Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a career in design? Casual Living recently took an up-close-and-personal look at the life of Senior Product Designer James Thomas. And now, we get to reap the benefits of that interview by sharing all the details with you! From his morning routine to sources of inspiration to maintaining work-life balance, enjoy a behind the scenes peek into the life of a designer – and not just any designer – our very own, James Thomas.
How do you get started each morning?
I have always been a morning person, so I start my days early…at 5:30 am. I have a roughly 15 minute exercise routine consisting of push-ups, crunches, leg lifts, and stretches that I do before anything else. After that, I brew a cup of coffee and spend about half an hour reading, writing, or sketching while the rest of my family is sleeping and the house is still and quiet. By 6:15, everyone else in the house is getting up, and we start the daily routine of showering, packing lunches, eating breakfast and all of the other steps involved in preparing for school and work.
What’s your routine as you work through the day?
I am most creative in the mornings, so I like to sketch and work on new designs as soon as I arrive at the office (around 8:00). There is always a temptation to answer email first thing in the morning, but I find that I am much more productive if I focus on new designs first, and then wait until after lunch to respond to emails and follow up on my projects that are in process.
I feel like my best work happens at the drawing table where I can think with a pencil in hand and freely sketch new ideas. I like to keep my drawing table and computer desk separate so that I am not tempted to check email or look up something on the internet while I am in the “flow” of concept sketching. Once I have an idea that I like in the sketch stage, I can scan it and move to the computer for refinement, either quickly in Photoshop or in Rhino (the 3d modeling package that we use) or AutoCAD. Sometimes I go back and forth with a design… starting with a rough thumbnail sketch, refining the size and proportions a bit in CAD, then printing and sketching by hand more before refining again digitally. As much as I like computer modeling and rendering, I feel like the creative part of my brain is more fully engaged when I am sketching with pencil on paper compared to typing on a keyboard or moving a mouse. If I spend half of my time at work on the board drawing, I leave feeling energized, but if I spend most of the day staring at a screen, I feel mentally drained by late afternoon.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I look for inspiration everywhere. Art, architecture, furniture, fashion, jewelry, nature…really anything can spark an idea for a new design. You never know when or where ideas will come, so I often carry a sketchbook to quickly capture them before I forget.
I recently saw an interview with filmmaker David Lynch in which he referred to the incomplete ideas that pop into ones head as “beautiful gifts”. I like that analogy, and I feel like the process of concept sketching is the way for me to compile those random fragments of ideas that come from somewhere into new and whole designs.
What’s the timeframe for development?
It varies quite a bit, but I am often working on designs for products that are close to a year away from introduction. The design process from rough sketch to approved prototype can range from a few weeks to a few months, but after the bulk of my initial design work is complete, it takes time for others to finalize engineering drawings, set pricing, photograph samples for the catalog, and take care of all of the other steps required to get the fixtures in production and ready to ship to customers.
Sometimes, it can be a challenge to design a fashion driven product that won’t be introduced for a year, but that is why it is important for a designer to understand market trends, and have a good idea of where things are going.
Have you been able to balance your time to make room for family and/or hobbies?
Absolutely! I make time for both, and honestly, I don’t think I would be a good designer if I didn’t. If I don’t get enough exercise, or feel unhappy for any reason, the quality of my work definitely suffers. I believe that a designer must draw inspiration from positive personal experiences, so focusing on work all of the time would be counterproductive.
One specific way that I am able to make time for family and hobbies is by combining them. Whether it is hiking with my kids, or mountain biking with my wife, I love to spend quality time outside with my family.
To view the full interview in Casual Living, click here.