After leaving Research in Motion, Ottawa’s Ian Murchison and Rohan Thakar have launched their own studio, and a line of minimalist lighting and accessories.
Early Start in Industrial Design
Thakar: From an early age, I was into the design aspect of pretty much everything. My dad is a landscape architect in Ottawa, and my mom also has a background in architecture. We were often visiting great architecture cities like Chicago and New York, and my dad would talk about Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller. I took art classes, which brought out my industrial design side. I would draw simple everyday objects such as cups and bowls but add intricate details, to add originality and a higher-end feel. I found that with industrial design I could develop clever and useful products but with a personal sense of style.
Murchison: I wanted to design race cars, but I actually didn’t have any idea what industrial design was until university. I had more of an engineering focus. After learning about industrial design, I shifted focus, because it seemed like such a broad area of work and there was potential to do some car-related design as well.
The RIM Connection
RT: After university, I found work with small firms, then did some travelling, and when I returned I got a co-op job at Research in Motion. Ian and I worked closely together on pretty much 80 per cent of the accessories offered at RIM, from hard shell and soft cases to the last three generations of Bluetooth headsets and wired headphones.
IM: RIM helped us understand how mass-scale products make it to market. It’s one thing to design a niche piece of furniture that you sell 15 of, and it’s another to design a wall charger that 15 million people use every day. It’s a long, complicated process involving many approvals from each team involved, but it gave us the confidence to branch off and do our own thing.
Flying Solo, Together
RT: At RIM, we’d often talk about little things we would work on as personal projects. The BBQ concept and the walking cane started this way. One of our biggest motivations was the excitement of being able to try a wide range of products.
IM: We decided to set up shop in Ottawa because the design scene is non-existent here and we wanted to help it grow. So we’re working with the Association of Chartered Industrial Designers of Ontario, trying to develop an Ottawa chapter.
IM: We wanted to step outside of anything we had done before and create a new portfolio. We spent three or four months developing it and launched with seven products back in late January. We leaned heavily on exploring natural materials, since in the consumer electronics industry we didn’t get to play with them. We wanted to work on projects that would help grow our understanding of different materials and processes.
IM: The Maple Set knives took off a lot more than we thought they would. We boiled down the essence of what a knife is and how people think about it. We took the blade and isolated it, and paired it with a contrasting material. Being Canadian, we like maple wood. We sketched the knives, modelled them and sent them off for prototyping. The response was overwhelming. We had distributors and stores coming to us left, right and centre to sell them. An Italian firm came to us, and we are working to bring them to reality in the new year.
IM: With our Bankers Lamp and Reading Light, we set out to simply play with lights and see what happened. Neither of us had made one before, nor had we played with LEDs, so it was a learning and exploration process: what can we do with them, and what are their limitations and strengths? We have lots more lighting concepts we’re constantly coming up with.
Designing and Consulting
IM: Eventually, we want to offer our own retail products, and also do consultancy. We have an interesting range of clients. We have people coming to us for really small household items, sporting accessories – even a robotic rehabilitation device for GaitTronics, which is designed to assist patients after a major surgery or illness.
RT: We’ve done a good job of educating potential clients that industrial design is a language that spreads across all markets. GaitTronics came to us via a referral; we reached out to local technology incubators and made that connection.
Aiming for Aesthetic Purity
IM: We lean toward out-of-the-box simplicity. We try to approach each project in a way that no one else has done before. The end result isn’t always the same – some products have far more complexity than others – and it’s really about adapting that clean simplicity to the product’s intended environment.
Born in Ottawa, 1987
Born in Ottawa, 1984
Bachelor of industrial design, Carleton University, 2010
Bachelor of industrial design, Carleton University, 2011
Product designers and branding consultants
2013 The Best of Design Today, Red Dot Design Museum, Singapore
BlackBerry, GaitTronics, Xero Golf