Standing up for innovation

SIMON EDWARDS
Last updated 13:41 21/10/2014
Cardboard desks

PLATFORM FOR INNOVATION: Refold Cardboard standing desk inventors Matt Innes, Fraser Calloway and Oliver Ward have found plenty of people willing to sign on to their idea.

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The cheeky challenge of designers of a cardboard desk to "stand with us and elevate your workspace into the 21st century" is turning into a hit.

Oliver Ward from the Hutt Valley, and Wellingtonians Fraser Callaway and Matt Innes, are pitching for seed capital for Refold - a flexible, foldable, portable, affordable, recyclable cardboard desk.

They sought backers on the Kickstarter website, and looked to raise $25,000 by November 11.

But with 261 backers buying their desks, by yesterday they had already raised nearly $39,000, not far short of the amount they need to buy their own production machinery.

It all started with the most common excuse of design studios to not take on interns.

After a couple of years off study to play professional golf, Callaway returned to Massey University to finish his graphic design degree.

He teamed up with Wood for their honours paper project, and worked on easing the transition between study and gaining employment.

Their "modern take" on an internship was to plonk students in the middle of design studios where they would work on their university papers but also "immerse themselves" in what was going on in the workplace.

As the trio were to tell a TEDxWellington workshop earlier this year, meetings with the design studios would go the same way every time.

"They loved the concept, they said they would love to be involved . . . 'but we're at capacity here, we just don't have the physical desk space'," Callaway said.

"Ollie and I joked about designing furniture to solve that . . . by the fifth or sixth meeting suddenly we weren't joking any more.

"The whole project was in danger of falling over due to lack of desk spaces."

Refold was born.

"The desk is made from 7mm twin cushion craft cardboard.

"It folds and slots together in less than two minutes, using four main pieces, with no tape or glue.

"It can support the weight of a person, is 100 per cent recyclable, weighs 6.5kg and is easy to fold up again into a self-contained carrycase.

The project has won Red Dot awards in Singapore and Berlin for education and social responsibility in design, and is catching attention on a number of fronts.

It's a standing desk (and comes in three height levels).

Research has shown that when you stand as you work at your computer or whatever, you're more likely to engage with others and share ideas. Productivity increases.

More importantly, it's healthier.

Sitting has been labelled the new smoking because being sedentary for long periods in a seated position is bad for circulation, for backs and for increasing the risk of obesity.

Callaway says the portability of the $160 desks lends itself to all sort of non-traditional work uses - a tradesman who needs a desk on a construction site; temporary offices at a disaster site; pop-up retail shops, conventions.

In comments left on the Kickstarter site, people have even suggested the team make other cardboard furniture, including from a real estate agent involved in 'staging' houses for sale.

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In a "doing community good" strand of their operation, the Refold trio are pursuing talks with UNICEF to see if their desks could be used in classrooms in third world countries where pupils are often crammed around tables.

Through the aid agency, desks are being trialled in several Pacific Island schools.

Callaway says they're investigating whether their cardboard desks are suitable in very humid climates, or whether using corflute plastic sheeting would be better.

The level of interest in Refold has surprised even its inventors.

Enquiries, and investors on the Kickstarter site, are from all parts of the globe.

"We're still trying to get our heads around it.

"It's easy to get overwhelmed and dizzy from it all," Callaway says.

But it's urgent they "step back from the whirlwind" and secure agreements with manufacturing partners in the United States and Europe to "take advantage of the momentum".

While all desks sold in New Zealand and Australia will be made here using a digital fabrication process - maximising the potential for customisation - trying to ship Refold desks around the world would not only undermine efforts to keep it low cost but would be "incompatible" with the team's environment- friendly ethos.

The fact the desks are made from "printable, paintable" cardboard offers other opportunities. Not only can desk tops be easily replaced when they become a bit worn, the designers see their desk as a blank canvas.

They're linking up with a number of New Zealand artists and illustrations, starting with Wellington-based Gwil (Gwilym Devey).

- Hutt News

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