I started off doing the ‘wrong’ degree.
While I enjoyed much of what chemistry is about, I realised after a few wrong turns that I needed the left-field side of the creative process to feel complete. So I retrained as a product design engineer as part of the MEng course at the University of Glasgow. Chemistry wasn’t wasted, however, just reaugmented, as the scientific method is extremely applicable to other technical disciplines.
Dyson was one of the best ‘finishing schools’ I could have hoped for.
I joined as part of a small team tasked with designing completely new products, my first being a humidifier. My boss quickly identified me as a ‘generalist’. Ever since, my career has followed the path towards what he dubbed ‘super-generalism’. Unlike those who specialise early, this is a harder and longer road but worth it once you get there. Although it’s an ongoing journey!
I think with my hands and at Dyson I started a side hustle in producing physical prototypes.
I’d share many of these ‘inventions’ online and I also uploaded how-to videos on my website and YouTube for adults and kids. This led to work in TV and in 2015 I was cast as one of seven inventors for the BBC’s The Big Life Fix with Simon Reeve; and in 2019 for Channel 4’s David Jason’s The Great British Inventions, appearing as David’s engineering sidekick.
It was a big decision to move from Dyson to head up R&D and technology at London start-up Sugru, not least because I was weighing up a job offer from a tech giant.
I think it was the right choice going for a smaller company with more autonomy. Not least of all because I was hired by Lego after four years at Sugru. It’s not to say that my path is right for everyone, but I think sometimes we chase the brand without considering nuances of professional and personal opportunities.
The most exciting thing about being at Lego was that I was surrounded by people at the top of their game.
Not just technically, but philosophically and ethically too. Employed as a senior manager in technology scouting and direction design, I was really able to get under the skin of why a product such as Lego should exist in the first place and be worthy of committing the Earth’s resources to. I feel indelibly marked by that ethos. Now as a creative technologist I work for clients that want to move in the direction of improvement for both people and the planet.
I’ve always felt like a black sheep of an engineer as I believe engineering can risk being too literal and overlook the philosophical aspects that artists engage with.
Questioning ‘why create something in the first place?’ seems increasingly pertinent. I’ve observed first-hand how indirect provocation through prototypes can inform strategic corporate direction. I applied such methods myself to a technology/art project I was commissioned to do in celebration of RS Components’ DesignSpark 10th anniversary. Called RadioGlobe, it’s an open-source and 3D-printable model globe that allows users to tune into web radio stations around the world. Although it’s a cool gizmo, I’m most proud that people have engaged with the ‘layered messaging’ around diversity of perspectives, cultural connection and creativity.
I see more similarities than differences when working across industries, from medical and automotive to maker and education.
I feel that most industries share 80% of their ‘DNA’ – as we’re all trying to solve human problems in ways that are sustainable, responsible and ethically robust. The other 20% is really a philosophical interrogation of design and engineering. I find it exciting to collaborate with companies to devise tangible strategies via seemingly tangential explorations commonly seen in art or philosophy.
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