TECHNATION200: Three sisters with backgrounds in architecture, design and communications set up Love & Robots, an interactive design brand that allows buyers to customise the items they want to purchase. Chief executive Emer O’Daly tells Toni Sekinah which items are bestsellers and the benefits of working with family.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Love & Robots is some kind of matchmaking service for people searching for automated amorousness.
In fact, Love & Robots is a platform where people can purchase items that are “designed with love” and “made with robots.” This is because the designers are the customers themselves.
The items on offer – earrings, necklaces, bracelets, bowties and cufflinks – can be all be tweaked or personalised to some extent.
The co-creators – as chief executive Emer O’Daly likes to call her customers – can choose the colours of 3D printed items, jewelry and bowties.
With the necklaces, they can be even more specific. They can decide how tightly coiled they want the ‘twist necklace’ to be. They can also pick the lettering of the ‘textlaces’ that display up to 13 characters in a choice of two fonts.
“Everything on our site is digitally manufactured, which means it’s made from a digital file,” says O’Daly. “3D printing is the most famous, but we use different types of digital manufacturing including laser cutting.”
Wooden bowties and cufflinks are customised through laser etching and cutting using a preset pattern or a map. The customer can decide the degree to which they want to zoom in on the pattern. With the map, they can set a location they want to be displayed on the bowtie or the cufflinks. They can also have a message engraved on the back.
“With 3D printing and digital manufacturing there are no economies of scale so every product can be different,” O’Daly says. “People want personalised products and they want to create one-offs and these are ideal for personal accessories.”
For some reason she says bowties have seen in a surge in popularity. “Maybe it was bow tie season, or perhaps weddings, but we’ve sold a lot of bowties recently,” she says.
Prices range from £26 for laser-cut wood cufflinks to £240.50 for the polished gold ampersand necklace.
She explains that, once a customer has personalised a product and made a purchase, a digital manufacturing file is automatically generated and sent to manufacturing partners with 3D printing facilities in the Netherlands, New York and London. Then the file is downloaded, the item is 3D printed or laser cut and shipped to wherever the customer is.
Depending on the item and the material, production can take between two days and two weeks.
Now that 3D printing is possible in metals like silver, gold, copper, brass and bronze as well as nylon, O’Daly says the process lends itself very well to the production of gifts – which has been the idea from the start.
“We came at it from the idea of co-creating with customers rather than supplying something that was already made,” she says.
Although some choose buy their items as their find them, co-creating customers are keen to make their marks on the products as 85% customise their items to some extent.
She says Love & Robots now has a community of 6,000 co-creators from 48 countries, which has grown as a result of different competitions the company has run to generate ideas for new products.
O’Daly truly sees the customers as designers, so she and her team are working on a way for the customers to earn royalties from their own designs in future.
“The idea is that if you take one of the base designs and tweak it to such an extent that it becomes something of your own and someone buys your customisation, you can earn royalties on that sale,” she says.
The Love and Robots interface lets customers see a 3D preview of the item in real time. “We’ve created a very intuitive interface where you can play with sliders and text fields and maps. It’s updating all the time in your browser so you don’t have to download any software for it to work,” she says.
O’Daly says her biggest challenge over the next year is marketing and getting the word out about Love & Robots beyond its current audience.
“When you’re trying to build a B2C brand, in order for it to work you have to become really well known and that’s incredibly difficult,” she says.
Despite the difficulties she has the support of her sisters and co-founders, Kate and Aoibheann O’Daly.
Kate trained as an architect and worked in design and project management, while Aoibheann studied interactive digital media and used to work for Google.
The founding trio pooled their skills to set up the company in 2012 after Emer O’Daly graduated with a postgraduate degree in architecture only to face a “decimated” industry.
“It helps that the three of us are quite different so we take on quite different roles, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. They’re two of my best friends and I trust them completely.”
Emer O’Daly – CV
Chief executive and co-founder, Love & Robots
Lecturer, University College Dublin
Architect, Heneghan Peng Architects.
MArch Architecture, Yale University
BArch. Architecture, University College Dublin.