While classmates at the University of Virginia, Josh Williams and Eric Prum studied economics and American politics, respectively, but in time it became clear their future would revolve around design. As the story goes, Williams' zeal for vintage kitchenware and Prum's nack for fashioning impromptu drinking tools out of found objects, gave rise to their first product 'the Mason Shaker.'
From that idea, the now-relocated Brooklyn, New York-based besties hatched W&P Design, which today operates as a vertically-integrated, boutique design shop that today has more than 100 products. Unlike traditional design studios--which, say, just work on one aspect of a crafting a product, W&P shepherds its products from the ideation stage to manufacturing to getting it on store shelves.
It's gratifying to see "a concept or an idea go from a drawing on a piece of paper to a product in the store, on the shelf and seeing people actually use it," says Williams.
Even better, having it win awards. The company's Homemade Gin Kit, a pre-packaged assemblage of ingredients for making your own small-batch gin, won Inc. Magazine's 2015 Best in Class Design Award for the packaging and design category. The idea for the product came from two friends, Jack Hubbard and Joe Maiellano, who partnered with W&P Design to redesign, rebrand, repackage and relaunch the product in a more sustainable way.
"It's a conversation-starter," noted fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, who served as a judge for this year's Best in Class awards. "I love the DIY aspect of this packaging--it makes the complicated distilling process seem easy and fun to do."
Indeed, the Homemade Gin Kit comes with almost everything you need to make gin at home in just 36 hours. It includes two 375ml glass bottles, a fine stainless steel strainer, a stainless steel funnel, a botanical blend, and juniper berries. The only other thing you'll need is a bottle of generic vodka. You can find the Homemade Gin Kit online and in stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, for $50 to $55.
But what is it like to design a DIY product like the Homemade Gin Kit? "When it comes down to it, the process for designing a kit like this is really about user experience," says Williams. He had to put himself in the position of somebody opening the product up and using this kit.
Williams and his design team had to imagine themselves as a first-time user who doesn't know much about gin or isn't familiar with the process. Then, they had to think about going through the process of making gin and using this kit step by step. Through this, they found that clear directions were needed to make this kit a success. Using these clear directions, they took a complicated process and broke it down into easy-to-understand steps. As Williams said, the key to this product was starting with the user experience, and building around that.
Naturally, there were plenty of obstacles along the way. The biggest problem W&P Design had to overcome was the recipe. With 14 different herbs and spices that had to be combined in a certain way in exact amounts, this proved to be a design difficulty with the consistency of the product. But they overcame this problem by breaking the recipe down to a science, where the individual tins of spices were put together the same way for every gin kit.
Despite these challenges, Williams adds that a designer should remain optimistic. "We view it as part of the fun of creating something new," he says. As far as his overall advice, he suggests looking around at what others are creating and realize that everything is doable, and always question why things are done a certain way, and not in another way. It's about "distilling a concept or problem down to its core and then designing goods around that."