How Zoku gets things done

Zoku is a design-led company that creates colorful, functional, and innovative kitchen products.

From spaceship-inspired popsicle molds to a cup that makes iced coffee without ice, Zoku’s eye-catching products are hard to miss. Their designs have been included in collections at The Henry Ford Museum, the Chicago Athenaeum Museum for Architecture and Design, and countless kitchens around the world.

We had a chance to catch up with Will Nickley, Senior Industrial Designer at Zoku, to learn how this creative team works, the importance they place on design, and finding inspiration in the physical world.

Tell me a little about Zoku, how did it get started?

Zoku is known for our housewares. But really, we’re in the thinking business. We put the fun in functional with innovative, easy-to-use, well-designed products.

It all started with a simple question: what if we could make popsicles freeze faster? And after months of research, testing, and prototypes, our Quick Pop Maker was born. We knew we were on to something and soon, Williams-Sonoma agreed, picking us up for their holiday season.

Zoku Quick Pop Maker
Quick Pop Maker by Zoku

What does your creative team look like?

We have a great team of industrial designers, graphic designers, engineers, and let’s not forget, an enthusiastic intern that comprise Zoku’s creative team. And because both of Zoku’s founders share a design background, design thinking plays an important role in all aspects of our business.

As an industrial designer at Zoku, I get to wear many hats. A typical day might include: reviewing overnight manufacturing updates from our team in China in the AM, hacking together a proof-of-concept in our shop, leading a creative workshop for our design team before lunch, sketching new concepts and 3D modeling them for an overnight 3D print, then styling ice pops for a photoshoot and social media campaign. There’s never a dull moment!

How does design fit into Zoku’s culture?

The products we design at Zoku are often catalysts for interaction and relationship-building among family and friends in the home. Zoku means family in Japanese, so I suppose “family” is in our DNA. The definition goes beyond creating family memories around our products, it also speaks to our culture.

Our office, which we designed from scratch to facilitate interaction between all of our teams, is our playground. Our large test kitchen is the backdrop of tasting new recipes, bouncing ideas back and forth, and often where we all gather to eat our lunches as a work-family.

Fish Pops
Fish Pop Molds by Zoku

“The products we design at Zoku are often catalysts for interaction and relationship-building among family and friends in the home.”

What inspires your team?

We’re inspired by the world around us, getting our hands dirty with prototypes and learning by collaborating, building, tasting, and exploring. As we are located just a quick train-ride from Manhattan, we can take advantage of the many art and cultural events held throughout the year, like Design Week. The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, just East of Central Park, is one of our favorites, with exhibits that blur the lines between traditional art, product design, architecture, speculative fiction, and fun.

What does your team’s creative process look like?

Make it. Test it. Break it. Fail. Show us. Put it up on the wall. Get it into a user’s hands. We borrow heavily from both the maker school of thought and traditional design thinking. Both rely on an iterative approach to creativity and discovery through exploration.

The allure of today’s increasingly useful and immersive digital world makes it difficult to set down the iPhone, stop sketching on the Cintiq, close all those Photoshop tabs. But Zoku makes products for the physical world, and it is imperative our creative team explores and makes physical things. Our Lego calendar is a physical manifestation of our dynamic development timeline, and gives us another excuse to keep things physical.

Zoku’s Lego calendar
Zoku’s Lego calendar

“Zoku makes products for the physical world, and it is imperative our creative team explores and makes physical things.”

How does Dropmark fit into your workflow?

Dropmark is our creative team’s augmented reality, it’s our digital pin-up board in a world full of digital creativity. Mood boards, sketch explorations, prototype and proof-of-concept videos, presentations, manufacturing sample photos—all accessible from our personal computers, phones and laptops when we’re on the go, and on the big-screens in our conference rooms. Personally, I love being able to throw digital sketches into a Dropmark collection as I work, and see other sketches my teammates complete in real-time, we really feed off each other’s creative energy this way.

You must come across a lot of great recipes, what are you obsessed with right now?

This question made me laugh out loud. During our photoshoot for our Ice Cream Maker recipe book Endless Summer, we styled and tasted all 50+ recipes! Yes, they are all great, and yes, I gained about 5 pounds that week. Although my current obsession is top-secret, my personal favorite Zoku recipe is our Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Smoothie. It works in our Slush & Shake Maker and the Ice Cream Maker, and can be found in our recipe book, The Art of Slush.

For more on Zoku visit and follow @ZokuHQ on Twitter.