Adam you’re a fully-fledged local, born and raised on the Coffs Coast. Tell us about what it was like growing up here?
Actually … I was born in Broken Hill and moved here when I was six months old. Growing up on the Coffs Coast was incredible. Most weekends were spent at the beach, by a river on in the mountains. I could never understand how some found the area boring, when there was so much at our fingertips. I grew up in a family of six, and we were always going on adventures around the coast and hinterland, filling our weekends and holidays in with fun activities.
You’re a product designer by trade; how did you get into this field?
I was very focused on becoming an industrial designer well before finishing high school; there was no real Plan B. I had great teachers and mentors, which fostered my interest in design and making. Thankfully I managed to get into the University of Newcastle to kickstart the journey. There was no shortage of self-doubt along the way. Was I good enough? Would I ever get a job? Why didn’t I become a teacher like the rest of my family?
I stuck to my guns and embarked on a career in industrial design, and that has led me to some great opportunities thus far – including the start-up of my own business, Bruxner Product Development, which is based right here on the Coffs Coast.
What does a “product designer” actually do?
On the surface, it is to create the look and feel of a product. In practice, it is a much deeper journey of developing how a product is manufactured, how it performs, how consumers use it, how much it costs, and its recyclability come end of life. In the beginning of a project, broad ranging concepts can be thrown around with pencil on paper. As a product nears production, the scope for change becomes much narrower, as commercial pressures build. 3D modelling is my main tool of the trade and allows a product to be developed virtually, with prototypes being produced as frequently as possible as a reality check. We usually work with a team of electronic and software engineers, as well as other specialists relating to a project’s needs. I find even after 16 years, I’m constantly learning and evolving.
What has your career journey looked like to date?
My first job was with Freedom Furniture, designing new ranges of sofas and putting them into the production line. It was a great hands-on role, working with buyers from head office, skilled upholsterers and production managers. The connection between what I designed and how it was made was very real and rewarding.
After cycling through Eastern Europe to figure out what I wanted to do next, I returned home to Coffs Harbour, broke (as you do in your 20s). I taught design at TAFE and also worked in a bakery.
I then landed a job in a Brisbane-based design consultancy. It had always been a goal to work within a consultancy, with a high degree of project variation – something that was limited when working in-house. The learning curve was steep and constant, the economic boom was in full swing, and there was a real thirst for innovation. I would end up re-designing the very ovens and bread slicer I had used back in Coffs Harbour; it’s funny how things work out.
When the GFC hit, it quickly knocked out some of the big projects with big customers. Like when a large tree falls over in a forest, it allowed fresh and rapid regrowth. Start-ups saw the opportunity left by bigger companies, and most projects since have been for smaller, more nimble companies.
In 2011 my family and I made the move back to Coffs from Brisbane. Leaving a role as Studio Manager of a leading consultancy to start my own, Bruxner Product Development, was another leap of faith, but one that has paid off. I connected with customers locally, interstate and internationally.
A few years ago, I jumped on board a start-up, Black Moth Vision Systems. Many of us had worked together previously, so we hit the ground running, developing an integrated smart camera system for heavy vehicles. It has been an exciting journey, working with a talented team of engineers to bring a class-leading solution to market and being part of a start-up success story.
Tell us about some of the kinds of projects that you have worked on?
I have been lucky enough to work on an incredibly broad range of product types, including medical, sporting, homewares, lighting, transport and construction. Projects have included everything from mops to a MRI machine for large US based corporations to local inventors. This diversity of experiences allows cross-pollination of ideas and learning, which is invaluable.
As a lover of all things cycling related, I thoroughly enjoyed designing bicycle pedals for a Taiwanese based manufacturer and attending annual trade shows. It’s hard to beat combining a passion and design. I still get a kick out of passing a bike rack and seeing some of the pedals.
Some of my favourite projects will never see the light of day, and that’s something you soon learn as an industrial designer. Like baby turtles making their way down a beach, the odds of survival are slim. There are so many factors contributing to a product’s success, and design is just one of them (an important one, of course).
Where do you draw inspiration from?
It’s a total cliché, but nature is by far my main source of inspiration. The answers are all there; you just need to find them. I’d love to learn more about Biomimicry, which is the study of nature’s time-tested systems and how they may solve the many challenges faced by humans.
What do you see as being the biggest benefits to living and working on the Coffs Coast?
It is so easy to lead a good life here, and what better place to raise a happy and healthy family too. We are surrounded by nature’s beauty and just by going about our daily lives, soak up views of the ocean and mountains. It’s very special.
For daily communication with colleagues and customers in capital cities, I have the NBN. If I need to meet face to face, it’s just an hour on a plane. We have access to all the benefits of the city and the lifestyle of living regionally. It’s a convenient place to live in many ways.
What does the future hold for you?
Long-term I would like to be manufacturing my own products, whatever they may be. It makes sense to capitalise on my experience in product development and manufacturing. For now, I’m busy balancing my roles with Bruxner and Black Moth, as well as being a husband and father to three fantastic children.
Do you have any tips for students who are interested in getting into the design field?
Back yourself, give it 100%, evolve and stay for the long haul to benefit from taking the path less travelled.
Sam Wardman, CornerPost Creative www.cornerpostcreative.com.au