Case Study: Learning Beautiful Binary Tree

Empire Group’s Design & Engineering team help Learning Beautiful fulfill their mission to ‘provide beautiful and hands-on education to children everywhere.’

With an Engineer-in-Residence Grant from the City of Somerville, an MIT Graduate and Entrepreneur chose Empire Group to help perfect the design and engineering of tactile computer science toys for early childhood education.

Final Production Design of the Learning Beautiful Binary Tree

With Empire Group we were able to take an idea, create a strong prototype, and move quickly to get it out into the world. Empire helped us think through our designs so that we could scale and distribute them widely.
— Kimberly Smith, Co-Founder & CEO, Learning Beautiful

Executive Summary


Learning Beautiful


Struggle with initial concept design & engineering in terms of fit, function and ease of manufacturing.


Concept refinement, materials exploration and scale study that produced a streamlined, production-ready design with enhanced product functionality and aesthetics.


Industrial Design & Engineering, Prototype


  • Simplification of joint fittings and branch structures for successful function and ease of play and assembly.

  • Added asymmetry that enhanced the overall aesthetic and provided a more organic and child-like appeal.

  • Provided a more cost effective solution through the elimination of unnecessary components associated with the original design.

  • Standardized parts and sizes for more streamlined production.



Creating a start-up can be exciting and rewarding, but it comes with its challenges – especially when it involves new product development. Oftentimes, it is easy to develop tunnel vision when working on the design and engineering of a product. Learning Beautiful is a start-up company founded by an MIT Graduate & Research Scientist at MIT Media Lab. With limited resources, the founder and her team set out to design new learning materials for children that would break down the fundamentals of computer science into a collection of tangible, hands-on educational toys. Prior to working with Empire on this project, the team had done all of the design work in-house in their fabrication lab at MIT. Despite laboring through many iterations, they weren’t quite nailing the design in terms of function, usability for children, and ease of manufacturing.

With an Engineer-in-Residence Grant from the City of Somerville, and a recommendation from Greentown Labsa local start-up incubator the company’s Founder and CEO sought Empire Group to assist with their mission to ‘provide beautiful and hands-on education to children everywhere.’

Initial Design & Engineering Prototype


Acting as an extension of their team, Empire Group’s talented pool of Industrial Designers and Engineers were able to bring a fresh perspective to the product design and development process. The team at Empire worked with Learning Beautiful to refine their initial concept design of the Binary Tree through design adjustments, material exploration and scale studies. The project involved a multidisciplinary approach, utilizing multiple facets of Empire Group’s Product Development services, including Design, Engineering, and Prototype. Empire Group also assisted in the same fashion with a number of other products including the company’s Binary Towers, Pixel Boards, Binary Cards, Programming Boards and Logic Gates.

“Amazing Work Built on Holistic Design Approaches”

One of the things I really love about the Empire Group is their multidisciplinary approach. They bring together industrial designers, graphic designers, engineers and many others to form a strong team that can take on a variety of needs, and ultimately create amazing work built on holistic design approaches.
— Kimberly Smith

As a result of Empire Group’s services, Learning Beautiful was able to take an idea, create a strong prototype, and move it quickly to production. The company is currently in the middle of their second manufacturing run.


At Empire Group our customers will find a team that is passionate about product development and we value the ideas of our customers, big and small. As Kimberly Smith states “I have contacted many, many fabricators since starting this project, and the majority have not been willing to work with me, and in the worst of circumstances, have been very condescending. Empire was so different. They were enthusiastic and respectful, and believed in the work I was doing. They took my ideas and concerns seriously and worked professionally and efficiently in creating the best outcomes.”

With the original design intention in mind, Empire Group’s Design & Engineering team, was able to simplify the joint fittings and adjust the tolerances of the branch structures of the Binary Tree for successful function and ease of play and assembly. The team then continued to explore the geometry of the components and present an improved asymmetrical structure that enhanced the overall aesthetic providing a more organic and child-like appeal. Empire then infused additional value into the project by standardizing parts for more streamlined production as well as re-imagining the Binary Tree’s base to eliminate unnecessary components, and therefore, potential costs.

One of the factors that lead Learning Beautiful to work with Empire Group was the wide range of services we provide. Empire Group’s interdisciplinary capabilities in product design and engineering, prototyping, additive manufacturing, CNC and graphic design allows our team and our customers to produce parts, prototypes, and final products at an accelerated pace without a loss in flexibility, agility, or quality.  

Where is Learning Beautiful now? Check out this article from Exhale Lifestyle:

Kim Smith of Learning Beautiful on Her Montessori-Inspired Toys That Help Kids Learn to Code Without Computer Screens – Read the article


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