The ingenious Avakai

A conversation with Justyna Zubrycka

This story resembles a fairy-tale, the one with a happy ending. It all started with an idea. The idea was beautiful, constructive, original, focused on what is the most important in upbringing, very childhood unplugged, and moreover, thoroughly thought-out. Great idea was accompanied by reliably build prototypes - fruits of labor of a polish artisan. Finally, the project emerged, by virtue of generosity and good will of random recipients. And ultimately came a stunning success, great joy and lots of work to enable embodiment of the idea.

Such is the story of wooden Avakai figures invented by Justyna and Matas from Berlin based studio Vai Kai (we hinted on the subject here). Designers succeeded in persuading hundreds of people to support the idea of a wooden figure that can transmit emotions and sounds. Great advantage of Avakai is it’s creators’ sense of humor – you just need to take a glimpse at disarming stylizations of the wooden fellows.

Justyna Zubrycka talks on how to build a product, make people fall in love with it, and conquer the adversities, as well as on living in Berlin and projects that have recently blew her mind.




Tell us about what made you leave Poland and how did it go in the beginnings?

I had been thinking about making a product for children for a long time. I already had some experience in interactive multisensory art, yet my designer’s education inclined me towards resolving problems and having the solutions marketed. The core of a problem I was investigating was how kids interact with technology from the very young age. In Berlin my friend introduced me to a person who was pondering on the same issues, and who wanted to change that as well. We have decided to start a company and take our chances. This was my main motivation to leave my beloved city of Warsaw.

You are talking about Matas, aren’t you? How do you get along together? What kind of team do you form?

Yes! Matas, with whom I created the Vai Kai company, was already quite experienced in building start-ups. He worked with what is today the biggest online platform for musicians – Souncloud. We had some network to start with, his management skills and my skills in designing toys and interactive objects. We were both prepared to work hard and make sacrifices. There are ups and downs, but we stick together, support and teach each other. Communication and good relations are the most crucial parts of building a company.

justyna z chmurą

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Tell us about the process of inventing and improving ideas.

Work in a start-up means constant experimentation as we are creating something totally original. Each new idea is verified by the company’s values established at the beginning. We have our little testing team – every new prototype needs to be validated through play! We are in a partnership with the University of Sheffield, which conducts studies with children using our prototypes.

justyna at workavakai_szkice


You have bet on Kickstarter, a platform enabling projects funding. How did it work for promoting Avakai? Did everything go as planned?

Kickstarter proved to be an amazing marketing tool. However, we noticed how the platform had changed. People are expecting already developed products – they are unprepared for total novelties. We were counting on greater support. Despite this, we have acquired first clients who simply loved our products.

What was the most difficult task when implementing the new idea, and now, when the production has already begun?

There are still many difficulties ahead, as launching the production line of such a complex project is truly challenging. I respect immensely people who do this professionally and I hope soon enough someone will replace me with these responsibilities (laughs).

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What are the pleasures of managing your own creative business?

Owning a business is self-realization; it gives the feeling of doing something that matters and at the same time developing oneself. Beginnings are full of joy, enthusiasm, but also great sacrifices – in the end the equilibrium is kept.

What would be your advice for people who want to start their own creative businesses? How not to give up?

The most important is the attitude to learn from your failures. It is impossible to implement innovations without thousands of attempts. It is so simple, yet so essential.

What are you the most proud of? What would you change?

Many people think I should be very proud of what I do. The truth is, if you are that busy, there is no time to be proud (laughs). But speaking seriously, I admit I very much appreciate that we do not accept compromises and our main motivation remains positive change and child development. Sometimes when I get the affirmative backup from parents or kids who played with Avakai, I cannot contain tears of emotions. What would I change? I would like to focus solely on design, yet there is still a long road ahead until that stage.

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What do you value the most in polish design? And, on the other hand, what irritates you the most?

To be honest, it is hard for me to have a clear idea of what the polish design is. I do not perceive modern design as influenced by nationalities, but rather by the generations of designers. I value both fresh experimentation and classic design. I do not dig projects based solely on style or transient trends.

What inspires you?

Children! There is no better inspiration.


High five that! I totally agree. If I asked about artists you admire, whom would you mention first?

We share the studio with Elisa Strozyk; I am a big fan of her wooden textiles. I love Formafantasma studio for their poetic form narratives, Troika for consistent design of physical and digital forms, James Turrell for his splendid light playing with our senses, and whole bunch of animation creators with Miyazaki in the forefront.

Is there any recent project that you found stunning?

I happened to try out the Copenhagen Wheel prototype bike. Amazing feeling, as if my feet had torpedoes attached!

What are your plans for the next months?

We intend to introduce our product to the market before the winter, so Santa can put some Avakais in his sack.

Avakai-pilots Avakai-pilots-2 Avakai-dandelion Avakai-Kiss-2 Avakai-Wii Avakai-play

What music do you listen to at work?

Minimal techno rules! Berlin culture swallowed me completely (laughs). Apart from that, Daft Punk, Beach House, Dj Koze, Royskopp etc.

Thank you for this conversation! See you on Berlin’s dance floors!

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