George & Willy bring a simple hand made approach to signage and message displays

Innovation Newzealand
Words Hey Vito & George & Willy
Photographs George & Willy

George & Willy are a much loved product design duo based out of Auckland, New Zealand. They started out as university mates wood working handy designs in their home workshop. Over the last 6 years they’ve steadily grown and now ship their products all over the world. 2019 has seen a change in approach with manufacturing now being outsourced and a renewed focus on signage and display designs. We caught up with the team to see what’s next.

You started out in 2013 as a couple of mates experimenting and making things that you yourselves needed. Fast forward six or so years, what keeps you excited about coming to work everyday?

Making things is a hobby, whenever we have a weekend to ourselves its what we want to do, make a new desk, sew up a new laundry bag, make a big chalkboard. We have a cool set up at work for us to use in the weekends. And so we designed our job around this. We just make things we want for ourselves and hope that others will want them as well.

Your paper rollers are your biggest seller. How did you land on the idea and why do you think its so popular?

In this digital futuristic world, I look around and think, 'we are living in the future.' Lime scooters and Alexa and all sorts of awesome techy things. There is a huge attraction for the back to basics lifestyle and analogue tools. The roller is nostalgic and fun and can be used by anyone.

While you still make some helpful tools for the home, the most prominent clients appear to be eateries and offices. Where are the majority of your customers from?

Most of our customers are in the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, NZ and Western Europe. Its a good mix of businesses and also people in their homes. I guess we should work this out exactly. People are loving the letter display. Which is more common in businesses and cafes but it's awesome in people’s homes. Its kind of like an interactive piece of art when visitors come in and change the words over.

You actively engage with your customers, asking what products they would like? Have you found this an effective way to steer your next designs?

I love reading peoples ideas, the most popular request was a shoe rack. I could actually use one myself! Shoes are always just in a big pile. There has also been quite a few requests for shower caddies, the little shelves which hold your shampoo. The ones I have encountered are pretty average. I have always wanted to make a really nice one, which is kind of like a shadow board. The same way we store the tools in the workshop, where each thing has its own place. A little spot for your toothbrush and razor, I brush my teeth and shave in the shower which saves time in the morning, and its warm! I also think this shelf should be just below elbow height so you don’t have to reach up in the shower. Everyone always has amazing problem solving ideas and cool little drawings.

Our products are in the offices of Microsoft, New York Times, Air BNB and We Work, which we’re stoked about! george & willy
What is the next product customers can look forward to this year?

We have something called the Grid which is a room divider/wall/plant holder/shelf. Its a big gird which looks cool with plants on it to brighten up a space, made for offices, cafes and also homes. I love green chalkboards as well so we have a chalkboard menu coming soon. It comes with a stencil to keep it looking nice and neat, as its pretty hard to write with chalk.

What considerations are you thinking about when designing goods that will be shipped all around the world?

Great question! We have just recently cut some of our larger products, like desks and clothing racks etc which are all quite large and the shipping cost is more than the price. Small things are good. Anything over 1.2m gets an oversize charge so you will notice we only make things under 1.2m. We also like to make things no one else makes.

You've shipped all over the planet. Has there been an order come from a place that surprised you? Somewhere really far flung?

We have sold things to quite a few countries, over 50. Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Chad. Our products are in the offices of Microsoft, New York Times, Air BNB and We Work, which we’re stoked about!

Am I correct in saying you're now selling to wholesalers in the USA? Was it a challenge to develop those relationships or did it just come about organically?

We went to a fair called NYNOW where we set up a little booth and thousands of wholesalers came and looked at our things. It was pretty funny. We did wholesale for a year and it didn’t work for us so now we just sell direct online. That way we can completely control the customer experience.

What are some developments you'd like to see for the George & Willy business in 2019?

We have exciting plans this year, in the next month we are doing, a new website, refreshing the branding, new staff, new products, new workspace, all new photos. We like being busy, gotta keep it exciting.

You and your team seem like outdoorsy types. Are you looking forward to any outdoor adventures this year?

We all love skiing and the chilly mornings are getting us excited. We went and skied the club fields for the first time last year and were blown away so will have to do that again •