The Questions | Braden Jones | Xyron

A Luc Besson film led him toward ID. Now, he’s helping to redesign the craft industry. Among other things. Braden Jones, IDSA shares with us his thoughts on visual communication, design management and the state of ID in AZ.

MAY 2008 - A young Braden Jones migrated from cartooning for the high school newspaper to industrial design after being inspired by all the crazy sci-fi gadgets in the movie Fifth Element. He completed his industrial design degree at Arizona State University in 2001 and has resided in the Phoenix area since taking his first job Juggernaut Design. He has since worked for Concept Designworx and now Xyron.

Tell us about who are you working for and what you’re working on.

I am a senior industrial designer for Xyron, a manufacturer of machines and tools for the craft industry, and Pendaflex/Oxford, which is known for office products, file folders and index cards. These are two divisions within our parent corporation—Esselte. You may not think of progressive design practices when it comes to file folders and scrapbooking tools, but every project begins with substantial ethnographic research to help us understand our end-users and guide us to new grounded inventions. This has taken me across the US several times and soon to Europe, getting to know mobile workers and crafters world-wide.

One first-of-its-kind product that I helped invent through this process is the Xyron Designer Runner—a handheld inkjet printer that can be found at Michael's Craft Stores and Joanne's Fabric Stores. As the alternative to carrying a box full of traditional rubber stamps, the Design Runner is lightweight, precise, and uses flash discs loaded with 20 or more designs.

A funny moment in the development process was when our team—four guys and one girl—decided to participate in a crop night at a local scrapbooking shop. I think we set the record for number of guys in a craft store. Along with making very manly books about motorcycles and vacations, we walked away with a better idea of the terrain our Design Runner would encounter.

Based on your experience as a design manager, what advice would you give other designers who want to move from "star player" to "coach"?

Managing is a challenge. You have to stay a couple steps ahead of your designers in order to keep them rolling with everything they need, as far as direction and background information, and present it to them in a way that allows them to explore and be creative. I recommend The Creative Priority by Jerry Hirshberg and Now, Discover your Strengths as guides to developing productive creative teams.

What inspired you to pursue design as a career choice?

The movie Fifth Element made me want to design props for movies and get in to ID. Tom Hank's job as a toy evaluator/designer in Big looked like fun too. I haven’t had the opportunity to work on movie props yet, but have designed a few toys for dogs, kids, and, uh, adults.

A webcam that I worked on was supposed to be in one of the Spiderman movies, but that scene got cut. Maybe it appears in one of the DVD’s deleted scenes.

You’ve got a background in both ID and graphic design. How does ID differ from, say, animation? Do you ever use the latter in your work?

Visual communication is one of the primary roles of an industrial designer, and animation is one efficient method of explaining complicated information. I have used various forms of animation in my work—from basic articulating graphs in power point and cartoon scenarios of human interactions with products, to high-end CG graphics with overlaid video segments with real actors. I believe that our 3D visualization mindset and knowledge of materials as industrial designers makes us qualified animators. The animation pros, though, are the experts in creating drama with lighting, timing and render-farm realism.

Exposure to other disciplines has helped sharpen my skills as a product designer. Working for a previous consultancy, a large part of our business was creating brand identities. This provided some perspective on the role of ID—that the product is just one part of the overall message, or experience, that consumers relate to your brand. All must be addressed cohesively.

 Another skill that has come in handy in my career is cartooning. I won some awards in high school for political cartoons in the school newspaper—unfortunately pre-dating the George “Dub-yah” Bush years. Now, initial product ideas and user scenarios are often illustrated in this style in order to make clients comfortable and interested while not getting caught-up too early in the process in minor details.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing in design?

I believe the next major change in our industry will come from public demand for environmentally-responsible products. Europe is starting to tax based on environmental impact and that is already changing how we design products that will be launched globally.

What should the design infrastructure do to shape the future in a way that benefits the profession and those who practice it?

With schools in Asia cranking out better and better design students at an amazing rate, it seems like opportunities for aesthetic design and manufacturing-related roles are becoming fewer. We should back up a level and become more educated on evaluating and designing for culture-specific products and creating unique inventions. More schools should adopt a research-based approach to ID, and I would like to see a wider range of master's degree programs in design research.

What have been your most valuable takaways from your IDSA experience? What have been your biggest gripes against IDSA?

I have been an officer in the IDSA for the past six years and have had many positive opportunities for networking outside my local community and leadership/management training. Gripes about IDSA? The cost of membership and conferences makes it difficult for young professionals without company sponsorship.

What should people know about ID in Arizona?

Contrary to popular belief, there are more than cowboys and cactus in Arizona.

Biotech and defense industries are emerging in Phoenix. Apache attack helicopters are built and tested here. This is also the home for Taser, Petsmart, Ping Golf, Google, and divisions of Intel, IBM, and Honeywell.

We actually have a growing art and design community, Arizona State University is on the forefront of design education, and we have over 50 industrial designers in the Phoenix area. We may get to play outdoors during the fall and winter, but the 120+ degree summers keep us indoors for a couple months.

I have been involved a little bit in planning the upcoming IDSA conference which will be here in September—connecting local businesses and services. One cool activity that is in the works is a build-a-bike workshop, where some of the bikes will be donated to charity. Some of the other things to do while you are here for the conference are: visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio, Talieson; check out the Phoenix Art Museum and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art; volunteer to get ‘tazed’ at Taser’s Corporate Headquarters or hike up Camelback Mountain for a view of the whole city.