We are speaking today with Sara Leggett, co-founder of San Francisco-based Design Trifecta, makers of the unique 360 Knife Block.
Sara, where do you find inspiration when designing new products?
Designer Henry Leggett is inspired by clean lines and elegant design that doesn’t compromise style for function. Each product is designed with a target market in mind. Identifying everyday housewares needs that are unsatisfied by current designs led to our knife block whose magnets allow visible displays of knives with 360 degree access. Henry expands on that need to provide uncompromising design quality by engineering and prototyping in our own woodshop and then rigorously testing with industry experts.
Are there any specific designers, places or eras that influence you?
Danish modern design has influenced Henry, who also studied the Bauhaus and the work of masters such as Le Corbusier while earning an MA in furniture design. The basic concept is “form follows function.”
How do you choose which idea to take to the next step — to product development?
We are really lucky—Henry is not only a designer, he is also a master craftsman with 15 years of hands-on woodworking experience. He is able to draft his ideas, program them into our robotic CNC router and we are able to rapid prototype in our own wood technology shop. Henry’s design process includes assessing products that can be made cost effectively in our own local factory, so we can go from idea to working sample in one month.
How do you identify the key user audience for your products?
Each product is designed with a target market in mind. We know some people spend a lot of money on knives. A Bob Kramer knife can run you more than $500. Are you going to throw it into a drawer? We created a safe, stable, beautiful way to display your knives. The 360 Knife Block is for people who love their knives. The market already existed, we just designed a product for the growing segment of knife and cooking enthusiasts.
Is there an approach or look that joins the functionality, form or emotional appeal of your product line?
Form meets function IS our entire process. Function is a given, but a skilled designer makes that function beautiful. The challenge is to avoid the manufacturing trap of cutting corners. A Chinese company knocked off our idea last year, but they cut every corner. This was a vindication in a way, because not only is the design unappealing to look at it also fails to function and is therefore a safety hazard. Henry Leggett refuses to cut corners, so each design is engineered to be the best at what it does, and since we build everything ourselves we know that no one can build to our quality at a lower price.
We use a 11-layer multi-ply material, which is significantly more ecological than using solid wood. It’s super strong and also sustainably made in Oregon. The seven different woods are all real wood. The multi-ply is custom veneered in an Oregon mill—it’s made just for us—for consistent results. The solid wood exteriors can serve as the centerpiece for any style of kitchen. We don’t use any dyes or stains, even the ebonized oak of the black version is made using an iron vinegar – the natural reaction with wood tannins turns oak’s tannins black. We finish each block with a special food-safe finish is that is easily replenished with any butcher block oil, so with proper care your 360 Knife Block will last a lifetime. We also offer a care kit, complete with sandpaper, sanding block, gloves, two rags and a small jar of “Good Stuff” food-safe finish.
How do new technologies influence your product design? Do you use 3-D printing, Kickstarter or other platforms to develop or launch products?
Yes, Yes and YES. Technology is the foundation of our product design, engineering and prototyping process. We own a CNC router for repeatable and accurate wood manufacturing. For the 360 Knife Block custom steel base we had a sample 3D printed locally to ensure it would fit. We draft all new ideas in CAD and Solidworks and we even launched the 360 Knife Block on Kickstarter. We plan to launch other new design concepts on the same platform.
How do you use social media?
I earned an MBA from Thunderbird in 2015 and applied that knowledge to the founding of Design Trifecta. Direct sales supply chains, crowdfunding and social media marketing have been the cornerstone of our marketing strategy.
My social media goal is to provide “edu-tain-ment.” I want to make you smile while you learn something. The goal of social media is to ‘inspire the share’ and I want people to say, “Wow, I didn’t know that, I have to share this.” We have the added bonus of owning our factory, so not only do we post the standard product beauty shots but we also engage our followers in the production process. We want people to be connected to the 360 Knife Block from its beginnings as raw wood and magnets through the hand-made assembly and finishing, so that when it arrives in their kitchens owners know that they have something truly special.
Where are your products manufactured?
We make each and every 360 Knife Block ourselves in our own wood technology factory in San Francisco, California.
When faced with expanding manufacturing to meet demand we had a lot of options. We talked with factories in China, Mexico and the U.S. and no one could come close to our price. Even China was more expensive and we would have lost our quality (with 16 joints that all have fit perfectly it’s actually very hard to assemble!) and our IP assets. In the end, we decided to invest in technology and expand our existing operation to make the 360 Knife Block in greater numbers ourselves.
How do you see design’s importance in our industry as it moves forward?
Our industry is design. All we do is think of clever solutions to fill a gap in the market that we can make in our factory.
Our 360 Knife Block is “deceivingly simple, surprisingly hard to make” because good design should be simple, should have clean lines and should have flawless function. But rarely do all these come together in one revolutionary product, and that is what makes the 360 Knife Block so special.
Can you give us a preview of what you will be showing in your booth in Discover Design?
We will be showing a re-engineered 360 Knife Block, now with an improved bearing integrated base and 11-layer multi-ply custom veneered wood. We spent last year scaling our factory and adjusting the 360 Knife Block internal workings to better accommodate our increased demand.
Tell us about your previous experience with Discover Design and how our Show helped build your relationships with buyers and media.
Discover Design is the place to go for “design forward” new products. We met many buyers and large name vendors who stroll through Discover Design searching for the next big idea. The IHA team is so supportive and keeps me informed on all the additional opportunities to get our product in other locations, from the New Product Showcase to the Discover Design display and the press room. The Sunday night cocktail party is a great way to invite buyers to your booth for a casual evening where the food and drink are taken care of by Discover Design! We are hosting an “in booth event” from 3:30 to 5:30 Sunday March 19 just because we can flow into the Discover Design event, how cool is that!?!
Discover Design is the premier destination at the International Home + Housewares Show for trend spotters who make design their priority. Nearly 200 design leaders will present their products in all Show categories to delight retailers looking for the unique at the Discover Design Expo located at the front of the North Building.
Anchored by renowned brands such as Alessi, Nambe and Joseph Joseph, Discover Design welcomes new exhibitors, such as 3 Sprouts, Stelton, Sophistiplate and Victoria Lekach, and introduces 10 emerging companies at the Design Debut incubator. Additional fresh offerings from veteran design-focused exhibitors such as Dreamfarm, Koziol and Three by Three will also inspire your choices for the coming year.
Learn more about Discover Design exhibitors.