At Innate, we’ve got a clear product mission of clean design for active travel. We find that this helps to keep us on track so that we make good business decisions when we consider new projects or review existing programs. The path to coming up with a seemingly simple statement was pretty similar to the process of moving from an idea to a finished product; you’ve got to strip away the fluff.
In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Designer Cam Shute strikes us as a member of this tribe. We’ve been impressed with his steadily evolving body of work in the specialized field of backcountry skiing. We’re privileged to have him share his thoughts on Calvin and Hobbes, the virtue of zen-like activities and why simple isn’t always so simple.
I’m always inspired by products that have been well thought-out. Those items that seem to just blend into our daily lives, as if the task or purpose we’re performing was somehow invented for that particular product. Until I began designing products, I never really had an appreciation for the distillation process of one’s thoughts to be able to create something that does its job in the simplest way possible. Although I’ve worked on all sorts of products at G3 (http://www.genuineguidegear.com/) over the past 12 years, my primary focus has always been on ski bindings. Unfortunately, even at the best of times, ski bindings are complicated bits of hardware. They deal with cold temperatures, large loads, snow, ice, water, dirt, rocks and worst of all, humans. Alpine touring bindings have multiple modes of operation, and telemark bindings, with the physics being stacked against the designer, just seem doomed from the start. Paul Parker, doyen of backcountry ski gear design, once told me that a ski binding is doing its job best when someone uses it the entire day and doesn’t ever notice it. I’ve searched for a better definition of a successful binding design, but I think he nailed it.
Over the years, I’ve become a little better at not trying to force complex solutions to work. If I’ve learned anything at all it’s that simplicity rules. Simplicity in design trickles into all that follows in manufacturing: drawings, tooling, testing, production and the list goes on. It seems that if you get it right from the start, then everything flows smoothly from that point. The problem is that stripping away all the clunky and unnecessary elements of a design can be an insanely difficult and devious task to accomplish. Realities like time, budget, resources and lack of brilliance can often make it seem impossible to solve a problem. Calvin and Hobbes might have said it best when Calvin proclaimed “what good is creativity if you can’t churn it out.” It’s amazing how confined in your thinking you can get when you’re up against a deadline with tons of time and financial pressure, or if you’ve just been staring at a problem too closely for too long. Sometimes a simple suggestion from someone can break you free to solve a problem another way. Rarely have I ever had any breakthroughs sitting at my desk. Instead I tend to find solutions during zen-like activities like skinning through the forest, riding my bike or climbing. It seems as though when my conscious brain can shut down a bit then the subconscious can take over and clean up the mess. I hope I can continue to get better at simplifying and to somehow also find a way to apply this golden principle to life in general.