Diah by MaNa, a quirky, flat-packed paper LED light company, based out of Singapore, started as a fun little project that kept evolving as the weeks went by until designer Mandara Nagaraj and inventor Sid Butalia saw that the product answered to an evident gap in the market, as far as portable lights are concerned. And as they point out, “this hollow, modular, cordless light is a first of its kind in lighting design.” Further, what makes the product unique is the fact that it’s easy to use, and ‘you can keep building them like Legos to make them wider.’ Interestingly, the firm wants their users to be creators. How cool is that?
On that note, we catch up with founders Mandara and Sid, who give us more details on the inception of the product, the challenges so far, who is this product targeted to, why did they start a crowdfunding campaign for the accessory, and more.
What prompted you to start Diah by MaNa—interesting backstories to illustrate your answer?
Mandara: My partner Sid and I love tinkering. Apart from building furniture for our home, we have an affinity towards designing lights. Diah was a fun little project that kept evolving each week until I saw that this product answered an evident gap in the market. This hollow, modular, cordless light is a first in lighting design.
When I saw where this product was going, I mustered up all my savings that would last me half a year. Soon after that, I gave a leaving notice to the company I was working in at the time. And ever since Diah is all I have thought about.
We launched Diah on Kickstarter (on November 1) and we are excited to see what comes off of it.
The USP of the firm?
Mandara: Every product we make will need to answer a deceivingly simple question, “How can we do more with less?”
The act of stripping down a product to its bare function more often than not gives limitless liberties to the end user. We want our users to be creators. With that in mind, we aim to create lightweight and easy-to-assemble products that you can take with you wherever you go.
Can you take us through the ideation process? What was it like?
Mandara: Sid was fiddling with lights for a while and he had made this adorable acrylic light, we were getting quite excited about it and we started talking about how to ship these lights with minimum costs. That’s when the ideas of light in an envelope started developing, which in itself is a powerful design brief.
Sid: Right off the bat, we began prototyping that idea with paper. We made countless prototypes, dabbled in origami and created really cool shaped lights. Eventually, we had to get realistic about manufacturing limitations, and funny enough, those limitations are what made Diah possible.
Progressively, we built on our prototypes by using standard lighting modules to save time and then eventually developed our own handmade circuits. This helped us understand the bending limitations that our materials could handle. We easily validated any functional requirements such as clasps, light orientation and more without even moving into computer-aided design (CAD).
Now that the overall size and function was clear, we had to understand how best to manufacture the parts in smaller units/batches. This is what drove the assembly and detailing of the initial prototypes. Assembling the prototypes ourselves taught us where the bottlenecks could potentially lie in mass production. Again, we solved these issues progressively going from a few pieces to a small run and then a larger run of prototype batches. Each set an improvement on the last, reducing our risk moving forward.
How did you come up with the design?
Sid: Once we were able to think about production creatively, our value prop became simple and it was, “How do we create a flat sheet of paper that turns into a lamp with a snap?” The rest was taken care of by engineering.
The design again came about by constantly making and seeing what worked. Eventually, these vertical cuts in the paper made it easier to bend without creasing the paper. It also gave off a beautiful light scatter, so after tweaking it a bit more, we stuck with this design.
Technical details about the product, please?
Sid: Simply put, Diah is a flat-packed paper LED light that is powered by coin cell batteries. These last anywhere from 1-3 days depending on the usage. But the best technical secret is the fact that Diah can be daisy chained. You can keep building them like Legos to make them wider. Just get as creative with it as you want to be. (smiles)
Fun moments (during the crafting period) that you would like to share?
Sid: Ultimately realising that simplicity was the way forward (having experimented with dozens of shapes) It was so much fun playing with light. Every functional discovery of Diah was a fun moment for us if you ask me.
Mandara: We also took a month-long road trip once we locked down our design and we took Diahs with us to really put it to the test. It was honestly the most fun user-testing phase we’ve ever been through. From using it in a tent to our friends’ outdoor parties, it was really well received. I still remember the ‘oohs and aaahs’ as feedback. (laughs)
The challenges of the project so far?
Sid: Where do we begin, on the design side (sighs), knowing when to stop refinement and moving onto the next phase of production, figuring out the logistics, the customs, the erratic shipping times, not being able to predict every problem, you get the picture, right? (sighs)
But, it’s taught us to progress in an adaptive manner with the assumption that there will always be some unforeseen issue that will need to be solved.
Mandara: Also, our home is our office and vice-versa. So the challenge so far has been to put an end to a work day, which never happens by the way (laughs). We still haven’t found a way to separate the two, but I think we both love design way too much to let it bother us.
The project is going to run on Kickstarter as well. Why did you decide to take this route? A little detail on the crowdfunding campaign, please?
Mandara: Crowdfunding is a great tool to understand your audience. Since Diah is a new concept, we wanted to see if people are ready for products like these. It’s such a good litmus test, you know?
We go by different design principles as opposed to Yves Behar, for example, so we’re curious to know if the market is ready for this sort of design.
As a new brand, we also feel that completing a successful campaign can only do good things for brand building. It’s powerful to have your customers be your most valuable marketing medium. We’ve set 20,000 SGD as our target and we need to get there in a period of 30 days, so fingers crossed!
Who is this product targeted to?
Mandara: We feel this product caters to the urban nomad, DIY enthusiast, the interior decorator, the outdoors camper, anybody with a window practically.
Sid: Yeah, exactly, light is a universal need, and as our lives become more mobile our products need to as well.
Things you learnt as designers, and as individuals from working on this project?
Sid: Fail fast, fail early, you know nothing, but you can learn by making prototypes. Talking won’t get you anywhere.
Mandara: We’re all victims of editing in our head and that’s where a lot of ideas go to die. So write, sketch whatever, but put it down in writing!
Follow Diah by MaNa on Facebook here.
Back the crowdfunding campaign (more details on the link) here.