ID alumnus launches a bridge concept for 3D printing technology

3D printing technology has been around for decades, it’s relatively affordable, and improving all the time. So why haven’t we seen the single application that will launch 3D printed products, or the printers themselves, into homes everywhere? Graham Tuttle (MDes + MBA 2012) thinks that’s not how it’s going to happen. “Markets don’t just appear,” he said. “A series of steppingstones have to evolve first.”

Graham is creating a bridge concept for the 3D printing industry — like the horseless carriage was to automobiles — because he believes consumers won’t be interested in a product until they have a reference for its purpose. Graham’s company, Elkwood, offers 3D printed products, mostly simple heritage home goods that combine 3D printed materials with materials you can find at your local hardware store. He built his business with a holistic viewpoint on stakeholder engagement instilled in him by the MDes + MBA program at IIT Institute of Design.

Graham’s vision is to enable a community of craftsmen. Elkwood is not about creating new technologies, but leveraging the products and materials that people are already familiar with. “Craft can be a modern execution,” he contends.

Elkwood products are printed on entry-level 3D printers using easily accessible materials. As the business evolves, Graham plans to start distributing individual printed parts and part files. “We can actually enable the ecosystem to develop by breaking our own business model,” said Graham.

Graham attributes much of his success to his multidisciplinary approach. He sought to integrate the perspectives of business and design throughout his time at the Insitute of Design and Stuart School of Business. “It was amazing to be able to translate between the two,” he said.

A particular strength of the MDes + MBA program, Graham explained, was helping students utilize the skills they have as designers to excel in other areas. In his case, it was learning to look beyond just the product itself as the ultimate goal.

“IIT does an amazing job of building a true understanding of the value chain that will lead a product to market.” Graham said. “Students learn that a product has to meet the needs and requirements of many constituents along the chain.”

Since graduating, Graham has taken on the position of associate strategy director at frog Design. Now consulting with large clients, he said that IIT equipped him with the skills to recognize which stakeholders will best enable success on a given initiative.

His advice for designers and entrepreneurs? “Just do things.” Graham knows from experience that it is easy to set daunting, unrealistic expectations, and then end up not starting a project at all. The key is to start small. “There is a ton of value in doing things that are seemingly lower impact but can actually change perceptions,” he said.

Graham built the first 100 units for Elkwood in a closet in his Brooklyn apartment. Though he has since brought on designer and collaborator Caitlin Piery to focus on brand, Elkwood’s mission remains rooted in simplicity. “Focusing on building principles geared toward the technology gives the brand platform a strong foundation,” Graham said.

Elkwood is a testament to the idea that you don’t have to put your career on hold to become an entreprenuer. Graham built Elkwood to be able to run on the side of a full-time profession. He partnered with external service providers to manage ecommerce and legal documents, and to customize the website. “Learning all the things that I didn’t know I didn’t know is equally as gratifying as having created the business,” he said.

“Every person has that creative side,” Graham said. He’s integrated his with a tenacity for business and a solid strategy to turn a passion project into a company that is challenging preconceptions about the intersection of design and technology.