Jed Crystal of Hepper has done exactly what I have hoped someone would do with pet products…he has created pieces that are aesthetically pleasing (especially for a modern home) while also perfectly functional for your furry friend. A true master of form and function.
If Jed Crystal is the designer, who then is Hepper? Hepper is the name of a rat-cat who moved in with Jed and was subsequently nicknamed Hepper (as Jed notes, “short for Hepburn, as in Audrey, as in elegant, beautiful and oh-so stylish”). Hepper is now the official product tester for all Hepper pieces. Enjoy the Q&A!
You seem to be a man of many hats. I saw that you have history and experience designing backpacks, gloves, footwear, lighting, furniture, housewares and now for pets. My goodness! What was the turning point that led you into pet design? How did Hepperâ„¢ come together and get off the ground?
Design is around me all the time I’m the guy who is under tables in the furniture stores looking at joinery so the pet products have actually been brewing for quite a while. The first inspiration was when Booker (big fat shadow tiger cat) came to live with me 12 years ago. He’s had more design prototypes to play with than I can count. Fast forward to January ’07: 2 more cats are in the house, a beginning of a modern furniture collection and some really ugly cat beds, toys and scratchers strewn around. I knew I could make something better than what was on the market, so I took my experiences in the outdoor and furniture industries with textiles, molding techniques and color, gelled it all down to a series of furniture for the Fur Kids.
Besides pet product design, is there any other industry that you particularly enjoy?
Iâ€™ve worked in the outdoor industry for a long time, designing soft goods (packs, gloves, luggage), and that fits well into my lifestyle here in Vermont. It’s important to me to live with the products I design. My first love, though, is definitely furnishings. The mash up of function and art is wonderfully exciting in furniture and housewares.
I would have to confess to being a dog person, but I have met a cat who was pretty much a dog in a cat body so I have been persuaded to go both ways. Do you have a preference for one or the other?
I love them all, but I do lean to the cat side. There are 3 cats in the house, Booker, Hudson and Hepper. That’s plenty of critters for now. I had thought about a bigger pet at one point, but realized I could just tape the cats together to make a dog. (settle down, PETA)
What is your studio like? Any key animals rule the roost?
The studio is in a renovated warehouse in downtown Burlington, Vermont called the Powerhouse. In the building there are offices with graphic designers, industrial designers, and computer geeks. It’s a great spot for inspirational energy. There’s another industrial designer across the alley, so we figure that we have the highest saturation of industrial designers in all of VT right here. The in-house critter is a hyperactive Lab named Muddy, who works down the hall.
How would you describe your design style/philosophy? How has it evolved over the years?
I love the creative process of solving problems and/or creating solutions. This doesn’t always involve the romantic napkin sketch; it’s a blend of business and marketing strategy, technical materials and manufacturing knowledge, operations and design for form and function. That being said, I do like to keep things simple. I always try to work towards the essence of a design; always asking myself how can I reduce materials, is this design solving the problem in the most direct way, what else can be removed?
Your cat/dog beds have such an array of designs – from the Pod, to the Nest, to the Wave, to the Podium, to the Pad. Where do your design ideas come from?
The forms grew out of researching how cats and small dogs like to spend their days. They like to be warm, comfortable, and secure. The forms grew out of that research: beds that are raised off the ground for warmth and a vantage point, beds that have high sidewalls or tops for security, soft interiors for warmth. Then the refined designs were inspired by modern furniture, cars, fashion, and nature â€“ all elements that I constantly draw from.
I have had a similar design issue trying to find a more modern fish tank that is not the typical ugly shape and size. I actually have yet to find something unique but functional. Ever consider going into the fish market? (ha!)
No plans for fish yet, but I did see a great Apple Cube mod…maybe you could step it up and make a fish chandelier
I love the fish chandelier idea. I just may have to run with that!
Besides the attraction to your contemporary designs, I have seen people get excited about the pricing of your pet pieces. Very reasonable! How much do you take pricing into account when creating your designs?
Pricing is a huge issue for me. As a designer and business person, there’s a bit of internal conflict. Some earlier designs of the beds had to be revised in order to keep the prices down. There are always decisions to make about materials, manufacturing, packaging that all affect the price on the shelf. My goal is to create the most unique pet products possible that can still be affordable to most people. As the line grows you will see a broader range of prices so that there is something for everyone.
What is next for Hepper? Any other visions on the horizon for Jed Crystal?
Oh, this is just the beginning! The Hepper line is expanding to toys, tools and more beds. I’m also working on some furniture for the rest of us humans, ergonomic baby products, and concepts for electricity conservation. Keep your eyes out for lots of fun in the near future!