How local kids created an Engineering Toy company
What do you get when you combine one part inspiration, one part innovation, and a third part imagination? 3DuxDesign is the brainchild of Fairfield Warde High School graduate and current Washington University freshman Ayana Klein and her brother Ethan, now a sophomore at FWHS. Their company creates fun, kid-friendly architecture kits which show how art and creativity interact with geometry and engineering. “This is the next-generation Lego,” says Ethan. The idea came about after Ayana spent a summer studying architecture at Columbia University. “I fell in love with the idea of designing something for the end user,” she says. “I felt that learning architecture makes learning math and science more meaningful and engaging and I was inspired to share that with younger children.”
The idea is simple; through the design of resin “connectors” Ethan created on a 3D printer, simple cardboard can be transformed into architectural masterpieces like forts, rocket ships, boats, or anything a child can dream up. After months of collaborative research and design, market testing, third party product safety testing, packaging, and website development, the first batch of 3D connectors hit the market in September 2017.
“The initial idea was to just create the connectors which were designed specifically to fit all shipping box cardboard, making the product both cost effective and eco-friendly,” says Dr. Marci Klein, Ayana and Ethan’s mom, business partner, and a pediatrician for over 20 years. “But as we market tested at local venues with children and I watched children play, I realized that adding geometric shapes in the appropriate proportions would add tremendous educational value.” They decided to create “kits” which include both connectors and die-cut cardboard shapes that transform into a specific design. The first three kits developed—a house, a modern museum, and a fire station—were so popular that shortly thereafter, they added a rocket ship, a sailboat, and a birdhouse to the collection.
3DuxDesign came onto the scene just as STEAM education began to take off in schools around the country, primarily as it incorporates arts into the framework of STEM (the study of science, technology, engineering, and math). By broadening the discipline and making learning fun, a wider range of children are getting excited about STEAM education. “I have seen children of different ages, races, sexes, and even native languages working together on a single project side by side,” Dr. Klein explains. “Some kids like to color and decorate the geometric forms, others prefer to build. Some create very “structural” buildings, some make completely abstract sculptures.” The concept of building something with their hands appeals even to the youngest learners. “I have taught children down to four years of age how to distinguish between acute, right, and obtuse angles and have had in depth discussions with six year olds about the “structural” integrity of their bridge,” she says.
Almost as quickly as 3DuxDesign got off the ground, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise money to provide kits to underfunded schools. “Over the past year, we have met many educators that would like our materials and lesson plans for their programs, but just don’t have the funding. These are the same schools that often don’t have adequate materials for a strong STEAM curriculum,” Dr. Klein explains. As a result of this campaign, they hope to supply over 30 schools with materials, curricula, and lesson prompts. In addition, Ayana and Ethan were awarded a $10,000 grant after winning the CT Next Entrepreneur Award at the Maker Faire in Westport last year. The money was used to buy a die-cutter machine, which creates the cardboard shapes included with the kits.
With Ayana serving as the lead product designer, Ethan the engineer and production manager, and mom as educational consultant and marketing guru, 3DuxDesign is thriving. While Ayana is away at college, she counts on Ethan and her mom to handle the day-to-day operations, but is still involved with overall decision making and marketing strategy. “I do a lot of the manufacturing on Saturdays and I now have some friends that help me with packaging the products,” says Ethan. “Somehow, I still have time to get my homework and studying done, but I don’t watch much tv or play video games, so that helps.” Dr. Klein is taking time off from her work as a pediatrician to help Ayana and Ethan grow the company as well. “As a pediatrician I have always felt that a healthy mind leads to a healthy body so while I no longer wear a white coat, I do feel that growing 3DuxDesign to its potential is in essence, the same mission.”
Where to Buy 3DUX Designs
›› Hobby Town 847 Post Rd, Fairfield
›› Age of Reason 9 Post Rd W, Westport
›› Discovery Museum 4450 Park Ave, Bridgeport
›› Ally Bally Bee 45 Ethan Allen Hwy, Ridgefield and 134 Elm St, New Canaan
›› Local Soul 90 Old Ridgefield Rd, Wilton