The Art of Instagram: An Interview with the Creators of Coastermatic

May 7, 2013

Current MFA Interaction Design Department students Tom Harman and Tash Wong have come up with an innovative way to use Instagram. Coastermatic, which they originally conceptualized in response to a class assignment, allows Instagram users to have their images emblazoned on stone coasters, and aside from making for eye-catching housewares, the project has also grabbed the attention of TechCrunch, Dwell, Swiss Miss, and many others. SVA Close Up recently caught up with the duo to learn more.

SVA: How did you come up with the idea for Coastermatic?

TASH: We had a class called Entrepreneurial Design, and for that class there is a $1,000 project. We came up with Coastermatic in February [of 2012], and so it was a process of how can we prototype this idea as quickly as possible to see if people are interested in it. We did a bunch of promo coasters that we took to South by Southwest, and we had a sign-up page, and then from there we built out pages incrementally over a couple of months.

It was really interesting to see how people responded to it. Coastermatic originally was going to help us pay for another project we were going to do over the summer, but in the end, it sort of embodied a lot of the same ideas—helping people personalize their homes and bringing visual media into reality.

SVA: So why coasters?

TASH: Their simplicity. And as an exploration into co-creation and digital fabrication, I think a single secular form is very easy to grasp, it’s easy to understand. The idea that there are four coasters was a design choice, and it’s intentional because of the fact that there’s enough of these different canvases to tell somewhat of

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a story if you want to take it in that direction, but you can still put images of your pet or your kid on there if you just want to do that.

A lot of people are doing really creative things with their coasters. One person in particular has a wooden table, and she took photos of the texture of the wood on her table and then put that printed onto the coasters, and now the coasters sit on the table in the exact positions of the wood grain where she took the image. So there’s some interesting opportunities in terms of how people creatively use that constraint to create both a personal product, but also a product that very much suits a specific context.

SVA: Since you see all the orders as they are placed, do you see a trend of where these orders are coming from?

TASH: So far we’ve sold coasters to lots of places—I think at least 15 countries by now. We had a blog post in PSFK last June that got picked up by another blog in Brazil, so we sold a bunch of those in Brazil. I think there was a magazine in France that wrote about us, and we’ve done a few in France and Japan, and then all over the States. People in New York seem to like us a lot. It’s really interesting to kind of see what kinds of coasters people make from different parts of the world.

SVA: That was going to be my next question. What’s the most bizarre or most interesting order that you’ve had?

TOM: There was one in particular, which was a set. They are all of the same dog wearing different outfits. So that was a brilliant one. We do have a higher proportion of pets and children-related coasters, and also landscapes—those are popular choices. I’m sure there’s an interesting relationship between the type of image and the location of where it comes from. I think it’s also interesting to see the different press coverage we’ve received and from where. We were featured on Swiss Miss, a design blog, and following that we had a lot more design-y focused images. So it’s been interesting to see how that breaks down and why different press may lead to different types of images.


SVA: What are your plans for the future?

TASH: Well, we’ll finish up here [at SVA] in May, and then in the summer we’re going to focus on building out Coastermatic. We launched last May, and we’ve been adding little bits and pieces to it throughout this year, but there are a whole bunch of things we really want to dig into. So one thing we’re really interested in is designing our own sets and making those available to people.

Another thing that we’re interested in exploring is co-creation. We think it’s really interesting that Coastermatic doesn’t exist unless a customer comes to us with their images. So how can we extend that to these sort of pre-designed sets, or maybe there’s a way that we can extend it to other types of data, which is part of what Tom’s been exploring through his thesis work.

SVA: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

TASH: Because they’re a tabletop item, the coasters become a really interesting conversation piece. What does it mean to have images on your table? They’re not as in-your-face, they’re more low key. And it’s been interesting. Liz Danzico, the chair here, bought some in the beginning. She had someone over, and they ended up having a whole conversation about the images that she had on her coasters on the table. And so there’s something that’s really nice about the conversational aspect of them.

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