These Two Toy Makers Found Innovation (And Success) Using LEGOs and Tape
Like most kids, Anine Kirsten played frequently with LEGO bricks growing up. In addition to the toys’ obvious appeal to childhood fun, her engineer father had blessed them as educational and thus a worthwhile way for his daughter to spend her time. It was around then that she began to think that she might follow in her father’s footsteps, in a way, by becoming a toy designer.
A few decades later, Kirsten had accomplished exactly that, and part of her job was making the annual trek to the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Like a kid in a toy store, the Toy Fair is a place of inspiration and wonder for adults like Kirsten to find the inspiration to conceive and develop these treasured playthings. Since 1903, toy makers and marketers have convened every February for this industry trade show, and one of the mainstays at the event is LEGO, the Danish-born company whose plastic locking building blocks have enthralled children and adults alike for generations.
Over the years, the sets have evolved from remedial construction toys to increasingly elaborate and sophisticated collections that allow you to construct models of anything from the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House to just about every character, vehicle, structure, or weapon that’s ever appeared in a Star Wars film. During her 2016 visit, Kirsten and her friend and fellow designer, Max Basler, found themselves drawn to the numerous LEGO displays. When they returned home, Kirsten dug out some of her old LEGOs and, with Basler, began conceptualizing the innovation — and doing the many hours of research and trial-and-error prototyping — that would become Nimuno Loops.
Despite LEGOs’ impressive history, the globally popular blocks have always had one flaw: They don’t bend. (Any parent who’s ever accidentally stepped on one while shoeless will affirm this with a knowing wince.) No matter how curvilinear you want your LEGO creation to be, the arcs you build with these sharp-cornered and rigid-edged bricks have to be locked in such a way that inevitably leaves your project with a pixelated look.
Not anymore. Nimuno has a patent-pending product for its Loops, a sort of LEGO-compatible tape that can be cut, bent, twisted, and swirled into any shape, and then built upon with traditional LEGOs. (Some of the blocks in Nimuno’s Indiegogo video came directly from Kirsten’s childhood collection, and Nimuno’s marching orders for the tape couldn’t be simpler: Cut. Stick. Build. Play.) After the Toy Fair, Kirsten’s and Basler’s objective revolved around thinking of ways to make an iconic product even better.
“The fair was crucial in playing a role in discovering this idea,” says Kirsten, who is partnering with Basler to develop Nimuno products for Chrome Cherry Design Studio, which is probably best known for its work on the line of Ybike balance bicycles for toddlers. “We love going to the show because you get to see what’s new and innovative — you’re just walking around the complex being hit from all sides by lights, colors, people — all things that inspire you. It really helps us designers expand our minds. After the fair we came across the idea and took it back to Capetown to start working on it.”
This involved what Chrome Cherry designers call “Mad Hatter Mondays,” brainstorming sessions that can unfold at the beach, in a park, or anywhere that isn’t the office. “We take our minds out of our regular space to expand our creative thinking,” Kirsten says. “That’s when we came up with and really grew the idea. We were convinced it would be great product, and we spent the rest of the year bringing it to life.”
The reason Nimuno Loops are even possible is that LEGO’s patents mostly expired by the late-1980s; since then a kind of open source platform for LEGO-related development has emerged, resulting in complementary toy building block companies such as Brixo, which completed its own highly successful Indiegogo campaign in May, 2016. “We’ve already met with Brixo about doing some cross-pollination with Loops, and they’re really excited,” Basler says.
Nimuno is awaiting imminent feedback from the United States Patent Office, which will either green-light Loops as-is or instruct the company to refine its concept so it doesn’t encroach too closely upon other existing patents. Kirsten and Basler are confident that their design — which uses flexible plastic and a strong but reusable double-sided adhesive similar to 3M’s VHB tape — is close to approval, and they’ll likely know for sure within weeks.
They’re also quite certain that demand for the finished product will be strong: Nimuno used the Indiegogo platform to request a mere $8,000 to help pay for tooling and casting the tape, and with just under three weeks left in their campaign, the project has attracted almost 37,000 backers who have pledged $1.43 million and counting.
During its campaign Nimuno heard from a wide variety of backers, including (according to the comments they left) an inordinate number of grandparents who shared things like, “I’m going to be the coolest granny ever when I give these as gifts!” Kirsten says she also was struck by how creatively people — children and adults alike — planned to use the Loops tape. “I’ve seen utilitarian suggestions such as sticking your cellphone on the wall next to your bed if you use it as an alarm,” she says. “And another backer mentioned creating an Inception/Doctor Strange scene of a world wrapping back into itself, which I thought was awesome.
Nimuno plans to use all that pledged money to manufacture enough Loops to meet demand by its targeted August shipping date. (“The quantities make me a little nervous,” Basler says, “but that’s a good problem to have.”) Any leftover profit will be put toward attracting repeat backers for future add-on products; Nimuno’s first announced innovation is “receiver tape” that essentially has holes instead of plugs, so it can adhere to toys, keys, or other objects — such as the aforementioned cellphones — which then can click onto the Loops tape like the two sides of a Velcro strip.
With its campaign rolling toward completion and its patent likely soon to be approved, would-be backers (or re-backers) might be curious about just what “Nimuno” means. In a word, nothing. The inspiration for the name was yet another product of Mad Hatter Mondays, though in this case the brainstorming bled across so many other days of the week that they all started to blur together. “After not being able to come up with names that reflected what we were after, we turned to drawing shapes that represented the flexible nature of Loops, to make it clear that it isn’t a strictly square block,” Kirsten says. “We started drawing half-moons and other rounded shapes, they turned to letters, and eventually we landed on Nimuno. We just loved the way it has a beautiful ring to it that really echoes the softness and flexibility of the product.”
Get your Nimuno Loops Block Tape today and show us your creations with #IGGNimuno.
Update August 2, 2017
Nimuno Loops is now shipping their block tape to backers around the world! We are receiving photos from our backers of the creative ways they are using this tape to invent new things. Check out these photos and don’t forget to share your inventions with us using #IGGNimuno!
Inspired? Find more creative products on Indiegogo.com.