We wanted to leverage the fact that we are MIT students, and many of the people purchasing the product are MIT affiliated. To that end, we carved a bathymetric map of the Charles River, centered around the MIT campus. The carving is then inlaid with pigmented epoxy resin and polished to a high degree of shine.
The assignment was constrained to kitchen products, but we had the freedom to further specify within that scope. We wanted something that was highly giftable and would sell well, but at the same time didn't have a lot of moving parts and therefore wouldn't mandate a lot of work in manufacturing.
We considered working on spice storage and kitchen decorations, but ultimately decided that a cutting board or serving board would give the most opportunity for creative expression while keeping the complexity down.
Even though this was more of a "design driven" project, we still wanted to make sure that we were solving user needs appropriately and building something that people wanted. Therefore we went through a user research and observation phase where we catalogued preferences as to handle style, size, portability, storage, etc.
Once we knew generally what people wanted, we began the process of ideating product concepts that we thought would be attractive and feasible to build. We created a series of 2D visual prototypes of the best concepts in order to communicate our ideas with users and advisors.
In order to feel confidence that we were on the right track, we went through several rounds of feedback with our users. Users generally pushed us to focus more on aesthetic and less on functionality, which informed where we ended up.
We ended up choosing live edge olive wood as our material. The live edge aesthetic tested well with our early users, and so we used that as a constraint when choosing which wood to source. Olive wood is an incredibly beautiful wood with lots of figuring and color contrast between the heartwood and sapwood.
Olive wood is very expensive and very difficult to work with. It's hard, oily, and prone to lots of cracking that we had to fill in with resin on a case-by-case basis. Even though we chose a design with a very short bill of materials, we still ended up with a fair amount of variation due to the material choice and live edge form factor.
The manufacturing process was as follows:
After laboring hard to create 63 cutting boards, we then needed to sell at least 50 of them. We sold some through our personal networks and door-to-door at MIT, but most of our sales took place in person at the annual IDM sales gala that takes place right before the winter holiday break. We sold out! On an hourly basis we were paid very poorly, but at least we were able to pay for our flights home.