An open letter to Good Design
Josh Moffat – Airwave Surfboards
Josh Moffat is an industrial designer, who directs and designs for his surfboard brand, Airwave Surfboards. In this article, he dissects Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles for Good Design, contextualising them around his surfboard designs and his process for creating them, accompanied by some behind-the-scenes photography by Liverpool based creative, Maya Battle.
My connection with RG began through a passion for design. Piers and I are designers – design runs in our blood. While the differences between beautiful leather goods and surfboards are vast and great, we share a common love for creating good product for our customers to enjoy. When I started learning about surfboard design, I was hooked by the process, the innovation and the discovery – using design and engineering to make surfboards felt unheard of. I was encapsulated by the thinking behind each shape, each feature – why was that board shaped like that? What did it do for the rider? Why was it a better design? For some designers, Rams’ Ten Principles are an absolute list of rules to be followed and for some, Rams himself is the benchmark by which all design, and designers, should be rated. Personally, I use them to judge my boards against – if I’ve done all of these things by the time I’ve created a design, it’s normally ok! Here’s my weigh-in on Rams’ list.
1. Good Design is innovative
Innovation comes in different forms, but I think innovation is ultimately progress; taking an existing product and asking yourself some questions. “Why is it like that? How could it be better? What can I do to improve this product.” I started Airwave from my garage in Chester – just bought some materials and taught myself everything about building surfboards. But from the beginning, I knew that I could do better than the surfboards I’d had exposure to, and to do that, I knew I had to innovate – better functionality, better ergonomics, better aesthetics. There’s always a risk with innovation, which keeps it exciting – you never really know if your designs are going to work until you try them.
2. Good Design makes a product useful.
Functionality is engrained in AW. Our surfboards are designed to be used – otherwise, what’s the point? Every inch, every litre, every contour of every surfboard we create is there to do a job, to fulfil a purpose for its rider. I’ve been asked to make display boards before and fortunately I’ve insisted they’re made as if they were going to be surfed every day – functional materials, real fin boxes. I’ve got a background in engineering, so it’s in my nature to understand the physics of surfboards, so I can use their environment to create new experiences that are useful and relevant. I try to embrace the practicality that we ask of our surfboards to make product that can really be used and that’s designed to last.
3. Good Design is aesthetic.
I’m judgemental. So are you. We can’t help it. When we buy or use a product, or not in some cases, we judge it so heavily, just from the way it looks – what it does, who should use it, how well it works, how expensive it is, how long it’s going to last. Surfboards are judged so heavily by how they look, but the shape of a surfboard, it’s form, infinitely affects how good it is to use, so it’s a challenge to balance beauty and function. I’m lucky in that some of the innovative materials we use for AW boards are really beautiful – the crisp white innegra, the black resins, even carbon fibre looks special after we’ve processed it. The way I see it, the aesthetic of any product is absolutely part of its function – with my boards, if it’s not beautiful, it’s not doing it’s job.
4. Good Design makes a product understandable.
“There’s a good chance you’re reading this on an iPhone. If you are, think about this for a second; in your hand, you’re holding one of the most advanced pieces of technology of both this century and the last and it comes with little to no instruction, but you’re able to understand it almost immediately. This intuitiveness is totally the holy grail of design. With surfboards, the physical connection we have to them is inherently intuitive, but it’s our job to communicate their purpose by designing forms which invoke an understanding of what a board is supposed to do. Whether we’re designing for speed, cruisey flow or funky alternative surfing, the intended use of our boards comes across from their shape – you’d do look at one of our Kingpins and not feel the precise surfing it’s designed for.
5. Good Design is unobtrustive.
There’s a movement of minimalism in design. Clean shapes, minimal styling, inoffensive graphics. If you’ve ever seen one of our boards, they’re mostly all white or all black, with as few logos as we can get away with, and only simple bands of colour incorporated into the resin during the manufacturing process. It hasn’t happened deliberately, but we rarely throw elaborate artwork on our boards – almost as if we’re trying to stop the appearance of our boards from getting in the way of communicating what they’re designed to do. Shouting quietly, type of thing.
6. Good Design is honest.
Transparency with materials, transparency with processing, transparency with intent – there really isn’t any room for pulling the wool over our customers’ eyes. We try to be as honest as possible when we design for clients, recommending shapes and dimensions that match their ability, and we’re really open with our materials, where they’re from and how we used them – it’s really liberating. We’ve actually just made the switch over to Ecoboard materials. If you’re using good materials, it shows in your product. And of course you’re going to tell everyone.
7. Good Design is long lasting.
It’s a strange paradox in business that the better something is, the less of them you’ll need to buy. Things break, things wear out, but as designers, we’re always to make the longevity of our products as high as possible, both in terms of product life, but also relevance. We’re never going to make surfboards as fashion items, and we’ll always make boards that are designed to last. Surfboards really take a beating, and we’re building innovation into our boards to make them stronger. Using different types of composite, different layups of fibreglass, the new Gen2 boards I’ve been riding are some of the most durable yet.
8. Good Design is thorough down to the last detail.
Each one of our boards is finish-shaped, laminated and sanded by hand, so having craftsmen who appreciate detail is so important. I spend hundreds of hours obsessing over the detail of my designs – rail profile, tail thickness, concave depth, curvature, every detail must come together to create a beautiful product, both aesthetically beautiful and functionally beautiful. Detail is everything.
9. Good Design is environmentally friendly.
“We’re into this one at Airwave. Big time. We’ve just joined the Ecoboard Project, which is a scheme run by the Sustainable Surf organisation in California. We’re also about to raise the bar on our the materials make our boards from, offering only sustainable construction surfboards. Most surfboards use polyurethane foam and polyester resin, neither of which are good for the environment, so we’re dropping them from our portfolio. It’s a risk to make changes, but the risk of doing nothing is much greater.”
10. Good Design is as little design as possible.
“I actually disagree with this. To me, design is a process of thinking and considering, trading decision off against others. So, arguably, we should do as much design as possible to make our work as intuitive as possible. Although when it comes to products themselves, I believe in “less, but better”. Always. Materials, processing, shape features – the more you can achieve with less materials, the more effective your design is and the more clear it’s purpose is. Everything on our boards has a function – it’s designed to do something. If you can look at one of our boards, understand what it’s supposed to do and think ‘of course it’s like that, why could it be any other way?’ then we’ve done our job as designers.”
For more information and to check out what Airwave Surfboards have to offer please click here to visit their site.