Human Crafted’s Jon Alling in a fridge frame.
Jon Alling views things differently from most people. Take a coffee maker, for example. Many see a place for water, a filter and the pot. Alling sees all the small pieces and the person who put them there.
For the last 15 years, he was a mechanical engineer. At his most recent position with Johnson Health Tech in Cottage Grove, Alling was part of the execution team. Along with electrical and architectural engineers, he helped select the best way to bring someone else’s idea to life. The end products such as treadmills and exercise bikes worked just fine, but Alling saw flaws in the process: “People can make new products,” Alling says. “But making a better product that helps people with a really specific problem feels like what [I] really want to do at the end of the day.”
He began to think about going out on his own. “I started to gain confidence that I could actually have my own ideas or take what I saw and turn it into something [better],” Alling says.
Last March, he started his own product design studio, appropriately named Human Crafted. The startup takes its philosophy from Alling’s small-town roots in Evansville and Madison — something he terms “slower attitudes, better attitudes.”
He started by solving some of the bothersome problems around his own home.
(clockwise) Concentric coasters, sponge tray, pepper tray, cord keeper and fridge files.
His first product is a perfect example. Alling molded a paperweight from concrete to create a device that keeps his cellphone charging cable from slipping behind the nightstand when he unplugs his phone in the morning.
Alling has also created a naturally absorbent concrete and cork tray that holds wet sponges and another to hold a pepper grinder to catch excess pepper dust. Human Crafted also sells fridge magnets and magnetic folders, coasters and an iPhone/iPod lightning adaptor for a universal dock.
The magnetic items were inspired by Alling’s 5-year-old daughter, Olivia, a budding artist. Also available on Human Crafted’s website, humancraftd.com, is a set of refrigerator frames that Alling thought up to organize and display his daughter’s many doodles.
Alling handles every part of the creation from start to finish — speaking with consumers, selecting materials and overseeing each step in manufacturing. He feels this keeps his goods more tailored to a specific need than what is already on the market.
He does most of his thinking at his home office, then sends out patterns to be 3D-printed. He’s also a member at the Bodgery, a place for makers to gather and build, using the space’s large supply of tools and materials.
In six months of business, Alling has received a stream of online orders and entered the retail world at Drunk Lunch in Madison and Commonplace in Milwaukee. He is also set to appear with his products at the Crafty Fair (Nov. 13) and the Good Day Market (Dec. 9-10), both in Madison.
Alling says one of the best parts of owning his own business is learning new skills. His website, right down to the photography, is his own handiwork. Selecting colors and materials for his products and branding them has been exciting and challenging.
He thinks his products stand out because he truly cares about form and function: “That’s what designers aspire to — to actually make a difference.”