Making the Perfect Lunchbox
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This week, we caught up with Lucas Menanix, who is one third of the team behind OmieBox. The OmieBox is an ingenious lunchbox that features a vacuum-sealed bowl to keep hot foods hot and compartments for everything else. We asked Menanix a few questions about his background, this project, and how he came to work on it.
What's your background, and how did you end up working with Nancy and Robin?
Since I can remember I've always loved building things. After competing in robotics competitions in high school, I studied mechanical engineering at MIT and that's where I fell in love with product design. I became obsessed with how and why the things around us are made. I found myself looking at the products around me and thinking about how they could be made better. Through my classes and internships with Mixer Design Group, I learned how to use the design process to clearly define and execute design solutions. I also got first hand experience with the benefits of relentless prototyping.
I joined OmieLife after meeting Nancy through a former coworker. She was looking for an engineer who could help her and Robin finalize the design and work with the manufactures to get OmieBox into production, and I was looking for a new challenge in a new product industry. We immediately bonded over our love for good food and good design.
What are you like as a team?
Obsessive. Each of us is passionate about different parts of the process, and we pore over every detail of the company. We each have training in three distinct fields (business, design, engineering), so we come at problems from different angles. At the same time, we all understand where the other is coming from so we never truly butt heads but we do have some intense discussions. Then we all go out and demolish a huge meal.
How long did it take to get to the current iteration of Omiebox?
About a year and a half ago Nancy was so frustrated with all the lunch systems she had bought for her preschooler that she decided to make a new one. After she met Robin at a conference a year ago, they immediately began building rough foam core mockups and giving them to parents to figure out what features and sizes worked best. They asked parents what kinds of foods they'd love to send to school with their kids and used all this feedback to refine the product concept. Nancy also spent a ton of time observing kids eating at lunch and discovering all the usability problems with most lunch products.
When I joined six months ago, all the user research had been distilled into a very clear product concept and we went straight into CAD. About two weeks later, we had a full scale 3D print. It was super rough but super informative. Once we had something in our hands that we could hold, pack lunches in, and show to people, we were able to quickly turn around a design that was much closer to the final product. After another three months of design refinements, working with our manufacturer, and a few more rounds of 3D prints we were able to finalize our design.
Can you describe some of the edits or changes along the way?
Usability is one of the our main focus areas and it wasn't until we had done three completely assembled 3D prints that we realized the securing insert that integrates the vacuum insulated bowl into the box needed to be simultaneously fitted tightly into the box and easy to remove. We first added little bumps that would snap the insert into the box but we quickly discovered that the size of bumps that secured the container also made it impossible to remove. We iterated on the bump concept for a while; moving from four bumps to two, changing the length/shape/position of the bumps, adding a pop out feature to make it easier to remove.
At some point, Robin took a step back, simplified the issue, and realized that all we needed to do was extend the side walls of the insert so there was enough friction between the box to securely fit the container in the box. It was one of those ideas that makes you go, "Why didn't we think of this three months ago?!" Though this was a small detail, it's a good example of our team's relentless pursuit of great design.
What's been the craziest part so far?
I think one of the craziest/most fun/intense days was the day we shot our video for Kickstarter. A week before the shoot, we met with our video team to discuss our vision for the video and set a schedule. It became clear that the only day that worked for all of us was the next weekend. So we spent the whole week prepping for the shoot, which included spending a few days in an art school painting booth learning how to paint a 3D print with a HVLP paint gun, and roping my wife (Sarah from SnixyKitchen) into creating a week's worth of cute lunches. Somehow we pulled together everything we needed and spent a full eight hours shooting all the scenes. I had no idea how exhausting filming five lines of text can be.
What's the first thing you ever remember making?
Since I can remember, I was woodworking with my Dad, making everything from birdhouses to desks. But the first thing that I ever made where I can remember putting together the whole design and engineering process, was when we built a trebuchet in physics class that launched mini basketballs into a regulation hoop. It was the first time I had been given free reign to build something to accomplish a specific task and not told explicitly how to do it or given too many constraints. We ended up building this crazy seven foot tall hybrid catapult/trebuchet with PVC pipe arms on the end that gave us a little extra shooting distance and allowed us to shoot from the free throw line as well as the three point line by varying the counter weight.
What inspires you?
As trite as it may sound, I tend to find inspiration in everything around me, but I think what inspires me most is traveling, especially traveling to really foreign places. As designers, we tend to rely on our intuition to drive most of our decisions, so I need to get out and observe how other people live to enhance my intuition. There's something about traveling that allows you to take the time to observe the world around and gain insights.