Entries in industrial design (5)


Interview Series – Meet Jason Cooper, Senior Designer 

In this new blog feature, we will be interviewing members of the Essential team so you can get to know us better.

You grew up working in your father’s auto body shop. What about that experience drew you to industrial design, rather than another related field?

Every summer since I was ten, I worked alongside my dad painting and modifying cars, boats, motorcycles and jet skis. I learned a lot about colors, materials and finishes, which plays a huge part in what I do today as designer.  Along with aesthetics, I was continuously solving problems by building and repairing components. I enjoyed this experience and developed certain skills from it, so I thought I would major in mechanical engineering. But, it was not meant to be. The first year of college, I fell behind in my work. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was studying graphic design and she helped me to realize that there were many areas of design to consider.  I enrolled at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, but after a year and half, I transferred to the Cleveland Institute of Art where they had a stronger Industrial Design program.  It certainly wasn’t an easy and direct path to my profession but as the saying goes, “It’s about the journey not the destination”. 

If you could choose one project that had the most profound effect on you what would it be?

Within my personal life, it has to be building my classic Chevrolet Pickup from the ground up. It took a grueling nine years to complete and I worked on it up until the day I drove 500 miles to Boston to begin work at Essential. Once I finally got it on the road, it gave me a real sense of accomplishment. 

As for my professional career, the first project I saw to market was huge for me. This was the Lexicon I-ONIX Desktop Recording series, which I am still very proud of. I can still remember that “A-ha!” moment when we finally realized what that one thing was that this product could do differently to stand out among the rest. Paying particular attention to the product context and user interactions led to the award winning design. That was four years ago now and the design still holds strong. 

Since you’ve begun your career as an industrial designer, what have you noticed about industry trends or shifts in the way things are done?

A lot has changed in just six years. Resolution and the pace at which we work come to mind. When I first started, there was more emphasis on high resolution sketching in Photoshop and Illustrator. Now we’re quicker to move into SolidWorks where we can be more accurate. This also allows us to seamlessly work with engineering early on in a project, since we both "speak the same language".

One of your recent projects, the iRobot Roomba 700 Series has been getting a lot of attention.  Not only is it one of the bestselling vacuums in Japan, but it’s also receiving accolades from world-renowned design competitions such as Excellence in Design and Red Dot. How did you and the team approach this project?

Our goal for this project was to give the next generation Roomba a classic look with the use-environment in mind.  Roomba was the pioneer in robotic floor cleaning and this long heritage meant Roomba had to communicate a thoughtful confidence. While the vacuum is a tool, it’s one that you don’t hide in a cabinet or the basement. We found that it's something of pride, to be displayed even though it’s not in use when guests are around, similar to kitchen appliances. Those that are successful stay on the market for a long time.  A good example is the Oster Beehive. It’s the iconic blender they had in diners in the 1950’s. It’s been sold virtually unchanged since then and it’s still as loved now as it was then. 

The success in Japan isn’t really a surprise. We approached the project with that specific market in mind. We developed aspirational personas by looking at other products, living spaces, color pallets and came to conclusions to what were the common threads. We also gleaned inspiration from successful designers in that region, like Chiaki Murata and Naoto Fukasawa.

A big part of the project involved designing for flexibility, so that the most product SKUs could be made with most shared parts. This also meant designing with future refreshes and in mind. As the product features and technology advance, which mostly effects what you don't see, the skins need to portray that change.  We broke the surface up into enough meaningful segments to facilitate greater possibilities for painted color and finish differentiation.  

A design that sells well, looks great, sticks around and makes our clients happy – that’s a win, win, win, win. When you look at successful products, the ones that have longevity are the ones that stick to the point. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Where do you go for inspiration?  

Everywhere.  I have my laundry list of blogs that I track on a daily basis. Finding inspiration now is better than ever. My favorite blog is Notcot. I’ve been tracking that for a few years now and I still think it has the best mix of art, design, architecture, and technology.  Flea markets and dumpster diving are also key. I’m constantly scanning the sidewalks on my commute to work every day. I take quick snapshots of inspiring things I see throughout the day and keep them stored on my phone so I can reference them anytime.

Lately, I’ve been finding inspiration in other designers. Recently, I created a group called “Make Stuff” and we do just that.  Once a month we congregate with a process or material theme. Last month, it was concrete and we created everything from candle holders, planters, stools and even fire pit. Through these projects, we are pushing ourselves to experiment with new materials and techniques beyond what we would normally work with. This group is also unique in that it allows us to be both the designer and manufacturer.


Creative Mornings Kicks-Off In Boston

Exciting news! Creative Mornings has finally arrived to Boston. The monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types is the brainchild of blogger Tina Roth Eisenberg – also known as “Swiss Miss”. Hundreds of design buffs attend Creative Mornings every month, in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Zurich. Armed with caffeine and a PowerPoint, designers, artists, photographers and writers from all over come to hear the unique perspectives of fellow professionals in the industry.

I'm happy to annouce that our very own Richard Watson was asked to present for the sold-out, inaugural Boston event. Richard described his own discovery and path to design, including his beginnings of living on a farm in Wensleydale, England to becoming a business owner in Boston.

If you aren't a morning person, or you were put on the waiting list, Creative Mornings posts video to its website. They have an impressive archive of lectures to checkout and Richard’s talk was posted just this week:




TRON is back, brighter than ever

The extreme sharp contrast between bright colorful light and dark has an almost "magical" appeal.

It won’t be long until we’ll see this fashion trend move on to products and vehicles.

Electroluminescent wire (EL wire) is a thin copper wire coated in a phosphor which glows when an alternating current is applied to it. It can be used in a wide variety of applications- vehicle and/or structure decoration, safety and emergency lighting, toys, clothing etc - much as rope light or Christmas lights are often used. Unlike these types of strand lights, EL wire is not a series of points but produces a 360 degree unbroken line of visible light. Its thin diameter makes it flexible and ideal for use in a variety of applications such as clothing or costumes. 



How about some brand love for HTC?

Clearly HTC are dominating the development of smart phones. In just a few years they have virtually taken out once giants Nokia and Motorola, and for those out there in the world who constantly fawn over Apple, they create the vast majority of the hardware magic behind the cult of Android. Unlike Apple they are just hardware developers and like other hardware manufacturers in this space none capture the holistic magic that Apple has created between hardware and experience.

Nonetheless HTC provide a great example how a business anticipated an inflection point in the market, capitalized upon it and became the dominant player.



Shure announces Beta 181 ultra compact instrument microphones!

After a year of hard work, our design and engineering collaboration with Shure on the new Beta 181 line of'lollipop' style instrument microphones has been annnounced.  Everyone at Shure is really excited about this product, and expect there will be a lot of buzz during the upcoming tradeshow introductions at AES in SanFranciso next week, and NAMM in Anaheim mid-January.  Great work to all involved!