Posted February 25, 2003 Atlanta
Communcations & Marketing
Contact Matthew Nagel
Invent a better mousetrap, and the world beats a path to your door - or so the aphorism goes. But what happens if you come up with a better litter box for cats?
In the case of Stephen Griffin, a 28-year-old graduate student in the College of Architecture's Industrial Design Program, it at least earns you $1,000, kudos at one of the world's top design shows -- and lots of interested phone calls from cat owners everywhere.
Griffin recently earned third-place honors in the 10th Annual National Student Design Competition, sponsored by the Industrial Designers Society of America and the International Housewares Association [IHA]. His design was one of 15 submitted by Georgia Tech industrial design students at the 2003 International Housewares Show in Chicago in January.
Griffin's award-winning entry, the Cat Cove, is a litter box designed for cats whose owners live in apartments or small homes. Its nautilus-shell design hides dirty litter from view while preventing cats from tracking litter out of their box. It also blends into the home to look like a piece of furniture and has features that aid owners in cleaning the box.
"The International Housewares Show has a very competitive student component," said Associate Professor Lorraine Justice, director of Georgia Tech's Industrial Design Program. "Each year, design schools around the world compete, so it is wonderful that Stephen was able to place at the show.
"His project is an indication of his creative problem-solving skills, thoughtfulness for both the owner and pet, and commercial sales opportunities," Justice said. "He is an exceptional designer, and his education to date makes him valuable to any company that wants to improve their products."
The idea for the litter box - err- came from Griffin's enigmatic cats, Sassy and Sumo.
"Sassy is an 18-pound female who has the ability to turn invisible when guests arrive. Sumo is a 16-pound male. He has no special abilities other than being very large and very fluffy," Griffin said. "Both were my eager assistants while designing Cat Cove."
"One night in August 2002, before classes began, my wife and I were complaining about the litter box," he said. "Over dinner I started sketching out ideas with no intention of completing the project. The actual process for coming up with the Cat Cove took about three months and included research, concept development and embodiment design."
Griffin developed the Cat Cove as a project in the Industrial Design Program's Intermediate Design Studio. The focus of the class, taught by Assistant Professor Terri Laurenceau, is to learn a systematic design process for creating products. Griffin's completed class project included a full-size prototype of the Cat Cove made of foam core, which he displayed at the International Housewares Show.
"My cats currently sleep in it, without the litter of course," he said. "I hope to license it to a manufacturer. I'm currently speaking with a couple of interested parties."
Winning an award for the Cat Cove design this year not only earned Griffin an honor among his peers, but it put his work in the spotlight during an event that attracts about 50,000 visitors looking for the next-big-thing in housewares. That's nothing to turn one's nose up at, since the housewares industry accounts for $73 billion in retail sales in this country, according to the IHA.
"I made a lot of great professional contacts [at the trade show]," Griffin said. "It also brought Cat Cove out of the design studio and into the real world, where I am able to continue learning about the product development process. And, the award validated all of the hard work I put into the project. I've received a lot of great feedback from cat owners."
Victoria Matranga, design programs coordinator for the IHA, said the National Student Design Competition gives dozens of the nation's top industrial design students an opportunity to show and explain prototypes of their highly practical and sometimes whimsical products -- items such as cordless ironing stations, bathroom mirror de-foggers or litter boxes.
Previous winners have received full-time or part-time jobs in the housewares industry, she said.
"The students receive several valuable benefits by entering the competition," Matranga said. "They get to focus and apply what they've learned in class to situations in the real world, and they have to work on a deadline. We're quite specific and detailed in what we require, so they learn to be well prepared.
"The students often say that more than the cash, the real-world experience of being at the show is what really matters," Matranga said. "It's the exposure they get and coming face to face with retailers and manufacturers. These students realize that in their professional lives as designers, they'll have to know how to make a pitch to convince their clients."
Currently, Griffin pursues a master's degree in industrial design at Georgia Tech. He previously earned an undergraduate degree from Furman University and a master's degree in fine arts from Parsons School of Design. Before coming to Georgia Tech, he worked in New York City as an Interaction Designer.