Nearly five years ago, Tom Evans, a young parent and veteran creative director, noticed what seemed like a branding problem with kids’ gear: Parents buy a ton of stuff, but none of it fits together. A toothbrush is a different thing from a nightlight, for example–but they’re all part of this universe of problems that parents solve everyday. His solution was Bleep Bleeps, a company founded on the idea of making everything parents need into a suite of cheerful products that kids could recognize–and want.
The third product from BleepBleeps hits Kickstarter today: Benjamin Brush, a toothbrush that comes embedded with a clever business model. Evans first came up with the idea after a co-creation session with parents. Asked to invent their ideal toothbrush, parents kept going back to the problem of getting kids to brush every night, or brush long enough. Evans hit upon a classic UX lesson: Toothbrushing was a ritual that didn’t have any positive feedback loops. Benjamin Brush is meant to create one, through a behavior familiar to any parent.
“Kids always have a song of the moment they’re really into, something they can’t get enough of, and we wanted to celebrate that,” says Evans. So when a kid starts brushing, a song of her choice plays from a small waterproof speaker in the toothbrush’s base. After two minutes, the song ends. If the song grows old, parents can buy another through the BleepBleeps app for $.99. The library of songs is meant to make the product stickier with kids–while also creating a novel revenue model for a fast-moving consumer good.
As with all of BleepBleep’s products, the design was a collaboration with the product studio MAP. The form factor is an ingenious detail: The head of the brush isn’t rectangular, but, rather, it’s a ball of bristles. That’s because little kids don’t quite grok the concept of moving the brush along the plane of their teeth. The round head allows kids to brush with a different, more intuitive motion. It also makes it easier for parents to brush their kids’ teeth when holding the toothbrush at a reversed angle. Once a kid grows out of the round brush head, it can be replaced with a more traditional one.
That replacement cycle is a part of every BleepBleeps product. When Evans founded the company, he’d become disillusioned with advertising, and how the profession sought to create demand even if a product didn’t solve a problem. At the same time, he read the book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, which is about editing your life to contain only those things that bring you joy. Evans thought he could square those two conflicts while starting an IoT company that focused on sussing out unmet needs. “Having learned what it takes to be in people’s lives, we wanted to create products with more longevity,” says Evans.
Every BleepBleeps product is meant to have at least two or three cycles, so that each one can age with the child. For example, the company’s Suzy Snooze speaker starts as a baby monitoring device, then it becomes a sleep snoozer with a nightlight that plays as a child falls asleep, helping create a sleep ritual. Finally, it can be used as a speaker with a light-up “disco mode.” BleepBleeps already has a pipeline of ideas that build upon its philosophy that’ll come out every six months, including an ear thermometer called Tony Tempa, a baby monitoring camera called the David Camera, and a location-tracking bracelet called the Cecil G.
There have been plenty of products designed with the noble aspiration of fighting our throwaway culture. That’s why BleepBleeps is meant to be an ecosystem: With enough products, the ideology should become easier to grok. Though BleepBleeps is in fact putting more products in the world, they hope to create a few products that serve many uses, and thus live on in a way that single-use products cannot. That’s why every BleepBleeps product has an anthropomorphic face and a name–to create a bit of emotional stickiness with the kid using it. “The original thought was that kids don’t like having their temperature taken because you’re sticking something in their ear,” explains Evans. “But if it’s a character, that makes it easier because the kids don’t mind interacting with it then.”
Though Evans concedes it’ll be a tall order to create a brand full of designs that stick, given how picky and fickle kids are. That’s why Evans believes his products have to be designed with two consumers in mind: both the kid and parent. The product only lasts if it really makes a parent’s life easier. Evans believes that the lessons won’t go away. He points out that brands were first invented to engender trust. When you buy something marked Colgate, you’re really buying into the idea that Colgate won’t sell you something crappy. But in the age of the ubiquitous consumer review, brand thinking has been replaced by product thinking–and by people like him who’ve left agencies because they couldn’t control the products they were supposed to be pitching. In saying so, he’s actually echoing the ethos of the original industrial designers such as William Dorwin Teague. He came up in the 1920s designing ads but realized that creating a better product would be a better way to create sales, and went on to design the lay-back dentist’s chair and the cash register. Nearly 100 later, the idea has come full circle. As Evans says, “Why take a mediocre product and sell it, when the solution is really to make a better product?