Thursday, April 3, 2008

Interview - Carl Jones

Rackless Pannier bags for Knog - images from Knog catalogue

Rackless Pannier initial prototype - all remaining images courtesy Carl Jones

Pannier design drawings

Signage for NAB (client - Harkess-Ord)

Speaker Concept for Quest Audio

Pogo-Loco concept(!)

(TWO interviews in one week? You betcha!)

I must admit I didn't know much about Carl Jones until he responded to my interview. It was a case of someone at work saying 'you've gotta interview this guy'.... and I really didn't know much about him except that he had designed some stuff for Melbourne bag company Knog. ANYWAY after reading his interview I took an instant liking to this mysterious Carl Jones character. He seems like a truly great guy. He's a thoughtful designer, with a real interest in sustainable design and using his craft to make a difference in the world. What could be more inspiring than that?

(I'm also a sucker for a good technical drawing, and his website's got plenty!)

I loved his story about the communities in Africa with access to underground water, but with no source of power to pump it up. Carl recounts how the designers on this project solved the problem by building human powered merry-go-rounds. By playing on this play equipment, the kids in these communities were able to simultaneously provide a constant source of power to draw water! Wow. What a great project!

The PlayPump System - image PlayPumps International

Read on to find out more about Carl's job, his inspirations his favorite spot in the
public toilet on level 35 of the Sofitel on Collins Street!

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

When I finished school, I felt that I wanted to do some sort of design. I applied for architecture, interior design, landscape architecture. I had never heard of industrial design. I eventually got into construction management, which sounded similar on paper to architecture... after all it was about building buildings right?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I found out that was about the only similarity... there was no creativity anywhere in this field. All it required was interpreting someone else’s creative endeavours & then getting it built.

As a hobby, I always kept a sketch book & would be coming up with little inventions... solutions to problems or things that could be done better. I eventually decided to take a leap of faith & turn my hobby into a career, so I researched what would best help me achieve this. ‘Industrial Design’ came the answer back. So I put a folio together & applied for the course & was accepted into RMIT.

During the course I became friends with Mike Chijoff, another mature age student & together we started up a partnership, JONESCHIJOFF. We aim to specialise in green product design & are currently formulating our design process to ensure that the most sustainable product / system is achieved. We are working as consultative product designers with a handful of good clients & have started up our own product development. We are also both teaching Industrial Design at RMIT (to stay creatively fertile).

What are some of your projects/clients that we might be familiar with?

The more familiar named ones are; Knog (bike accessories), Quest audio, Anamalz (environmentally-friendly toys), The Condom Kingdom, Harkess-Ord (who do signage for NAB, MLC, Nielsen, Kodak, VW)

When you approach a brief initially, where do you turn for inspiration – do you scour books, magazines or the web? Do you pay attention to trends in the broader design world like fashion, architecture etc?

I suppose it depends on the project. They vary wildly. We usually begin most projects with a brainstorming session, because you can come up with so many solutions in such a short space of time. For inspiration, we usually get hints from the client or the decision-makers, as to what they like & where they’d like to see things going & then head off from there. No point designing something that you think looks ultra-sleek & minimalistic when the client was expecting something Baroque.

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

I’m not much into the big household design names (who are more names more for their unique styling finesse), although I think Raymond Loewy was an incredible designer. I’m more into amusing designs, like most of the stuff Droog do. My favourite product at the moment is the ‘Terra-Grass’ armchair.

Terra Grass Armchair via inhabitat

It is die-cut cardboard that all slots together like ribs. All you do is plonk this down on your lawn in a nice shady place, add soil between the ribs & sprinkle grass seeds on top. I think the packaging even becomes the ribs, so no waste. It’s got everything I like in good design; sustainability, humour, simplicity & a great idea turned into a reality.

What does a typical day at work involve for you? How is your time divided between drawing with pencil and paper, sitting in front of a computer, and knocking up prototypes in a workshop?

Administration & emailing counts for a fair whack. Design time involves brainstorming, hand-drawn 3D sketching, 2D sketching on Illustrator, photo-visuals / overlays for signage projects, sanding blue foam for form concepts, 3D CAD modelling, producing technical drawings, filling out specifications & BOM’s, putting packages together for the client or the manufacturer.

Do you ever feel disadvantaged or limited by being based in Australia? Do you have experience with international manufacturing or distribution? Do you have aspirations to reach more of the world with your designs, or are you happy to design mainly for the Australian market?

No, on the contrary... I feel at an advantage. One of the main things is that you need to offer a broad range of services & be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’, which means that no two projects are exactly the same & that you don’t get pigeon-holed, becoming just a ‘sports-shoe designer’. Variety is the spice of life. With communications & transport as it is, it is possible to do business anywhere. We talk to manufacturers in China on a daily basis over Skype, email & ftp.

For our own product development, we intend on selling this to already established brands, who already have a trusted brand name & a worldwide distribution network. We would like to gain some international clients though, as I think one selling point is the ability to do work while they are asleep & then have it ready for them at their start of business.

What are you most proud of professionally?

My first product on the market... a rackless pannier bag that I designed & sold to Knog. A standard pannier bag requires a metal rack permanently installed to your bicycle. You then buy usually a pair of bags that you hang off either side of this rack. What I designed was a bag with an integral aluminium frame in it, initially dubbed the Calzone as it folds in half like the pizza of the same name. The frame connects to the bike at 3 points via nylon jubilee clips or hose clamps; 2 fitted down near the wheel axle & 1 above the brake callipers. The bag’s frame has legs at the bottom that slot into the bottom 2 jubilee clips & a slide out hook at the top that slots into the top clip. When you have finished riding around, you simply unclip the top hook & lift the bag out, zip the 2 compartments together, pull out the backpack straps & attach them & wear the bag like a normal backpack. The clips stay on the bike. You can even buy separate clips to fit to a second bike & you can swap the bag between them.

These are now commercially available through Knog & can be found in most bike shops. They are part of ‘the Dogs’ range of bags & are now 2 products: the Boxer & Neat Dog. The Boxer is the backpack version & the Neat Dog turns into a suitbag, so targeted towards the white-collar bicycle commuter. Both bags cater for up to a 15.4” laptop. Development sketches & prototypes can be found on my personal website.

What's the best thing about your job?

Being my own boss & doing something that I love.

And the worst?

Accounting & doing BAS statements.

What would be your dream project?

I like a challenge & coming up with a unique solution to a tough problem. One of my favourite design projects that I have read about was a problem in remote parts of Africa that had no power. Communities in these areas had access to underground water via wells, but had no source of power to pump it up. The designers on this project solved the problem by building human powered merry-go-rounds. The kids of these communities, having no other source of childhood entertainment played on them all day long, providing a constant source of power to draw water. I would love to work on something like this.

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

Personally, I’m looking forward to one day starting a family with my wife & being a father. Professionally, our goal is to become leaders in sustainable industrial design.

Melbourne Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Ginger Boy in the city. Had a banquet there... tried a bit of everything. It was sensational.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for workshop supplies, art materials or other tools of your trade?

Melbourne Artist Supplies or Eckersley’s for paper, pens, Copics, etc. Dinkum’s to get stuff printed out, Solid Solutions for blue foam. For rapid prototypers we use Rapid Concepts, Concentric, RapidPro, Arptech.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Down at the Richmond market on Gleadell street or riding down Beach Road on my racer (training for Round the Bay this year).

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The public toilet on level 35 of the Sofitel on Collins Street. It has to be one of the best urinating views of Melbourne.


  1. I almost fell off my chair when I was looking through my RSS Feeds, of which your blog is one, and saw Carl's name. I thought no it can't be the Carl Jones I know, but yes it is!!! Hes an awesome guy & quite an inspirational person. Its great that someone has taken the time to do an interview on someone as interesting as Carl.

  2. Hey thanks for your comment :) and thanks too for subscribing to my blog. I didn't know much about before this interview but I love his work and his thoughts on design. Nice to know he's an awesome guy in person too :) thanks!

  3. Hi,
    Carl is a top guy. You may also want to interview Alex Lototsky of Artmosaique. Quite the design artist and has an interesting view on the world in which we all interact with one another