See How LittleBits Is Trying To Change The Way We Think About Electricity

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Photo: Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

Electricity is such an important element of modern life and society, but few people understand how it works and what it does. Ayah Bdeir, LittleBits founder and CEO, is trying to change that.LittleBits may just look like a company selling electronic gewgaws, but it’s all part of a big idea: to get people to understand basic electronics and use them in creative ways.

Bdeir’s company makes small, connectible electronic building blocks. They look a bit like Legos—and like Legos, they appeal to both children and adults. The blocks snap together and can be used to create little electric grids to power small light-emitting diodes and run a small motor or engine—or just about anything your imagination can power up.

As a result, LittleBits has an active and growing online community that shares different design ideas. 

We stopped by the company’s offices in Manhattan to see how they do it.

LittleBits is in a cozy building near New York University, an appropriate location for a place all about learning.

The office has a warm feel. There are fun decorations all over, like this LittleBits logo hanging from the ceiling.

While friendly and fun, this is definitely a place of work.

There's some fall decor still in place ...

... but they're looking forward to winter celebrations.

The first time we stopped by for our office tour, LittleBits was in the middle of an event to teach children about the electrical challenges in New York as a result of Sandy.

LittleBits employees helped out.

And the kids worked together wonderfully.

The project involved creating a model of New York to simulate where the power outages were.

They really got into it.

Light-emitting diodes—semiconductors that light up when a charge runs through them—illuminated cut-out buildings.

While the event was fun, we came back for a second visit when the office was in full swing.

Even without kids in attendance, the office environment has a classroom feel with games and chalk.

Even in here!

Nearby sits the LittleBits studio. Employees shoot photos and videos here. littleBits has an active presence on Vimeo, where you can watch instructional videos.

Here's part of the shoot they had set up.

Nearby is the kitchen. We always judge a startup by its food ...

... and LittleBits has a nice assortment.

And nearby is the crucial coffee maker, which gives a hint on when employees start showing up in need of caffeine.

Supplies line the walls. The idea with LittleBits is to get creative and build your own projects which incorporate LittleBits devices.

Everything is carefully labelled.

The office atmosphere is friendly but focused.

And it is definitely a hands-on kind of place. Industrial designer Jordi Borras is getting ready to build some fun decorations for the coming holiday party.

With his poster board cut down to size, he needs to program in laser-cutter directions. (Did we mention they have a laser cutter?)

Directions set and board in place, it's go time.

What will he do with that?

It's just one part of a bigger project.

Meanwhile, Paul Rothman, an electronics designer, is working on modifying some old LittleBits products in order to make a cool sign for a party.

He gets to use this cool tool to do it!

But first he needs the right pieces.

And then it's time to concentrate.

He carefully moves things into place.

Rothman, who has been working at LittleBits from the beginning, took some time to show us the company's newest set of products, a holiday kit.

LittleBits has a fun design for the box and the new connectors have some great improvements.

Here's how LittleBits describes itself. It's playful, but not all about play.

And in the background is Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of LittleBits, hard at work.

We saw Bdeir working closely with her staff.

Krystal Persaud is a junior industrial designer at LittleBits. She started this year and helped organise the children's workshop we saw on our first visit.

Nearby, Geof Lipman, an electrical engineer, who has been at the company for about four months, is working on a new design for the lights in the LittleBits.

The company is really into making stuff—they were going all out on holiday-party decorations.

Hirumi Nanayakkara (left), a user-experience designer, and Tara Noftsier (right), a community manager, discuss some site-design elements.

Ethan Hartman (left), customer-service coordinator, and Erin Mulcahy (right), office manager, are newer members of the team.

Mulcahy has this cool little guy on her computer. She found him in the storage closet and thought he would make a good addition to her desk.

The best LittleBits projects of all.

The Sesame Street House is awesome, with all kinds of moving parts and lights.

We spot Bdeir in a meeting in LittleBits' conference room. The table was specially designed for the company.

And everyone seems busy at work.

So we take this modern elevator and head out.

Now, for a completely different kind of creative effort—making Internet memes ...

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