Calamityware is a tiny, five-person, one-dog company headquartered in the bridge-infested city of Pittsburgh. We’re so small we have our weekly team meetings around a kitchen table. (If you spot a splotch of grape jelly on our Kickstarter page, you’ll know why.)
We believe in three things—having fun, taking naps, and making you happy. We’re sure we’re doing okay on the first two, and, based on the extravagantly ebullient missives we’ve received, we seem to be doing okay on the third as well.
The idea for Calamityware grew out of a slightly fanatical habit of Don Moyer, who draws strange and otherworldly creatures doing everyday activities and posts the sketches on Flickr.
After 30 years running his own successful communication and design consultancy, he jumped off the 9-to-5 train, took a long nap, and started Calamityware.
Calamityware’s first product was a Blue Willow porcelain plate festooned with a beautiful Chinese pagoda and grouchy flying monkeys. We launched it on Kickstarter in 2013, and $19,270 later, the first batch of Don’s creatures began to march into existence, with more of Don’s monsters, robots, and aliens snapping at our heels.
I’m the founder of Calamityware, and my drawings are the basis for all of Calamityware’s products. Here’s the main thing I can tell you about the creative process: It is a model of inefficiency.
Let me explain what happens. I draw in my sketchbook every day. I have for years. The purpose of these drawings is to amuse myself. I draw things I see around me. I draw patterns. I draw creatures, monsters, and aliens. I draw exotic vehicles, letterforms, human faces, and anything else that captures my fancy.
My daily drawings are pure fun. As a basis for new products, though, they are usually wretched. But on rare occasions a sketch will exhibit a faint glimmer of promise. Then the serious work begins.
When I’m developing a product idea, I do dozens of sketches, variations, and refinements to resolve all the details. Adjustments to an alien’s antennas, the spaces between letters, and the density of a shadow can take weeks. Often, in the end the alien is eliminated, the specific letters are changed, and the shadow is superfluous. The effort of chasing perfection can sometimes be fun, but it’s rarely relaxing. Fortunately, if the fun evaporates, I just drop the whole project and work on something else.
As soon as possible in the process, I try to transition from flat sketches to physical models. That means if I’m doing a mug, I wrap the design around a cylinder of the right size. If I’m creating a bandana, I try printing the image on fabric at the true size. If I’m making a jigsaw puzzle, I print a sample of the design in color at the final size and cut tiny masks to preview how much detail will appear on a typical puzzle piece.
As the design develops, I share each iteration with the team to get their feedback. This results in more rounds of adjustments.
Sometimes they convince me that an idea I love is wrong. Then I set it aside for a while and share it with them a few months later, hoping that they will like it the second time around.
So far, this ploy hasn’t worked. They always seem to remember what they didn’t like.
If we haven’t already figured out who can produce the product, we start looking for a qualified workshop. We need someone who has mastered quality and won’t be a torture to work with. When we identify a good partner, I complete a master artwork file, and the workshop makes a prototype.
Sometimes the first prototype is perfect. But often there are subtle problems with materials, colors, scale, and details. This results in a series of exchanges with the workshop to explain what’s wrong and get the workshop to make fixes.
The process can take months, but eventually we get to a great prototype. We sign off on that, get the product loaded onto Kickstarter.
Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform that eliminates risk. By describing a new project and inviting supporters to pledge, we can make sure there is sufficient interest to justify a production run. If not enough people want to support the project, no pledges are collected and we have no obligation to produce anything.