Design Jam Cincinnati – Cog supports local product development

Design Jam Cincinnati Asked for the Impossible and Got it.

A Cog’s-eye-view of Design Jam Cincinnati:

  • Bringing design and manufacturing together in the early stages of a product’s development opens opportunities otherwise unavailable.

  • The right combination of talent can achieve remarkable creative solutions, even in highly compressed periods of time.

  • The Design Jam approach is an effective innovation tool for brand owners, vendors, and creatives. Highly recommended.


Design jams are increasing in popularity around the country, probably because, guided by the right hands, they produce little marketing miracles—and everyone involved earns the right to strut for a while. Typically a jam gathers close to fifty makers, designers, and entrepreneurs along with manufacturing partners in a particular community. The mission is to help them discover the benefits of working together, instead of separately during early product development stages.

If you know Cog, you know we’re energetic cheerleaders for early collaboration leading to feasible design.Make it faster! Make it smart! Work together not apart!  (We totally chant that all the time.)

How Design Jam Cincinnati came to be and ended up including us is an “ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone” kind of thing. Urban Manufacturing Alliance, a national coalition of organizations and individual makers who are committed to building manufacturing economies fit for the 21stcentury, had been hip to design jams for some time. In a discussion with our local maker community led by CoMADE, they identified Cincinnati as fertile ground for an event. Other supporters and funders came on board, including Main Street Ventures, the Minority Business Accelerator, the Haile / US Bank Foundation, and PNC Bank. All were excited to see what would happen when a select group of juicy brains from the manufacturing, service provider, and design communities got in a room together to solve real-world packaging problems under a real short deadline. 

They invited local start-up brands Jumper ThreadsNew Riff Distillery and Ohio Valley Beard Supply to be beneficiaries of the workshop. DesignHouse in Chicago was tapped to facilitate. Matt Anthony, founder of CoMade, approached Cog. “We need a company to offer its design-through-manufacturing know-how, packaging materials, and people to mentor the work groups for a whole evening without a nickel in payment.” The Cogs puffed up indignantly. “We can’t be had so cheaply, Matt.” He countered, “There’ll be free pizza.” That, of course, was a different story.

The evening began with complimentary Donato’s pizza and drinks, and general hub-bubbing. Lee Wellington and Katy Stanton of Urban Manufacturing Alliance took the stage to greet the group and re-affirm their support for local small- and medium-batch manufacturers. Following came Emily Taylor of DesignHouse, to lay out the four stages of the process: Explore, Cluster and Build, Refine, and Present. The jam was on.

Here’s how it came down:

The participants broke into five groups, two working on Ohio Valley Beard Supply and New Riff Distilling, and one on Jumper Threads, all with a representative of the brand and a member from Cog present to offer guidance, not lead. 

During the Explore Stage, the groups were asked to think of packaging problems they had encountered when a product they ordered online was shipped and what might be done to solve them. Everyone had a horror story of crushed or soaked packages, damaged or smelly merchandise, and of being completely nonplussed by the lack of branding. The groups hadn’t even been given their missions, but they were quick to discuss different solutions to their problems by employing smarter construction, alternate materials, etc. We Cogs were delighted with the enthusiasm from, not a few, but from everybody present.

In the Cluster and Build Stage, the representatives from the three manufacturers asked their groups to take what they’d just discussed and consider the particular challenges their brands faced. How could the mix-and-match products of Ohio Valley Beard Supply be shipped one at a time or in sets without wasting materials? Could Jumper Threads deliver a killer brand experience with packaging for designer socks? How could New Riff Distilling present their products onsite in a unique and appealing manner? 

The Refine Stagesaw the ideas take shape. The sponsors and Cog had brought a range of packaging materials, from simple carton board to textured substrates, exotic foils, bubble-wrap and sheet plastics, along with enough glue and tape to attach the Earth to the moon. The innovation here stunned us. With only minutes to come up with packaging ideas, agree on the best, and build a prototype, each group created an ingeniously viable mock-up. 

One working with Ohio Valley Beard Supply put together an elegant, wallet-style package that folded out to present one, two, or all three products. The other group shaped bubble-wrap into a beard, which not only protected the contents but, after opened, could be worn as a novelty beard by the recipient! 

From the New Riff Distilling groups came a protective, cylindrical shipping container with a see-through midriff, and another that formed a carrying case for a bottle with two glasses that employed an actual stave from a whiskey barrel as a handle.

The Jumper Threads group took inspiration from the brand’s parachute logo and suggested a roll-up package of actual parachute silk. Beyond a visually and tactilely pleasant presentation, it could be used as a traveling kit with sleeves for each pair of socks.

The Presentation Stage was the most fun, because the whole room got to see what everyone else had been frantically cutting and taping up. Each group appointed (or possibly coerced) one member to act as its spokesperson. All five rose to the occasion with such brio and clarity, grizzled ad agency vets applauded. 

We have yet to find out if Ohio Valley Beard Supply, Jumper Threads, or New Riff Distilling has implemented any of the ideas, but they were sure ecstatic that night seeing the potential. In fact, everyone in attendance radiated pride and a bit of invincibility from the evening’s achievements. 

 All of us Cogs were thrilled to be a part of it all. We saw in practice our business model of collaboration between design and manufacturing early in the process ending in viable innovation that could make meaningful differences for a company.

 We were so inspired, we’re hard at work even now in the Cog secret underground facility trying to capture the essence of Design Jam Cincinnati 2019 in an aerosol for everyone who wasn't there. We’ll get back to you on that.