Above the Fold: Simon Park, Industrial Designer
In Above the Fold, we spotlight individual members of Coroflot's vibrant creative community. The idea is to take you behind the scenes and inside the minds of talented Coroflot members who we think are doing exceptional work. Coroflot was created by designers, for designers, and Above the Fold is the place where we can talk to creatives about work that we not only love, but think you'll love too!
Simon Park is no stranger to flashy products. With over sixty mass produced products under his belt, the Providence, Rhode Island-based industrial designer and manager specializes in high-end audio equipment. Simon and his team at inMusic have spearheaded numerous award-winning projects, designing the kind of equipment that is the top choice for the world's hottest DJs. His company is behind well-known brands like Numark, Akai Professional, M-AUDIO, and Denon DJ just to name a few. To wear so many hats while leading and being creative takes focus and passion, and our conversation with Simon reveals exactly that.
Was there a specific moment in life where you realized you wanted to pursue a creative path?
This is a short answer with a long story behind it. Quite simply the answer is no, and now, here is the story. Growing up in South Korea, I was a kid who was always looking for something to tinker with and loved making things with my hands. I really wasn't aware that industrial design was a career until I was in high school. As a kid, I remember one of my favorite books was How to Make Useful Stuff from Things You Find in Recycling Bins. Not only did I read the whole book, but immersed myself in doing the projects that filled the pages. I quite enjoyed those mini-design processes and started to apply my own twists and styles into the objects.
When I was in high school, I was an active member of the "Plastic Miniature Model Club". We would create diorama scenes from movies or anime with injection molded plastic models or vinyl figures. Also, I used to collect and assemble "do it yourself" plastic BB gun replicas. I ended up with quite a collection. I especially enjoyed how the mechanism worked and its ergonomically, yet beautifully designed hand grips, triggers and barrels.
Without seriously taking into consideration on my career path and only because it came easy to me, I went to college to study physics. In the middle of my second year, I hit the "wall". I realized that spending my time with formulas, numbers and theories was not something I wanted to do for the rest my life. I remembered how much I enjoyed making stuff and coming up with cool and different ways to improve the performance and the look of those BB guns; and, how much I liked to doodle (I used to draw a lot of anime robots). After I had this realization, choosing my career path was actually easy. I had heard and read about industrial design and thought it was a cool profession, and thought that I'd be good at it. I immediately quit school and started the transfer process to an industrial design major. I ended up at Syracuse University, NY where I met many talented peers.
Who are your design heroes?
I do not have someone I can call a design hero per se. However, I do have someone that I admire and respect from a creative and work ethic standpoint. His name is Jiro Ono, a well-known sushi master in Japan. He is the subject of a documentary film called, Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011). At 85 years old in the film, he was still making and serving his sushi to the customers. And, he was still passionate about the art of sushi making and wanted to improve his skill. His creativity, customer centric philosophy, passion toward his profession, and hardworking Shokunin spirit (Craftsman Spirit in Japanese) have changed my perspective toward my work and profession. So much so that I consider him my hero - even though he is a sushi chef and not a designer. Inspired by Master Jiro's core philosophy, I have decided to dedicate my life to elevating my design senses and skills, empathizing with users, and executing design in both a beautiful and meaningful way.
Can you share some details about your most recent project?
The Denon DJ, SC5000 (professional DJ media player) was quite challenging from the beginning. The team wanted this product to be something revolutionary in the DJ gear industry and we had assigned a lot of engineering resources, not just from our U.S.-based office but also from our other offices in Japan, UK, and Germany. The software side of the product had already been in the works for two years when I jumped into the project. So, you can imagine that the pressure was enormous. Another challenge was creating the look and feel of the product, which was something I had to address effectively. Ultimately, we want it to feel cool, unique, and innovative without being too foreign to our user base - the established DJs all over the world who use our products. So, I had to spend many hours finding the fine balance to achieve that goal.
The customizable TFT displays in the center of the platter was once only a concept of mine for another project 5 years ago. At the time, the project didn't survive due to various technical and business reasons. It is such a great feeling to finally see that concept being resurrected and put into a shipping product.
Making the platter look nice and exciting is one thing but making it feel just right involves enormous amounts of user testing and mechanical engineering. A smooth and turntable-like feel was finally achieved by a metal substructure and a center spindle, not like a ball baring loaded Lazy Susan mechanism that is used by our competitors.
The feeling aspect of this kind of product is an extremely important part of the design process because it is not just a utilitarian device but also a musical instrument for DJs. Anyone who is playing any musical instruments will agree how important the feeling of the instrument is when playing. So it was one of my priorities to provide a super smooth and natural platter, and nice "clicky" buttons that give just the right amount of tactile feedback. Also, all buttons are illuminated with color code for immediate visual feedback in low light settings, so the DJ can focus on his/her performance without looking for a button or knob for the next move.
That being said, there were many, many revisions to the feature layout to provide the best possible ergonomics and work flow for the user. Every millimeter, every minor indentation, every tiny protrusion is thought out meaningfully for functions and beauty. We have also worked hours and hours in order to tightly integrate the hardware and the software so the user will have a seamless user experience. Overall, I am feel extremely grateful to work with very talented people - the engineering, product, and marketing teams - to result in such a game changing product.
Outside of your professional life, do you have any other creative outlets or hobbies?
Apart from designing products for creative people in the music scene, I also play and produce music for my own pleasure and also for my church. I have been creating some dance beats for fun in my spare time, and have made some Christian songs for the choir that I currently direct in a small church community. If I had not become an industrial designer, I think I would have liked a music related career path, probably a producer of some sort. My creativity for functional objects are not quite enough to fully satisfy my emotional and philosophical expressions. So, this is somewhat a necessary hobby for me.
Being musically experienced and knowledgeable in professional audio has tremendously helped my current work at inMusic. To me, not all industrial design is equal. Subject matter is important. I don't remember ever enjoying my work as much as I have these past 9 years. I used to design mobile phones and never had the same passion for my work.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of your Coroflot portfolio?
As a hiring manager of industrial design, I would like to give some general advice on public portfolios or online portfolios. I have seen many young designers who try to showcase an excessive amount of research and processes, and its fine if someone is looking for a design research position. But keep in mind that hiring managers are usually very busy people. They have a ton of other things to accomplish each day. In my case, if what I see doesn't come across within 5 seconds or doesn't look good and organized, that person is not likely to get to the next step in the hiring process. Focus on a few images or renderings. Maybe, they don't always need to be so descriptive. They can be poetic and attention grabbing without all of the wordiness. If what is presented in the portfolio makes me curious about the project, it has served the purpose. I usually ask for more samples and details when I feel it's worthwhile to see them. Remember that it takes only a few jaw-dropping images (renderings or photographs) of your products; not hundreds of mediocre stuff to get to your dream job.
If you are somewhat experienced and looking for an in-house industrial design position in a manufacturing company, try to showcase the products that have been mass manufactured and launched in the market. Even better if the product has good or greater market success. One of my supervisors from back in my early design career once said, "Forget about what Dieter Rams or Louis Sullivan said about design. Selling design is good design, period." And for a long time I hated that statement. I thought that he was jaded by his years working for a big corporation and having to answer to the bottom line. And I am sure, after spending many years in this profession, that some young designer fresh out of school has thought that way about me. Although his statement may not always apply because products can be successful due to low price, clever marketing, precise timing etc., he was not entirely wrong either. After all, an industrial designer's core responsibility is designing beautiful, functional, and possibly innovative products that provide a good user experience and serve as many target users as possible. You know when something is great when people are happy to buy and use your product and it impacts them in a positive way.