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Q+A: Zolty from BREAKFAST

If you joined us for an event in the Archway last summer, you probably got to print some of your #LiveAtTheArchway or #SprechenSieDUMBO Instagram posts on site with Luster! We sat with Zolty, Chief Creative Officer at BREAKFAST and Luster, to talk about their crazy gadgets and what they’re working on right now.

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How did BREAKFAST get started?

BREAKFAST started around 7 years ago with 3 Partners. Our background is in software, web, and digital marketing. Mattias, one of the co-founders and our CTO, and I were working in London. We wanted to get outside of the screen, so we created this thing called “BakerTweet,” which was kind of a first IoT, bakery alert system. That exploded and landed us on WIRED, and ended up in MoMA. We decided to start a company off the back of that, but weren’t entirely sure what to do other than try to connect the web and hardware in an aesthetically pleasing way.
I think Points is the best example, of this: taking lots of the data that exists throughout the city, and trying to sum it up in something that’s not just an ordinary screen. We also did a lot of client work in the early days like F21 Thread Screen for Forever 21. Now we’ve evolved to a point where the products are what we focus on.

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Instaprint, now rebranded Luster

Tell us about Luster, formerly known as Instaprint.

We invented “hashtag printing.” Instaprint were these boxes we built out of picture frames from West Elm–just drilling a bunch of holes into them. It prints out an image from Instagram that has been tagged with an event hashtag on the spot. It also creates mosaic out of images posted on Instagram about the event–we have an algorithm that analyzes every Instagram or tweet that has that event hashtag, and sees how the image could fit into the mosaic. Instaprint is now rebranded Luster, and we spun it off to create its own company. Six years later, Luster is a global company with offices all over the place from Asia to the Middle East. Our hope is to come out with new products, focused on creating new mediums. A platform to display something on, etc.

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Mosaic generated from Instagram posts by Luster

What is one your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

It changes, but Points is probably my favorite because it checks all the boxes of what I think we’re really good at: taking all the online data and making it aesthetically pleasing, and it’s sort of timeless and a little bit fun.

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Control Panel of Points

What are you currently working on?

Today we’re focused on the Flip-Disc Display. We prototyped it about 4 years ago. Our whole idea is switching to creating our own mediums. This is our first modular kinetic display where physical pixels move and capture an image with the sensor. We’re currently working on a panel for the Flip-Disc so you can make the Flip-Disc in whatever size you want. We do all that prototyping, and we design all the circuit boards and small pieces as well.

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DUMBO Logo generated by the Flip-Disc Display System

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Tell me about the team behind the magic.

Around 17 to 18 people work here in the DUMBO office with Breakfast and Luster combined; there are probably around 30 to 40 working for Luster globally, including our office. All of the mechanical work is done by about 5 of us. Mattias, one of the partners is essentially the CTO, I am sort of a mix of industrial designer and other design concepts. We never have more than 5 fpeople making any of this stuff, which is intentional. We started the company because we just like to do stuff, and we don’t like to be managers that much, and we want to keep it that way.

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Do you guys make everything in here?

Everything you see we make in here. We have a workshop where we prototype everything by hand, and we’ll manufacture the large runs.

How long does it take to complete one project?

The original prototype of the Flip-Disc was about 20ft long, and it took about three to four months to prototype it. The originals are more of a modification of hardware that existed, we physically modify them, kind of a hack to some degree. The new version we build from scratch so it’s totally different. It is able to do more stuff, and it’s faster.

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How important is it for you to actually create something you design?

We tend to lose our minds if we stop making. The crew is a very maker culture, so it’s super important to us. We’re unique in the way that we can build both the software and hardware with only 2 people. So we can efficiently tie stuff all the way from the web to the chip. We tried to offload stuff at times, but every time it just goes sideways. It’s better when we can see the process from scratch.

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What kind of  impression do you think people get when they see information displayed on a medium like the Flip-Disc, or Points, compared to a ordinary flat screen?

Phones and Tablets are great when it’s in your own personal space but to me it doesn’t make any sense to have it on the sidewalk. People are getting more and more use to ignoring flat screens. Like the MTA screens are filled with useful information that you never see anyone using. We just use our phones to look up the information we need. So those screens just become large ads that move. The biggest difference between them and something like Points, is that Points show stuff that you likely don’t know about, that is going on right now. You could run ads on this but it wouldn’t feel like an ad. It could be something temporary like “I’m giving away free muffins right now,” at a cafe and take it down after 20 minutes.

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What do you think of the DUMBO Tech Scene?

I like it. It’s fun. I have so many friends in this area and also know so many of these companies, it’s just cool to bump into these people all the time. I think it has created a cool vibe around here, I’m pretty excited for all the new stuff that’s coming up as well.

What’s your favorite place in DUMBO?

My favorite thing is to hit up the pier in the summer where they have a tent and serve beers right at the dock, and just sit there and listen to the boats.