I first reached out to FROLIC studio cofounder Andrew Spitz seven years ago when I came across his Skube music player design. A few weeks ago, he popped up on my radar again. While browsing LinkedIn, one of his newest projects, the COVID-19 Decontamination Toolkit, grabbed my attention, and so I reached out to him. After catching up, he shared some details about Amsterdam-based FROLIC studio’s product design initiatives, social impact projects, and the products he is working on during these turbulent times. 

Innovating in Amsterdam  

Abate: Your work first caught my attention about several years ago when I learned about your Skube music player. How are things? How are you holding up during the Covid-19 crisis? 
Spitz: Wow, that was quite a while ago. Actually, that was the first project my business partner and I did together, and it’s then that we decided to officially start the studio together. We really enjoyed working together, saw product design in a similar way, but had very complementary skills.  
Abate: I was working in Maastricht in February, but I have not been to Amsterdam since last fall. What is it like in Amsterdam these days?
Spitz: Maastricht is a lovely city. And so is Amsterdam. The weather has been gorgeous for Dutch standards, and with the current lockdown climate, the city is relatively peaceful — having more of a town than a city feel.     
Abate: Are you working from home or the FROLIC Studio office?
Spitz: I have been working from the studio. I’m fortunate enough to be able to cycle to the studio. The rest of the team has mainly been working from home and coming in when is needed — for example, to use the workshop. Lately, as things are loosening up, people have been coming in a little more. We have quite a big space (compared to our team size), so we split the space and the times people come to the studio. 
The FROLIC studio office
The FROLIC studio office
Abate: Has it been difficult to navigate the Covid-19 situation as a small business owner? Any special challenges? 
Spitz: Honestly, yes. All the projects we were busy with or had lined up stopped from one day to the next. Worrying about that, as well as the well-being of the team and generally needing to figure out how to conduct our work remotely, has been needing a lot of quick adapting. But there’s been good in this, and we’ve matured a lot of our processes, and it gave us an opportunity to look at what’s working, what’s not, and what we want the studio to be in these times and coming out of it. That said, things are slowly starting to go back towards the “new” normal. We’re actually starting a new project with a dream client — can’t say who yet — so we’re very excited about that.   

COVID-19 Decontamination Toolkit

Abate: We spoke recently about FROLIC studio’s COVID-19 Decontamination Toolkit, which is an open-source kit that uses UV-C light to extend the life of face masks. When did you start calling for volunteers? And how did it all come together?
Spitz: When we entered unprecedented times we are in now, it became harder for us to sit back and watch things unfold without trying to help. We have an extensive network, skillset, and a workshop, but there was also a limit to what we could do from our studio, especially when it came to understanding the context where support was genuinely needed. So, we also interviewed many people at the ground level of the COVID-19 challenges to better understand how we could help. 
Decontamination toolkit - product design example
The COVID-19 Decontamination Toolkit
The entire process from the initial call-out to the final toolkit took only 14 days, as the studio worked round the clock to prototype very quickly. The response from the community was very quick and our call was answered by more than 130 volunteers from Brazil to Costa Rica, Sweden to Hong Kong. We got the insights from healthcare workers and then engaged industrial designers, UX/UI designers, project managers, software developers, and a number of other experts from all over the world to help us develop this solution. 
Decontamination toolkit
More than 130 volunteers contributed to the project.
Abate: Do you sell the Decontamination Toolkit, or do you just offer the instructions?
Spitz: What we want, ultimately, is that the affordability and efficacy of this toolkit gives those in the shortest supply of protective gear the chance to stay safe for longer, and ultimately to help save more lives. Especially for those outside the public eye: supermarkets, care homes, public services, and all those who show up to work, exposed, every day, and to whom protective equipment supply is not guaranteed in time of scarcity. The simplicity, and decentralization from the supply chain, of this setup means it can be used globally and immediately — and, crucially, also in developing countries. We’re already seeing people from South America to Africa to Asia adopting the COVID-19 Decontamination Toolkit. With this approach, we can give a fair chance to those at the frontline of this crisis.
Abate: Do you have any feedback on the Decontamination Toolkit’s use?
Spitz: One of the main issues we found was that, in spite of our efforts to make the instructions very approachable, there’s still a gap between those that can or want to build it and those that really need it. Therefore, since launching, we also provided a way to match-make those that can build and those that need it.   
Abate: The last time we talked, you mentioned that the Decontamination Toolkit was going to be tested by outside lab. Any news on that? 
Spitz: Yes! Great news actually. We have sent our prototype to the HygCen Lab in Germany, who has performed a screening test on some exemplary masks using the Bovine Coronavirus BCoV. The results of the disinfection process showed that the required reduction of the test virus Bovine Coronavirus by ≥ 4lg steps could be achieved in eight minutes within the specific test procedures performed.

Product Design and Social Impact Projects

Abate: You dedicate a portion of your website to “social impact” projects. First, congrats on that. I can speak for our entire team: it is inspiring to see entrepreneurs like you directing your talent toward positive projects. Besides the Decontamination Toolkit, which social impact project was the most rewarding in terms of social impact? 
Spitz: It’s really important for us to be able to contribute positively where we can. It’s important, as product designers, to put into consideration our planet and the people living on it. One very rewarding project has been the Modular Covert Camera, which we did with a human rights NGO (undisclosed). The miniature, concealed, and connected camera we have been developing, for the purpose of documenting human rights abuses, gathers video footage. It is a valuable way to expose human rights violations at a grassroots level, and it has proven its impact on the way that activists can support communities at risk.   
Another project, from the perspective of our planet, has been the Fossil Free Crib — a child’s crib designed and produced without the use of any fossil fuels. A huge challenge, but a very rewarding one that got us deep into the research of materials and supply chain.  

Editor's note: Want to learn more about FROLIC's past projects for companies such as Intel? The rest of this interview will appear in an upcoming 2020 edition of Elektor Industry magazine. The magazine will be distributed for free via the Elektor E-Zine. Subscribe to the E-Zine for free!
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