Rakafuki Friends focus kids on sustainability

[Tom Biederbeck] Does Brian Dougherty of Celery Design Collaborative ever counsel his 8-year-old daughter to “Go outside and play with your light bulb”? Notwithstanding that this model designer’s daughter is no doubt a model child, it’s a believable scenario when it comes to Rakafuki Friends, Celery’s initiative to broaden the audience for energy-efficient lighting and raise some money for schools in the process. And yes, there is a theme song.

How does one get to be friends with a Rakafuki? And what’s the significance of the name?
A Rakafuki Friend is a super-efficient LED light bulb in an adorable paper animal package. They’re designed to reach the universal “inner child” in audiences of all ages, not just the Disney set. My daughter Aiko is a third grader at Rosa Parks Elementary [Berkeley, Calif.]. She came up with the name — which is sort of like rockin’ and groovy mashed together — and wrote the theme song. It all reminded me a bit of Pokemon, which seemed perfect for the concept we were working on.

Fans can vote for their favorite friend on Facebook.

How did the project come about?
I started playing with the concept of a toy-like package for LED light bulbs last summer. I’ve always been struck by how excited and focused kids can get when they play, and I was wondering if we could elicit that kind of passion for a sustainable product. Companies usually present sustainable products in scientific or financial terms. Why not appeal to the child in each of us?

Stephanie Welter — a brilliant designer at Celery — went through about a hundred rounds of folded paper prototypes to develop the initial concept into viable package designs. We showed a prototype to Warner Philips, whose company Lemnis makes the Pharox, a high quality warm white, dimmable LED light bulb. Warner loved it, and offered to partner with us to bring it to market.

How does it benefit schools?
All of the profits from the initial run of Rakafuki Friends are going to support local schools. The first pilot sale wrapped up last week at Rosa Parks, which is a couple of blocks from Celery’s studio. The PTA sold Rakafuki Friends and raised $1500 for school enrichment programs. The kids quickly became great little salespeople — explaining the benefits of LED lighting to their parents and persuading them to buy. After the summer, we’ll expand the project to a handful of other schools and a few retailers. We also have a simple web store.

Rakafuki Friends take on the world: Here, Viola Volt is shown at Cataract Falls in Marin County, Calif., and at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Cataract Falls photo by John Greenleigh and Christian Melady. Milwaukee Art Museum photo by Patrick Castro.

Tell us about the fun factor on this project.
We thought a lot about joy and playfulness while designing the packaging. Those are rare qualities in technology packaging, but I think we all yearn for more joy and playfulness in our lives. The Rakafuki Friends are kid-like, but not just for kids. They’ve been popular at the elementary school where we’ve shown them, but also among our designer and artist friends. People have been sending us photos of their Rakafuki Friends visiting locales around the world — London, Paris, Sydney, even Sri Lanka. We’ve been posting fantastic images on Facebook. It’s like a crazy “garden gnome” phenomenon!

Viola Volt is joined by her Rakafuki Friends on the bank of the Seine in Paris. At left is Kaz Kelvin; at right, Lucy Lumen. Photo by Danielle Rubi.

Brian Dougherty is the author of the book Green Graphic Design and the principal of Celery Design Collaborative. He previously wrote here about Celery Design’s reboot of the Bon Ami brand.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Alyson Kuhn on 06.28.12 at 11:08 am

    Oh-là-là, I love the Rakafuki Amis in Paris! And I can’t help but wonder how many Rakafuki (Is that the plural?) it takes to screw in an LED bulb. Great report, great story, great design.

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