Dumb Cuneiform — Matt Kirkland
Dumb Cuneiform lets you create a custom-made cuneiform tablet. Matt will take your text, hand-stamp it, fire the tablet, and ship it to you!
Tell us about your background
I studied industrial design in college, and my first few jobs were doing real product design: office products in Kansas, and then high-end promotional goods in Hong Kong. So I had lots of experience with real-world production processes, and spent a lot of time in factories in mainland China. Then I moved to San Diego to start my web firm Brand New Box with Nate Clark, and I’ve been doing that since 2007. But I’ve been making misguided web projects for a long time: - a shop selling sketchbooks made from rescued library discards- a grassroots movement to break the US into smaller, more functional nations- dissecting stuffed toys to check out the secret robots inside- various weird bookish web projects
Describe the typical workflow from order to shipment
It’s pretty straightforward - I dip into my stash of clay and form the tablets, then sit down and transcribe them, and set them aside. The tablets need to dry for a few days, and then we heat them to harden the clay. We package them up in jewelry boxes with some wrapping tissue and bubblewrap, along with a note that shows the original message, and take them to the post office!
What is the most surprising thing you’ve found from making physical products?
The most surprising thing is how much I enjoy it. This project obviously rides on the joke that you’d *want* to keep your tweets forever, and so I thought I really just wanted to make this thing, share the funny idea with the world, and then be done with it - but I didn’t really want to devote much time to actually making the tablets. But it turns out that I really enjoy the meditative quality of working with the clay, carefully translating and stamping it, even handling the warm tablets when they’re done. That’s been a very pleasant surprise.
What has been your biggest hurdle with manufacturing?
It’s been pretty smooth so far! We got lucky and had a great launch weekend - just enough orders to be scary, but not so many that we couldn’t produce them all. And since then, the orders have slowed to a nice rate that feels sustainable for a side project. The biggest hurdle has been getting a consistent stamping tool - I’ve been carving up disposable chopsticks, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling for them now.
Have you had any surprises with shipping?
The biggest surprise has really been how much time it takes to package up the finished product. This is partly my fault, because we’ve got a custom-printed paper with the original message, and then we’re pretty careful about packaging up the final tablet. There are a lot of steps, and we’re handwriting both the address and the original message.
What’s your best customer experience?
By far the best part of our customer experience are the messages that I get to deal with. It’s about a 60/40 split between love notes and funny messages. I find it actually kind of heartwarming to deal with the love notes, and the ones that are jokes are consistently hilarious.
If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure; we really just started in earnest last week, so I’m sure we’re making a bunch of mistakes that we’ll regret later. Ask me again in two months!