He talks to Curve editor Belinda Stening about his early years as well as plans for the future.
What was your background before joining Housewares International?
I studied industrial design in Adelaide at the University of South Australia. This course had a good mix of a theoretical and practical hands-on approach to design.
We had passionate lecturers and an excellent model shop. I did projects with local industry including a light, bath seat, chair and toilet brush holder for Sabco (whom Housewares International recently acquired).
I did work experience with Sunbeam and was offered a position with them after graduating.
I worked for Sunbeam for fifteen years. It was a fantastic education. I worked under Ian Wilson who was very encouraging and gave me a lot of freedom.
At that time they were manufacturing in Australia, so I would get involved in every aspect of a product, from research and conceptual design through to detail component design, production techniques, assembly efficiencies and warranty issues.
Because the labour costs in Australia were high I focused much effort and creativity on reducing assembly time. I worked on a range of toasters, irons and kettles that fully snapped together with one screw – each part locking in the last like a puzzle.
I continually had new opportunities and increasing responsibility. Along with Keith Hensel I was subcontracted to a US company to design a steam iron range with fully automated assembly.
It was a ten million dollar project and involved running a team of designers and engineers in Mississippi. I gained extensive knowledge in terms of big projects, management and cultural differences.
As design director I was lucky to play a key role in taking the business from manufacturing-driven to market-driven and, working with a talented team, achieved a high level of design output and speed to market.
Why did you want to become a designer?
As a kid I was always building and fixing things. I was fascinated with the mystery of how things worked. I would draw plans and build gliders, boats, rockets and other contraptions.
My family was very creative and a source of inspiration. I remember being asked to pick oranges from our tree, and building a complex device to convey the oranges via chutes from the top of a ladder gently into a container to save going up and down the ladder with a bucket.
I think I spent half a day building it to save about half an hour of picking! I had fun with this type of thing – I think I had a sense that there was always a better way to do things.
I lost track of my love of creating things during my final years of schooling and ended up doing a year of medicine. This wasn’t for me so I then had various jobs such as working for a mechanic and building models for the South Australian Film Corporation.
My sister suggested I find out about industrial design – which I had never heard of. So I did, and started a month later.
Can you tell us about your role at Sunbeam?
My role at Sunbeam was director of design and new product development. This entailed overseeing the design, technology and project management departments.
A key function of the role was to establish and communicate an internal direction for design and then steer all projects toward that direction. It was also to build a talented creative team and culture where designers could excel without fear of failure.
What is your role now at Housewares International?
At Housewares International I am responsible for design. I have been building a world class design team to design and develop products for our brands – from Breville and Kambrook on the electrical side to the housewares brands of Alex Liddy, Forum and Baccarat on the non-electric side.
We have built on the existing Breville development team and a strong tradition of innovation by significantly expanding our design capacity. We are designing for a world market.
We export to twenty-five countries worldwide, to major international brands. In January 2003 we launched an exclusive range of Breville products in high-end department stores across the US and Canada.
I am responsible for our design philosophy and direction, and to ensure we use our design resources in the most effective way.
Can you explain how the team works at Breville?
The best part of my job is helping other designers reach their full potential. We work on being the best team we can be. Each person makes the team and if anyone was missing it would not be the same. We look out for each other. The design culture is critical.
We have an eclectic interest in the world and we share our interests to inject inspiration into our design. The office is a fun place, vibrant and energetic.
As a generalisation, most designers start life wanting to take full credit for their project. This way projects become very personal and this can make team input difficult.
We have learnt to exchange this for the huge advantages of collaboration and shared ownership. There is still a strong sense of ownership by the lead designer on a project, but it doesn’t matter where the solutions originate, as long as the end result is the best product possible.
We collaborate fully with our marketing, engineering and quality departments, along with consultants, sales, suppliers and retailers. All input is critical and we keep everyone in the loop as much as possible.
The design team is part of an extended team that includes marketing, engineering, quality, sales and the supplier. We have a very practical approach.
We are designing products for people, so we listen to customers and watch what they are doing. Lifestyles and eating habits are evolving and we strive to design products to fit these lifestyles.
Our team is involved with each project from start to finish, from concept through to model making, testing, detail design and the fine tuning of tool parts. We identify a need and then create the product with exceptional performance.
People become attached to their appliances – but this only happens if we get everything right – how it works, how it sits in their house, how intuitive it is to use, what it says about them and their aspirations, how easy it is to keep clean.
It’s obvious you enjoy working as an in-house designer. Can you expand on the attractions for you?
There are many luxuries to working in-house that are not always available in a consultancy. We are surrounded by marketing, engineering, production, quality and sales experts with whom we get to build long term working relationships.
We have an unlimited supply of great projects. These projects are all high volume production that give us great freedom in material use and component design.
We get to follow our projects through into production to ensure the original concept makes it to the shelf. We have a state of the art design facility and prototype model shop for tinkering. We get to spend a long time with our brands, getting to understand them, what they are for people and where we want to take them.
Plus, for some projects we get to work with some great designers from great consultancies.
Is there a particular product that you have a passion for? Something you’ve designed?
I’m most passionate about the products we are working on right now which I can’t show you yet. I’m passionate about product design where the solution itself is an elegant and beautiful answer to a particular need.
It takes a lot of effort to get there but once you do, the product looks like it was always meant to be – like it was waiting until you discovered it. It’s simplicity – in a similar way that a good swimmer makes it look effortless, a good design looks obvious.
There might be a lot going on below the surface but on the outside it’s calm, reassuring and full of performance.
What are your plans for the future?
Housewares International is at a very exciting stage. We have been building a large and highly talented team. I feel we are only at the beginning of how our design centre can help build our business. I plan to stick around for the fun.