We had the opportunity to pick the brain of Andy Van Meter, President of Design Ideas.
Aiming to bring wonder, delight and order to the office and home, Design Ideas is constantly pushing the envelope to make everyday objects extraordinary. It all started in 1983 when brother-sister team Andy & Alice were in college. Fed up with filthy plastic buckets to tote toiletries to and from dorm bathrooms, they invented a wire basket that allowed soap and water to drain. While the idea had great success at the school’s bookstore, the design duo now enjoys global success with a wide variety of objects that still serve to solve as meaningful and modern solutions.
Q: Your entrepreneurial career started with an improvement to the standard (often filthy) shower caddy for college students; a wire basket that allows soap and water to drain. Was this your first big idea, or have you always had an eye for problem-solving inventions?
Q: How did you go from the success of that idea in college bookstores to where you are today with Design Ideas?
A: Step by step. We gradually figured out that many college students were buying their dorm items before they arrived at school. So, we sought out mainstream retailers who were welcoming college dorm buyers. Two of our best customers were Crate and Barrel and The Container Store. They had a phenomenal success with our original product and began to ask us for more products. We really didn’t have any more products but we learned that if we listened carefully to the very shrewd buyers at these companies they would clue us into products that they needed. So, we began to respond to their needs and it turned out that very often they were leading the market. Other retailers needed the same things.
Q: The Design Ideas story is an example of what many would call “The American Dream.” What is the best advice you can give those who have creative ideas and want to grow their own business?
A: Try it! Don’t be afraid. Give it a try. Take a calculated risk knowing that you could lose everything you invest, but try it.
Q: Andy, you have compared your job to the joyful feeling of coloring in kindergarten. Do many of the designs actually start out with simple and creative crayon drawings?
A: Most of the very best products start out at the dinner table. Often after a glass or two of wine. They initially get drawn on a napkin or the back of a placemat.
Q: You’ve successfully been able to encompass your fun, playful and innovative designs under the Design Ideas slogan “We make things interesting.” What’s another short saying that you like to live life by?
A: Non illigitimati carborundum. Don’t let the bastards get you down.
Q: What’s one Design Ideas product that you use every day and couldn’t go without?
A: My mesh pencil cup. It is so practical and so affordable and a constant reminder to me that our best successes come from adapting a new material to solve a problem.