Embracing the power of tiny things

Meet a maker interview with rafiakids.com: Kirti Patel of lectrify.it

Small components can be tricky to use with young children - it may not be obvious to know what they do and they take a certain amount of hand-eye coordination.

However, kids love tiny things! Fortunately for maker teachers and parents keen to get tinkering with their kids, San Francisco start-up lectrify has come up with an easy way to buy and use tiny things in projects.

I first found out about lectrify at a maker meetup in San Francisco’s Exploratorium. The museum is a creative hub for amazing hands-on projects and maker inspiration and holds a regular meetup for Bay Area Maker Educators. Everyone I’ve met there is brilliant so I was curious to find out more about the lectrify products that they seemed happy to promote.

Lectrify hosted the next meeting at their start-up HQ on Bryant Street, in a building better known for artists studios than tech startups. I couldn’t attend that night so ordered some kits to try at home and then set up my own meeting with lectrify founding partners Diego Fonstad and Kirti Patel.

Surrounded by boxes and neatly-stacked piles of the components in various stages of shipment, Kirti demonstrated a whole series of projects. A Lego sword that lights up, a cool perspex sign, also on a Lego stand, led bracelets clipped together with paperclips and a mini box lantern with a cool tilt switch.

It was a wonderful mix of wearables, toys and other things to delight any budding maker. And to get a maker teacher like me really excited about the possibilities.

“We interviewed parents and heard time and time again that the one toy their kids never got tired of playing with were LEGOs. We wanted to create a product that was compatible with existing toys, sizing lectrify to fit onto LEGO bricks was a natural design choice.” 

Neatly presented clipped into flat red plastic beds, lectrify components look asinviting as a tray of chocolates. Quite a contrast to individual components normally shipped in uniform bubble-wrap envelopes.

The presentation is very much part of the company’s vision: to create easy-to-use and handle pieces that are still within the restrictive budgets of most maker class teachers.

“The first question kids always ask after building something cool is ‘can I keep it?’ Most of the other engineering kits on the market are too expensive for them to keep their projects. Our goal was to create something that was affordable and accessible so that kids can keep and continue to iterate on their designs.”  
Silence please, we're inventing! Kids of mixed ages using lectrify.it kits at a rafiakids camp

Silence please, we're inventing! Kids of mixed ages using lectrify.it kits at a rafiakids camp

The mission partly came out of Kirti’s graduate thesis in 2013 at Stanford’s covetable Learning Design and Technology program.

She got together with fellow educator Diego Fonstad, who was already having some success with his range of laser-cut accessories for American Girl dolls.

Back in 2013, Kirti’s graduate thesis was on creating projects that girls could enjoy with their fathers. Kirti came up with a range of ideas of decorative DIY projects for around the house - LED lamps, clocks, etc.

But Kirti and Diego’s vision for lectrify has always been on projects that appeal to both boys and girls. “We wanted to create opportunities for all kids to interact with circuits and electronics. We knew if we kept lectrify open-ended, it would appeal to boys and girls. It’s never been about gender for us.”

That said, there’s no doubt that these little components have a lot of girl appeal, simply because they are so easy to use for customising clothes and creating wearables.

‘We’ve had girls make interactive art, LED headbands, and light up cell phone cases. I’m always impressed with everything they come up with.”

I left clutching boxes of diy laser-cut cars and immediately put in an order for 10 packs of their LED components kits with tilt switches to use for a rafiakids hands-on project at a local maker faire, and lectrify shake-it kits for rafiakids classes and Inventors' Lab summer camps. At $30 per pack with enough parts for modular projects for 10 children, lectrify.it is creating very accessible way into maker.


Interview by Claire Comins, Founder, rafiakids.com maker and coding classes