Foldable.Me is a new project from London/New York-based creative agency Mint Digital, which enables users to design a character using an online app. Their creation is then sent to them in flat form to be cut and folded into a fun cardboard character. We caught up with creative director Andy Bell to find out what the appeal of such projects is to an agency best known for creating sites for Channel 4 and Benetton.

Users of Foldable.Me first create their characters using a browser-based online app (above top). They’ll then be sent prints of the character (above middle) to be cut and folded into the final toys (above bottom).

Andy says he loves “being involved in the conception, development, launch of a product and then building a creative business around it.”

He lists his five top reasons to create non-client-based projects below; but says the foremost of these is the learning experience that such projects provide, both in terms of new creative abilities and business skills like project management.

“As Mint gets bigger and takes on more ambitious challenges, it’s great to see individuals in the team growing, learning new skills and thriving on new responsibilities,” he explains. “Personally, I’ve learnt a huge amount from Foldable.Me and everyone else involved has done, too. Perhaps even more satisfying than launching a product is giving people new challenges and watch them grow.”

Mint Digital’s future plans include another Instagram-related product that Andy describes as “rather different and very exciting” – but won’t say any more than that. Another product will be unveiled at the Playful gaming conference in London on 19 October, which is the culmination of the company’s graduate scheme Mint Foundry. “Their idea is crazy and possibly brilliant,” laughs Andy.

As Mint Digital has a US-based side to its business – and therefore an American bank account – it was able to tap the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform to raise money to work on Foldable.Me. This allows large groups of people to invest relatively small amounts of money in your project towards a set goal, with you offering early access or exclusive items in return for investment. Mint offered characters with personalised illustrations by the company’s in-house staff for Foldable.Me.

Kickstarter will launches in the UK on October 31 and Andy recommends it not only as a way to access funds, but to find out if your idea has appeal to others.

“Kickstarter is awesome,” he enthuses. “It lets you test an idea at an earlier stage – and it puts the focus on whether the project is marketable. As makers, it’s easy to get carried away with refining the product, but as entrepreneurs you need to put equal focus on understanding the market.

“If you have a good Kickstarter campaign, you not only get funding, but you get your first customers and often good PR as journalists scan Kickstarter for the next new thing.”

5 reasons why self-generated projects are a must for creative studios

  1. “They make [the studio] a fun place to work. The best designers and developers crave autonomy. They get more freedom on non-client projects.”
  2. “They are the best way to explore. We are only one per cent into the digital revolution – the other 99 per cent is unchartered territory.”
  3. “They win clients  – we recently won a client who loved the mobile flow on [Instagram-photos-on-fridge-magnets project] StickyGram.”
  4. “They sharpen our skills, [which] makes us a cannier agency. We’ve always known that each pound of marketing spend has to be earned back via margin on a product that wouldn’t otherwise have been sold. But now we live that on a day-to-day basis, and that helps us understand our clients better.”
  5. “They help us diversify our revenue. As a company, we make long-term commitments to our staff, but have short-terms commitments from our clients. This is risky. Non-client projects have given us something productive to do in the inevitable quiet spells. Now they also make a financial contribution.”