapeways was able to play a part in the process, and we asked Craig a few questions about his journey from idea to mass market product.
Check out the interview below!
When did you first come up with the rocket cup?
We have an espresso machine in my lab at the University of
Waterloo. One day last spring I accidentally snapped the handle off of
one of the cups in the lab. In that moment of guilt I saw an opportunity!
I had been searching for a small 3D “canvas” upon which to play
with new designs, and I was particularly intrigued by Shapeways’ ability to
print in ceramic. The space of espresso cups seemed just right for
experimentation. The rocket cup design arose naturally during the
doodling session that followed, and was relatively easy to build as a 3D model,
despite my meagre skills.
What was your design process like?
There wasn’t much to it, really. My very first
pen-and-paper doodle laid down the basic design: a cup shaped like the lower
part of a rocket ship, resting on three fins. The cup body is made from
an ellipsoid and a paraboloid, two well-known mathematical shapes. Once I
started drawing the fins I homed in on a short, squat, “cute” design
that I thought would be more fun. I struggled to learn the software so
that I could round off edges (and modified the whole design later, based on
feedback from Shapeways). I also needed to make sure the cup would
physically fit in our lab’s espresso machine. I was at home at the time,
but my grad student helpfully sent me measurements by email.
Was this project very different from the way you usually
Absolutely! Nearly all of my computer graphics work is
two-dimensional, so doing anything 3D feels unusual. Even in past
experiments with 3D printing (such as my spherical Islamic star patterns, or
the Bunny-Bunny, created in collaboration with Henry Segerman), I wrote custom
software to generate models triangle by triangle. This process was much
more about getting the right design than about understanding the mathematical
and algorithmic structure of the problem.
What was your favorite part of the process?
At the concept stage I really enjoyed brainstorming new cup
ideas, trying hard to think as broadly and wildly as possible within the
constraints of the material and printing process. At the modelling stage I
enjoyed shaping the fins to achieve the right amount of cuteness. But of
course, my favourite part of the whole process was taking the cup prototype to
my local coffee shop and asking them to serve me an espresso in it! More
than anything else, that made it feel real.
Did you ever expect the viral success that the rocket cups
How could I? It’s clear that I was lucky to attract the
attention of a small number of influential blogs (including the Shapeways blog)
at the right time. Sure, I took steps to facilitate public attention,
like taking nice photographs and posting them online, but I can’t manufacture a
viral success — I can only be swept up into it. In the end I designed
something that *I* would like, and was surprised and overjoyed to find that
others liked it too.
How and when did you start working with Fred?
Fred sent me an email last August expressing an interest in
licensing the cup design. (He had previously tried contacting me on
Shapeways, but I wasn’t aware at the time that I had a private inbox filling up
with messages!) The rocket cup seemed like a natural product for
commercialization, so I jumped at the opportunity. Aside from signing the
contract and sending over a prototype cup, I wasn’t involved in the rest of the
magic — Fred handled product development and packaging design, and now
marketing, distribution, and all the other message details of the retail world.
It’s always fun when friends tell me they’ve seen the cup for sale in
Overall, what was your favorite part of the journey?
As a professor, the outcome of my work is usually a published
research paper, in which a new idea or algorithm is demonstrated in principle.
We’re lucky if we have the time and resources to produce a polished piece
of software, or a functional artifact. That’s why it has been so
satisfying to take an idea and push it all the way through the design process,
from a rough sketch in a notebook to a product on a store shelf. The fact
that I can use that design to consume one of my favourite beverages is just a
Congratulations Craig! We can’t wait to see in stores!