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Highsnobiety Q&A November, 21 2012

A Conversation with Industrial Designer Joey Roth

Following the phenomenal success of his Sorapot, industrial designer Joey Roth has released a string of environmentally-friendly and beautifully designed products including his recent ceramic subwoofer which we featured just a month ago. As fans of his work we got in touch with him in order to ask a few questions about his design process. Take a look at the full interview below.

How do you decide which type of product to design next and what does your design process consist of?

I choose new products to develop at the intersection of my interests and capabilities. I only start sketching once I’ve played with an idea mentally for a while. I do a few sketches to align my idea with reality, and then move into SolidWorks. This 3D CAD package forces me to consider manufacturability, and I learn more about my idea through a further alignment with reality. Once I’m happy with the CAD model, I email the files to my manufacturer for a prototype. This takes about a month, so I’m building a mock-up in my studio at the same time. The manufacturer’s prototype arrives, and I learn even more about the idea. Usually there’s one more round of prototyping before taking pre-orders and going to production.

Basically, product development is the refinement of an abstract concept through progressively brutal exposure to reality.

How important is the material in each product?

Material is 95% of the product; my role is to articulate the material’s essence through design without getting in its way. Chefs take a similar approach to their ingredients, music producers to the artist.

The Sorapot was your break into the design world and was spread quickly through blogs before even being manufactured. Is that the route you were looking to take or were you looking to head in the more traditional route by joining a firm or consultancy?

I could never be an employee, but the Sorapot’s success made me more confident about starting my own company.

You began college studying creative writing, why did you decide to switch over to industrial design?

Design and writing are both ways to create a universe that others can enter and experience. The final meaning of an object or narrative is a conversation between the author’s intent and the reader’s interpretation. I gave up fiction writing in college and switched to design because I found the limit of my writing talent, and it wasn’t even close to other authors I was reading. I haven’t yet found it with design, and I hope to never reach it.

How do your favorite authors Umberto Eco and Haruki Murakami inspire your work?

Umberto Eco introduced me to philosophy, which has had a huge impact on my work. It’s given me a framework for understanding inspiration. Murakami’s novels are fun reading that also led me to read more about human works as representations of stimuli. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the best example.

What ubiquitous public object in everyday life would you like to redesign or that you see potential for improvement in?

Every product I’ve released and project I’ve worked on has in some way been preparation and learning for designing cars. There is more room for improvement and potential for impact there than with any other product.

Like you mentioned earlier, a lot of your products are based on things or activities you’re interested. Will we ever see a Joey Roth designed skateboard? 

The skateboard is perfect in its simplicity and directness – all I could do is fuck it up. Skating has had a big influence on my design philosophy for just this reason.

You’ve lived in San Francisco, Portland, and now LA. How do these cities and the environment around them affect your work and why move around so much?

Not having a job to go to, or even a permanent studio, allowed me to move around, so I took advantage of the freedom. I loved each city, but LA (Pasadena specifically) is right for me at this point. The natural landscape and deep history of modernism make Southern California a good fit.

I actually started my company in Brooklyn, and still look forward to every visit to NYC. The West is more compatible with my outlook however.

How so?

Culturally, the self-made are respected here, while the cool are
respected back east. As general as that sounds, experience constantly reminds me of this dichotomy.

What are you currently working on at the moment and when can we
expect it to be released?

I’m working on version 2 of the Sorapot, which will be out this
spring. I’m also working with Blossom Coffee as lead designer, as well as other
collaborations with more established brands. There’s also a design for
a wireless DAC for the Ceramic Speaker System that’s ready to go as
soon as wireless music sounds as good as wired (not there yet).

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