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Big Ideas

Joey Roth: Brewing Sorapot

Joey Roth didn't set out to be an industrial designer. Here, he discusses how a leaked portfolio piece grew into a new career.

Joey Roth didn’t set out to be an industrial designer. In college as a creative writing major, he quickly realized that he may never achieve the greatness of his beloved authors.  So he decided to pursue design instead. His first foray into manufacturing — Sorapot — occurred somewhat unexpectedly, and allowed unique insight into the creative and production process for the many people who followed Roth’s journey.

hen his concept for Sorapot was discovered and posted online, Roth found himself inundated with information requests. Instead of telling them it didn’t actually exist yet, he decided to make it a reality. “I designed Sorapot as a portfolio piece during my Junior year. I didn’t intend to manufacture it, until a writer for Cool Hunting somehow discovered it and posted on it. The same day, I received a ton of emails from individuals and stores asking about price, availability, and minimum order quantities. They thought it was a real product, so I decided to make it one.”Sorapot’s journey from start to finish turned out to be an invaluable learning experience for Roth. “It took over two years to find the right manufacturer and refine Sorapot’s design to be more manufacturable and easier to use. I eventually finalized the design and found the right manufacturer through a great referral. I began to take pre-orders through my site, and was able to fund the first production run largely from these sales. I’m glad to see this approach becoming less and less unique as more designers form relationships with bloggers and depend on themselves for their designs’ success.”

I love products that change and become more personal and valuable with their owner’s patterns of use. My dream is to see a well-used and well-loved Sorapot in an antique shop in a few decades.

A willingness to submit to trial-by-fire with other designers seems to have worked out in his favor. “I ignored a lot of well-intentioned advice from people who told me to be an employee for a few years before jumping in. I think most independent designers, and entrepreneurs in general, ignore the same thing. For some reason though, people have hard time believing that I design physical objects. Startups are so strongly associated with tech that sometimes when I’m talking with someone at a party and tell them stories about “prototyping”, “sourcing”, and “tooling”, they assume that I’m using metaphors for web app development.”

Believing the dialogue between designer and consumer is critical for a product’s success, Roth is less focused on mass production and more on producing quality products. “I talk to a lot of designers who have a killer idea, but are waiting for the right person or company to make it happen for them. Even when I talk to some people about Sorapot, they assume that my ultimate goal is to license the design to Bodum or Alessi. While this may have been my only option five years ago, the internet allows designers to crawl further up the chain to manufacturing, and further down to customers. Impressing gatekeepers isn’t as important as connecting with customers.”

Roth’s ultimate goal is to create things that grow and change as consumers use them. “I love products that change and become more personal and valuable with their owner’s patterns of use, like jeans and cast iron cookware. My dream is to see a well-used and well-loved Sorapot in an antique shop in a few decades. The raw stainless steel will record the user’s daily tea making, becoming shinier where it’s held, revealing where it was scrubbed, and changing color gradually as tea tannins are deposited on its surface. It will look far better than when it comes out of the box new.”

Comments (2)
  • Arsart

    That what we can call a Product 2.0<br />
    Amazing rethink of ordinary thing.

  • hiledesign

    I very much enjoyed this article. <br />
    <br />
    It’s true that many of the old process norms are fading away regarding industries such as book publishing (with new models for self publishing springing up), and as Joey Roth has demonstrated, for product development. As stated in the article this change is enabled by the internet through blogs and other online opportunities.<br />
    <br />
    I think the advantage, as expressed in this article, is that the designer can better realize his artistic vision for his design, without a larger established firm dictating how the designer’s product has to change to conform to their product development process..<br />
    <br />
    I salute Mr. Roth and expect to see more designers charting new territory as they launch their own product visions through new outlets via the internet.

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