Studio Visit with Industrial Designer Craig Tompkins.
Meet Craig Tompkins, AK’s brilliant industrial designer, whose creative genius flourishes within our state-of-the-art R&D workshop.
With an uncanny ability to turn ideas into reality, there’s no challenge too big for Craig. From concept to completion, he crafts the extraordinary. Meticulous in his approach, Craig’s dedication to precision and his unwavering commitment to excellence result in groundbreaking and innovative creations that surpass expectations.
When it comes to bringing visions to life, Craig’s passion and expertise make him an unparalleled force in the industry.
What’s one of your favorite products you’ve designed recently and why?
I enjoy designing everything that I work on. By nature, I am the kind of person that dives into something all in, learning and absorbing as much as possible through the process. This can sometimes be a selfish and obsessive tendency, which I believe is completely necessary when moving through the design process.
If I were to pick a favorite product right now, it would have to be the Carbon Aerobar. With technical challenges, the mechanical workings, and material properties, the Aerobar has been a very fulfilling product to successfully design and bring to life. Not only does the product need to meet specific performance requirements, it beautifully defines some of the core human-centred design principles. The Aerobar considers the human-to-product interaction, usability, and how this seems to effortlessly form an extension of your body.
How did you first get into Industrial Design?
Product design is quite a unique area of expertise. It started for me at quite a young age. Not necessarily designing products with any specific purpose, but my childhood had always followed a very creative and explorative pathway. Growing up in a workshop surrounded by creatives, I would always be interested in creating and fixing things.
There was a time when I was more excited to modify my nitro RC monster truck with improved parts I had machined on the lathe or upgrades I had bought online than anything else. My hobbies and interests have always been explorative and diverse. From keeping and maintaining high-end marine aquariums or tending to bonsai, I also enjoy the peaceful space at the backline in the surf, and jump at the idea of tearing down a trail on a mountain bike, or learning to wheelie a dirt bike.
The openness to challenges and creative grounding catapulted me into design, where I completed my professional training in Industrial Design.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you started getting into design?
I am very privileged to have been brought up in a creative family; my pathway was easily defined, and opportunities were handed to me. I have always been grateful for this. A challenge when learning this process has been balancing creative energy with structure, timelines, and fixed executables.
Since I am obsessive, and neat by nature, I am also a very structured person, which when plugged into a design project with the right intent, becomes a recipe for success.
What was one thing that was crucial in getting you to where you’re at now?
I would have to say that this has to be thanks to the people I am surrounded by and the support I have received. I was lucky enough to be introduced to SSD by my brother Brian, who at the time had worked with Clinton Filen before. As soon as I began my journey, I immediately started to grow under the mentorship of Clinton, Dave Kay, and Graham Wiles – all vital in my own development and shaping that has enabled me to work with the various brands over the years.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in this industry?
I would probably fall somewhere in the entrepreneurial spectrum. I have always been interested in growing and developing ideas, products, and businesses and finding ways to add value. I can’t imagine stepping out of product design – my tasks are so diverse that it would be difficult to find something I enjoy more!
What is a typical day in the life like for you?
I wake up between 5:00 and 6:00 when my cats pester me for their morning breakfast. After the usual morning routines, I will sometimes set some intentions for the day over a cup of tea, or head straight to the studio, as I know that I am a morning person and am most productive between 7:30 – 14:00. After a good coffee-making ritual, my usual morning tasks will start with some essential inbox clearing, after which I would be diving straight back into where I left off in the latest design developments.
My weeks tend to be quite focused, and I usually push through a specific design element at a time. This may be an iterative sketching process, 3D modeling, rendering, or prototype preparation, depending on where in the process I may be. My afternoons usually involve some restructuring and updates to spreadsheets, product research, and cost management, or hands-on prototype development in the workshop.
If the wind is blowing, I will head to the beach to rig up the latest test gear, and put in the hours testing new developments.
If you could jump on a plane right now, where would you go and why?
I would probably go straight to Mauritius or Nice, France. I have fond recent memories in Mauritius, with epic kiting conditions, and beautiful scenery. France would be an explorative trip, with the opportunity to do some testing with Victor Hays.
What’s something you are working on that you’re excited about?
There are some really exciting products that I am working on within the harness and hydrofoil categories that will be released soon. I can’t say much more than that, but there are some favorites and unique products in these categories for sure. There is always excitement for the upcoming season, and the development that has taken place over the years. When this starts to materialise, and plans are being made to push these products into the market, I find huge fulfilment seeing them come to life.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when designing products?
Often, I will find inspiration in immersing myself in a project. It will either be through the exploratory sketching and design process, or it may strike when I’m on the water and find a problem, or think of a better way to do something. I also find creative inspiration from nature, and how there seems to always be a solution to a problem – you just have to look out for it!
How do you know when you’ve gotten a design right?
Industrial design is, first and foremost, a process. You cannot go from zero to a fully resolved product in the blink of an eye. Not only is it important to go through each step of the design process, maintaining an open mind and allowing for creativity to emerge, but it is vital that you trust the process and trust yourself. The process starts off wobbly, becomes very messy in the middle with rough prototype iterations and sketches, and resolves into something thought through and refined.
You can also get paralyzed by indecision, so the important thing is to remember that even though something can always be improved and developed further, there is a point in time when the product will need to be resolved, and you must come to peace with the finished product.