The Discreet Influence of Industrial Design by Patrick Jouffret
28 October 2019 • 15 min.
“Our job is to contribute, magnify, and really highlight.”
Welcome to our new series, La Belle Histoire. At Sellsy, we talk to entrepreneurs on a daily basis. And, we are very often in awe of surprised by their creativity, enthusiasm and cleverness.
So we decided to take the conversation a step further by creating this series to chat with fascinating and passionate entrepreneurs.
In this first episode, we talked to Patrick Jouffret, award-winning industrial designer, whose creations and discoveries (on his website) really impressed us. His work perfectly reflects his motto: any object can be improved!
Patrick shares his entrepreneurial experience, his choice to live near the sea, his allergy to admin, and most importantly, tells us more about the birth of some of his biggest projects. He explains in more details what design can bring to an industrial project.
Tell us more about your entrepreneurial history. Did you have any other experiences before creating Atelier 360?
I worked in a design agency for about 12 years. One day, I met a bike manufacturer who decided to give me a chance in this area and Atelier 360 was born.
For me, design is part of life. When you create products, whether industrial or mainstream, there is always a piece of direct emotion to create. And more importantly, the product must perform the task as best as possible. And by as best as possible, I mean not just functionality but also emotion. Even if we are generally at the service of brands, our credo is really to create products that free the mind.
We are a small team essentially consisting of two designers, Julien and myself. After seven years working together, we have become really complementary. The company DNA has structured itself and has evolved in recent years. There were other people on the team, but the two of us really stabilised our structure. We aren’t always working on our own, from time to time, we also collaborate with other designers.
I can see you two work hand in hand and share the same vision. You said Atelier 360 was born thanks to a customer asking for a bike. Can you tell me a little more about this?
In fact, it all started with the customer Look Cycle. A legendary brand. The company, based in Nevers, France, revolutionised the world of the racing bicycles in the 80s. They invented the automatic pedal, used today by all the competition runners, then the first carbon bike.
It might seem obvious now, but at the time, it was really criticised. People wanted only aluminium and nothing else!
The company started with a couple of small projects but as they grew, they realised they needed to get help with global design. That’s how we went from just drawing objects for them to ensure global consistency and create the brand's design identity.
This is very different from basic design. This approach requires a broader and more focused strategic vision. It goes from industrial assembly detail, what we can do, materials, resources, to the vision of the future. For 15 years, my role was to help them evolve their status in the minds of users.
“If they hadn’t had a design that matched their ambitions, they would not be here today.”
They went from “French brand that makes bicycles” to “brand of excellence renowned worldwide”. This happened at a crucial time, brands of the cycling wold were merging a lot and becoming stronger groups. Look Cycle survived this kind of merciless war that has been fought partly through design.
In any case, if they hadn’t had a design at the height of their ambitions, they wouldn’t be here today. This has been an exciting adventure. They’re a brand in which the technology, the precision and the accuracy of the manufactured objects are extremely important. Used at the Olympics for example, or even for the Tour de France, the products drawn have extremely complicated in terms of design.
This is how we got our first two major international design awards. As well as getting free rein and work with engineers to create really innovative concepts that changed the aesthetics of bikes. All these projects are fabulous. We started with small orders like a bicycle fork, or a small detail and the adventure is not over, we are still working with them and designing more and more for them.
Can you tell me a little more about how design has influenced the positioning of the brand? Do you have examples where you felt that you had an influence on the strategy of the client company, on the brand and marketing positioning?
All brands have a story. Working with a start-up, for example, is completely different from working with a brand that has existed for several years or already has their own inventions.
Your job is to start by digging, searching in depth, and going back to the source. You need to understand what made the strength of a brand. I think that, at the beginning of a beautiful brand, there is always a good product.
What is this product? Why is it made? What is the innovation? What is the starting point? If you do not have that in mind, writing the rest of the story may be a little difficult. And for Look, the starting point was carbon. This has been integration engineering, always seeking to simplify and move forward. Once you understand that, everything you draw is coherent. We didn’t change the positioning of the brand, we simply understood the potential this brand had internally and how it did not express through its products before we worked for them.
“Our job was to contribute, magnify, and really highlight.”
We were facing a real potential that was not exploited. Our job was to contribute, magnify, and really highlight. The Look brand already had almost all of these skills internally, but it was not considered for what it was.
We have other clients for whom we have had this kind of intervention. For example, the brand Spengler. A French company with a very beautiful history, since it invented the blood pressure meter in 1907. An object of medical diagnosis that we all know and which revolutionised medicine. It allowed to diagnose diseases or cardiovascular problems in a non-intrusive way.
It happened just before the First World War, and really helped save thousands of lives. Nowadays, the brand enjoys a certain benevolence from the medical profession because it has made medicine evolve.
Spengler asked us to rework their blood pressure monitors. It felt like, no puns intended, an open heart surgery. We went back to the values of the brand. They are very strong since the beginning of its history. To diagnose the illness of his wife who was very ill, Emile Spengler went to see two very famous cardiologists in Paris. Together, they created the first blood pressure monitor. This innovation was originally based on a beautiful love story.
“There is this very strong connection between the doctor or the nurse and the patient.”
For us, what is very important is that in today's products, we feel this love story. But also that the product always goes in the direction of the simplification of the medical diagnosis: less painful, faster and even more precise.
That's all, it's a story that was there at the beginning and we are going to contribute to it.
We went to see doctors, made inquiries, did a preliminary analysis and drew conclusions. One of them is that to get a good medical diagnosis, you need the right armband otherwise your measurement will be wrong.
The essence of our intervention was first to give back its beauty, its simplicity, and its nobility to the tensiometer. The product had been completely abandoned by design and had become an object that no one looks at any more.
Without making it a stylish object, we worked on the precision: what must be a self-respecting diagnostic instrument, a precision object that saves lives? Then, we invented and completely redesigned the cord connecting the patient to the carers. There is this very strong connection between the doctor/nurse and the patient. We created a magnet system to change armbands in one second where before it was laborious. (It was screwed parts that doctors never really changed).
So, to make the tension-taking process more fluid, we worked on an added value both good for the patient and for the doctors, and all this in coherence with the original story.
You have also won prizes for ocean buoys or underwater cages. Can you tell us more about this?
For the anecdote, we actually won a prize on tensiometers last week, the Red Dot Design Award, an international design prize.
The oceanographic cages are a very exciting part of our story. It started next to our office in Toulon. We left Paris in 2008 to live by the sea because we really wanted to be by the sea.
This new location enabled us to meet plenty of extremely innovative companies from everywhere in the world. The company with which we collaborate for these oceanographic cages is called Nortek. Basically, they are sensor manufacturers that provide scientific measurements of waves, ocean currents, water turbidity, and so on.
To take very deep measurements, up to 4,000 meters, they needed a tool allowing them to send their sensors and bring them back. Oceanographic cages already exist. In general, they are round buoys such as floats that are screwed with threaded rods between two polyester plates. The sensors are fixed with pieces of plastic. The problem is that the cages rarely get stably at the bottom, they don’t always land correctly, a bit like Philae on Yuri.
“If it works on sea urchins, it may work for us too.”
They are expensive to manufacture because they are complicated to build and they are also risky to handle on the deck of the boat because they have are sharp and blunt edges.
So we worked together on the design of the buoy, the cost and the fact of being able to make them by the unit, because these products cost about 100,000 Euro to make. They are made almost à la carte, for example with a turbidity sensor, a camera, a flash, etc.
We always look at the environment in which we will evolve. And we did not really know what was happening at 4,000 meters deep. Neither did them! So we observed what wildlife lived there.
We discovered there are many sea urchins and species with a solid ellipse shape very resistant to strong sea currents. We decided to use this shape as a source of inspiration. Nature inspired us and we thought if it works for sea urchins, it may as well work for us too! We went for a tripod base because we know that three feet is often better than four. There is always one that isn't very stable.
So we came up with a titanium tripod and worked with the Nortek engineers. We have developed a prototype that has since been sold in about twenty copies.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t always easy. Can you tell us about the difficulties you have encountered, the problems or the stress that you had with Atelier 360?
For me, stress kicks in every March. This is the moment when we check the order book, when we sit down to check the cases in progress, etc. It can be quite stressful as we are constantly creating. We are also a really small team and don’t have a sales department as such, so we have to deal with admin ourselves.
It's not something we do every day, so when it's time to do it, we drop the creative part for however long we need to dedicate to this task. It isn’t easy to move from the creative state to a more square and constructive one.
We used to do everything manually. The invoices, the quotes and the follow-up were done on Excel or on Pages, because we work on Mac. To make our lives easier, we decided to use a software, Sellsy. It allowed us to structure our accountancy, avoid problems of numbering, have a follow-up, in short, to have something straightforward.
For me, it has really felt like a new step in the administrative management of the agency. Again, it's not really our element, so everything that can help us simplify, make the task more pleasant and easier to manage, is great!
For all our readers and people who are not familiar with the design world, can you explain how you perceive your universe compared to other companies?
There are many different designers, different styles and different needs. We focus on helping brands to create new products through industrial design. Our approach is to create these products to connect users and meaning.
It's like being a caregiver or a Robin Hood. We believe that everyone has the right to acquire beautiful objects, useful objects, qualitative objects, and that does not necessarily mean luxurious. It doesn’t matter whether the object is in plastic or in less noble materials.
We love our job. We get to meet many different people: scientists, artists, technicians ... and I am happy to say that I really feel that the perception of design has really evolved in the last 20 years.
“Our work may still be undervalued.”
I remember meetings where we’d always get told that we were dreamers and that our ideas were not good. Thankfully, we saw the rise of a new generation of engineers who understood that design was a partner for success. Then came the marketing managers. Here too, there are several families: those labelled Marketing and those more daring who listen to the designers.
In France particularly, people are aware design is essential in the success of the company. This makes me very happy. What I regret perhaps is that we always say to ourselves: “We aren’t selling potatoes and carrots! Every day, we have to reinvent the wheel and help businesses gain value.” It doesn’t feel our work is fully appreciated in terms of communication and marketing. However, companies like APCI, like VIA, who have sought to support design with businesses, have done an amazing job to help us.
Let’s talk about industrial design sector: how is it organised? Do you have competition?
There are different types of design providers. I will talk about industrial design because in publishing design, you develop your own identity. That’s also what we do, but it’s another universe. You develop your creations, your signature and you offer a new vision in this or that field.
On the other hand, in industrial design, companies need a service, and therefore will be looking for service providers. Depending on the size of the company, on their needs, you will be able to help them or not. For large-scale projects, for example if a large group is looking for designers to rework its product offering, it's not going to take a freelancer or a small company. Instead, they will seek the services of an established and recognised company, with 30 or 40 employees.
On the other hand, SMBs are happy to go with smaller companies and you can see agencies of 10 to 20 people, small businesses like ours, as well as a lot of freelancers.
Of course, depending on the size of the business, the insurances you take, you do not have the same fees and, therefore, the same rates. Unlike architects who have a code, who are grouped in an order and who bill on the percentage of work on a building, for designers like us, it's the jungle! Everyone can set their fees or royalties. Whatever makes companies happy.
“In fact, we would probably do this job for free if we didn’t have to pay the bills and eat.”
For us, it's going pretty well, but I think it's very difficult for young designers to make a name for themselves. Because before you can impose your prices or negotiate a certain level of remuneration for a job, you have to have references. And that isn’t an easy task.
Saying that we would be happy to do this job for free if we did not have to pay the bills and eat is also not the best idea. Even if we are passionate about our job, we need to remember that we do have bills to pay and we need to eat. We love our job so we will always try to find the best ideas that tackle all constraints and issues, so that the solution becomes a classic or marks history. And this has a price.
My best memory? When we got to design the Mont Faron cable car ... I lived in the Toulon area and took it very often as a child. 25 years later, I was asked to rework the cable car, the most iconic thing of the city. That was insane! I was over the moon!