As I was walking through Boston’s South Station, I passed a stand, then stopped in my tracks. What had caught my attention were dozens of unique and intricate pop-up cards.
I ended up buying a couple of cards for my kids, but I also spoke with Katrina, who was staffing the stand, and took a bunch of pictures. These incredible cards were made by a local Boston company called Lovepop. As amazing as the cards themselves are, the story behind them is even more interesting.
Applying Naval Architecture To Paper Cut Design
Lovepop founders Wombi Rose and John Wise met ten years ago at the Webb Institute College of Engineering, where they both studied naval architecture and marine engineering. The friends re-met about 2½ years ago in business school, and wound up on a trip together to Vietnam. There they were inspired by beautiful hand crafted pop-up cards. Both engineers were struck by the idea that they could apply what they had learned as naval architects to design 3D paper craft pop-up cards.
“The greeting card market has gone sort of stale over the years. Sending or receiving a greeting card used to be a somewhat special and personal experience,” says Rose. “Now it is more like an obligation.” The pair saw a hole in the marketplace for something that people would really remember after they’d opened it.
Boat design uses a drawing called a lines plan to represent the complex three dimensional curves of a boat’s hull in a series of two dimensional slices. Their background in naval architecture and engineering gave Rose and Wise a unique insight into how these disciplines could be applied to make something beautiful.
Their inspiration was to turn their engineering knowledge of boat building towards the task of designing 3D models for pop-up cards. Their first designs were made in AutoCAD and Rhino, and cut out on a Silhouette cutter. After four or five designs they moved to a laser cutter.
Instead of large metal fabrication, their designs are now cut out on a laser cutter. Instead of welding, the paper models are simply assembled by hand.
“The creative aspect is exciting,” says Wise “When designing big ships you have to go pretty much by the book. With cards there’s such infinite creativity with what you can do. From choosing the subject matter, to designing the shapes and the base structure, and even developing the look for the cover.”
Rose and Wise launched their small company out of the Harvard Innovation Lab in 2014. As far as they know, they are the only ones applying such engineering disciplines to cutting and folding paper. They call the collection of processes and elements they use to make their cards, “Slicegami”.
“It’s interesting how many different frameworks we’ve adopted,” Rose says. “Basically everything we learned in naval architecture class, we could apply to making cards.”
Engineering with a Heart
Rose and Wise quickly discovered when looking to hire card designers that most people didn’t have the skills to apply their techniques to card design. Most people aren’t familiar with making a lines plan for a boat hull, but the problem went deeper than that. You need to have an engineering mindset, and design for producibility and scalability as well.
Lovepop is a young company with a big heart. Rose and Wise thought about ways to apply their knowledge beyond the scope of their business in a positive way.
Wise started working with a local Boston organization called The Possible Project, where high school students develop and run their own businesses. The Possible Project helps students develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and gain the skills needed to create a sustainable business. The Lovepossible partnership developed and now students in the program learn 3D modeling and develop custom card designs for Lovepop. A portion of the proceeds generated from the cards go back to The Possible Project and to the student.
Many of the kids in The Possible Project don’t have a lot of hope going in. “The three students that we worked with ended up getting coverage in the Boston Chronicle,” says Wise. “When they went back to their school they were mini celebrities. Now all 80 students in their class want to be part of The Possible Project next year.” This is the reason working to help students develop engineering skills and apply them to business is so exciting to Wise and Rose.
The Future for Lovepop
Wise and Rose are really excited with the growth they’ve seen at Lovepop. They plan to go on innovating and growing. Next on the horizon is a custom wedding invitation platform, which is targeted for launch at the end of 3rd quarter this year.
“We are going to continue to experiment with how far we can push the envelope on our designs,” they say.