The Bubbletown tiki soap-on-a-rope is probably my favorite product I’ve designed. First, it was an original piece, not a licensed character like Mickey Mouse or Homer Simpson, as most of my assignments are. Second, as a longtime tiki collector, it was my chance to create my version of the quintessential tiki and make my contribution to the continuum of tiki culture. To begin, I looked for inspiration. This was a short trip as I have a large collection of tiki mugs in my living room.
While most authentic tiki mugs came from American tiki bars of the 60s (tiki culture has little to do with Polynesia. It’s more about Polynesian culture filtered through the kitschy prism of 60s American bar culture), my favorite tiki mugs were not created for bars, but for home furnishings by a company called Treasure Craft. Here’s a Treasure craft mug:
It has a perfection of proportion that I love and the essential angry grimace/smile and faux wood texture. Here’s my collection of Treasure Craft tikis and Treasure Craft “inspired” tikis. Plagiarism is also a hallmark of tiki culture. Some mugs were actually made from molds taken off existing mugs, but due to the ceramic glazing, the copies have softer details (kind of like a xerox of a xerox). You can even find some mugs that appear to be copies of copies.
Using the Treasure Craft tiki as my inspiration, I came up with this design.
It sold well, and gradually it began to show up in different places. A friend of mine found these paintings online.
Like anyone who collects, people are always giving me tikis as gifts. I was deligted to get this tiki lighter last Christmas.
But as I looked at it, I began to realize what I liked so much about it. It was my tiki! I’d finally recieved the highest compliment a product designer can receive. I’d been knocked off!
If you have any doubt, here are my turnaround drawings superimposed over the lighter.
But there are several ways to be knocked off. Because of the cost of sculpting and mold making, the most common method (when having products manufactured in China, as this tiki was) is for the factory to produce extra product off your mold and sell them to someone else. This was something different. The lighter was one-fourth the size of the soap, which meant that some sculpter, using my tiki as reference, had painstakingly re-sculpted it at a smaller size. I was beside myself with joy. That is, until another friend of mine sent me a link to this website for a 3-dimensional scanner.
It turns out they just scanned my tiki and scaled it down digitally. Quite a blow to my ego.
But at least I was ripped off.
Read The Tiki Odyssey Continued for the latest update.