Concepts is a flexible digital sketchbook where your ideas can grow. Available on iOS, Windows and Android.
The Creative Art of Industrial Design
Studio Enemy Founder Joe Slatter shares the ins and outs of his creative process, from its origins in fine art to his career as an industrial designer.
“Every project or client I’ve ever worked on or with has had an underlying enemy that drives the project from start through to finish... Studio Enemy is all about recognizing the project’s enemies and coming up with innovative solutions to overcome them.”
Annelise Sandberg: Hi Joe, could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Joe Slatter: I am an industrial designer from rural Gloucestershire in the UK. My background was originally in fine art before formally training as an industrial designer. Working in industry, I’ve designed all kinds of products that span many different categories, from intricate tabletop objects to ten-foot-wide robotics with many things in between.
An assembly process shot for the Somnus, a wireless charger designed to reduce digital dependency at night.
AS: Tell us about your company, Studio Enemy. What kinds of problems do you typically tackle?
JS: Studio Enemy is a creative agency; each project is very different and comes with its own set of challenges. Typically, projects involve a client or entrepreneur trying to develop a physical product from idea through to full production. Some projects, however, are internally self-led, and these can range from material studies to product ideas that haven't been explored before.
AS: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the name of your company?
JS: Every project or client I’ve ever worked on or with has had an underlying enemy that drives the project from start through to finish. The enemy could be global warming, a competitor, or dullness in a certain product category. Studio Enemy is all about recognizing the project’s enemies and coming up with innovative solutions to overcome them.
Design sketches for the Five Mask, a reusable N95 mask design with adjustable straps.
AS: What drew you to study industrial design after completing a foundational degree in Art & Design?
JS: Doing a foundation degree in Art & Design was a wonderful opportunity to understand exactly what I wanted to do within the creative industry. It was the first time I was completely surrounded by fellow creatives, and it fabricated a melting pot of really interesting projects in all kinds of disciplines, whether that was graphics, textiles, fashion, fine art – anything. It was a fascinating environment to discover more about my process and mature as a creative.
AS: Does your fine art background influence your industrial designs at all? If so, how?
JS: Absolutely. The foundations of fine art and industrial design are very similar, and there are techniques I've learned from fine art – like how the brain interprets visual things and proportions – that I use every day as a designer. The fine art influence isn't purely visual either; lots of the same methodologies apply when it comes to researching a project early on in the process since the end goal is creating something that’s visual and engaging. The main difference is that the 'industrial' aspect means it can be manufactured in millions of units rather than hung in a gallery.
Design sketches for the Oto, a modular AI otoscope medical device.
AS: What excites you the most about the creative process, and how do you feel sketching plays a role in it?
JS: I'm very much a thinker who sees visually rather than analytically. I'm much more comfortable solving problems by sketching my thoughts instead of writing them down. The issue with this sort of creative problem-solving is that you never know how long it will take to work out the problem. Most of the time, I solve it when I'm not sitting at my desk and my mind is able to wander.
AS: What are your go-to creative apps, tools and media? What tablet and stylus do you use, and how does Concepts fit into your workflow?
JS: Funnily enough, I’ve had the chance to design both tablets and styli for big consumer technology brands; I’m hoping these will come out in the next couple of years so I can convert over to them from my current iPad Pro. As for other software, I mostly use Solidworks for 3D modeling, Keyshot for CGI and Adobe Suite for post and graphics. I tend to start a project by working with a pen on any bits of paper I find lying about the place. When it comes to presenting sketches to clients, however, that’s when I move over to Concepts. I love that I can still keep quite stylized with my pen strokes and have the flexibility to play around with it in vector form on a laptop.
The u-play* helmet is a modular bicycle helmet that provides comfort, increased safety and a clip-on aerodynamic visor.
AS: How has technology changed the way you approach creativity?
JS: Before I went to university, I knew technology and software would be the thing that held me back the most because I’ve always had little patience for learning new software. However, while at university and in my professional career, I’ve had to force myself to really concentrate on getting up to speed with the digital side of the job (usually by being thrown into the deep end). I still believe technology is just one of the tools in a designer’s toolbox and that it’s just as important as the physical or verbal sides of the role.
AS: What role does creativity play in your problem-solving process?
JS: I have a fairly short attention span, which can sometimes be a bad thing, but it also means I get very excited at the start of a project when an idea is in the early stages and you’re bouncing ideas off people. The energy of a ‘brainstorm’ has always intrigued me because you sometimes go into one with no ideas at all and come out with lots. It’s almost as though they’ve appeared from thin air!
Chef iQ® Smart Thermometer™ packaging and unboxing experience.
AS: Can you share your step-by-step process for turning an idea into a finished design?
JS: It varies project by project, but I tend to use the ‘double diamond’ approach of researching and exploring widely at first before narrowing down on concepts a little later on. I would say no idea is a bad idea in the early stages, and it can sometimes be the silly ideas that inspire the best ones.
I tend to work by sketching, to begin with. These sketches can be rough and are just to get ideas down as quickly as possible. Depending on the project, it may be best to jump into low-fidelity model-making at this point just so I have something physical and 3D to reference. Many concepts start to get cut down to a handful of promising ones, and I start slowly developing them towards a final solution. Throughout the process, the fidelity continues to grow, rough sketches start to become more refined and detailed, quick 3d mock-ups may become intuitive rigs, and simple block CAD will gain intricate surfacing and well-considered proportions.
The Veil Stool is made from over 4,000 discarded face masks collected from the streets of London during the coronavirus pandemic.
AS: What type of work do you enjoy creating the most? What is your dream project?
JS: Going back to my short attention span, the projects I enjoy creating the most are ones with variety. This could be variety in the product category, or it could be variety in the challenge itself, such as mechanical challenges, form challenges or cost challenges.
As for my dream project, I do have a ‘design bucket list’ of fairly common products; however, my dream project would have to be designing my own home and everything in it.
Design sketches for the Zephyr, a coffee-infused electronic shisha hookah.
The final Zephyr design.
AS: Do you have any thoughts or advice for young creators who are looking to excel in their own design practice?
JS: It’s very competitive out there. Thousands of designers graduate every year, which completely outweighs the number of positions available. I think it’s important to show how enthusiastic you are through extra-curricular incentives that make you stand out from the crowd. I would also advise looking outside of your close circle or industry for inspiration; it’s a global stage.
Born and raised in Gloucestershire, UK, Joe is an industrial designer who is currently working in London. He formerly worked as a designer in Silicon Valley, California, and in 2018 he co-founded Design Burger, an industrial design platform that curates products from around the world. His designs have been awarded the Cambridge Consultants’ Excellence in Breakthrough Design Award, as well as being shortlisted for the BraunPrize and the iF Design Talent Award. Alongside the Design Burger team, he has curated two sold out exhibitions: one in San Francisco and one at Milan Design Week, where they were also panelist’s for the Isola Design Awards.
Interview by Annelise Sandberg
Designing the Astrea Water Bottle - Product designer Bart Massee shares the design process behind Astrea's heavy-metal filtering personal water bottle.
5 Tools for Visual Thinking on Your iPad - Five great tools to help you take notes, think visually and communicate on your iPad with Concepts.
Designed to Make: Rolling Light - Designer Marcelo Cominguez walks us through the process behind creating his rolling lamp.