Will Vickery- Smooth Sailing and Open Manufacturing

Welcome to our new interview series “Cabinet Sessions” where we sit down to chat with designers, artists, and craftspeople. We explore the nature of creativity, ways in which people have found their niche, and ideas for the future. Join the conversation here on the Makers Cabinet Journal.

Will Vickery

Interview by Jake Pearce

One day while working on a new Iris prototype, we hit a snag. Well actually, the bit on the CNC machine we were using hit the milling plate and projected itself across the workshop.  Will quickly rushed over and told us off, and then proceeded to show us how to use his machines properly.  Technical knowledge is just the tip of the iceberg for Will. Over the months we got to know him as a source of inspiration for our design.

Will Vickery is what we call a front-line thinker.  He’s the kind of person who’s constantly working around the boundaries of typical design thinking. When he’s not mountain biking, sailing around the English coasts, or treading a new line down the side of a mountain, Will is working between a sheet of paper and an unendingly complex CAD model reconsidering the way we interact with the designed world. More importantly, Will is paving a new path for the future of design with his unique way of thinking and passion for progress. 

Read our interview for an insight into the mind of someone who is constantly breaking down the boundaries between making, designing, engineering, and innovation.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, and how did you get here?

Well, I’ve always liked making things I guess, I enjoyed construction toys as a kid and building bridges over local rivers. School, on the other hand, was not my favourite. I hated school from start to finish apart from Design and Technology class on Thursdays which made it obvious what I should study at university. I followed a well-trodden path from secondary school, to A levels, to Brunel University. But I did take some time out and spent a year as a deckhand on a yacht.


That sounds like a pretty nice year out. Was it all smooth sailing?

We sailed around Ibiza and Spain which sounds amazing whenever I tell the story but in reality, it was pretty brutal; Lots of hard work and it wasn’t paid so felt a bit fruitless at times, gave me lots of time to reflect on what to do with my life.


What do you like to do when you’re not designing?

I love riding mountain bikes, it’s the most fun freeing thing ever. There’s an element of creativity in finding lines down a mountainside and you can hurt yourself. You also get to see some amazing places along the way, it’s my favourite way to get away from a desk.

 

Did you go straight back to Uni when you got to shore?

No. I wanted to get some real-world design experience so I took pretty much anything that came my way. Logo design at first to get the ball rolling, but then I picked up a fair bit of freelance work. I also spent some time working at Studio Make Believe in central London and was invited to the Central Research Laboratory as a product developer which is where I met the Makers Cabinet team. Meeting them and the other people at CRL was a great motivator for me, seeing them with their own company and products on the market made me ask myself ‘what are you doing with yourself, sort yourself out!’ So now I’m finishing up my degree and getting some solo projects off the ground.


You’ve done a lot for someone your age. Can you give us some insight into what drives you?

I just try to build on past achievements. In some fields, it’s clear what the next target is. An athlete looks to the next competition or season, a musician might focus on their next tour or album. The design world has so many potential avenues so I’m constantly looking for that next challenge. There are so many problems waiting to be solved in all avenues of life that if we don’t aim to be problem solvers, we might as well return to the animal kingdom.

 

What area of design would you say you specialise in?

Recently I’ve been focussing most of my time on the technical side of design and engineering. To bring products to market you need to be able to see them through to completion and understand how to execute them. If you don’t understand manufacturing elements both your design and the underlying idea will likely be fundamentally flawed, like a house built on sand. 

A lot of design teams operate like swat teams, a collection of specialists, which is great but isn’t always the best way to solve problems. If you aspire to be a great designer you need a base level of technical and engineering knowledge so you understand what’s viable in the real world. Recently I’ve been learning circuit board design and a bit of software programming; I had some circuit boards made which turned out less than perfect but I learned so much from the process.

 

What inspires your creativity? Do you have any rituals, tools, or tips that help?

I like just thinking about where design is going in the future. Design is a relatively new thing in human history and it evolves so quickly. I get really excited by that and want to be part of that.

Also thinking about my personal future, what kind of house I want to live in, how it will look, what would I put in that house, and how I’d design them.

I’d love to be self-sufficient and off-grid. I keep thinking about an automated allotment that’s robotised and could manage itself.

One thing that really perplexes me is, you look outside everyone’s houses and there are these forms, with four wheels. They’re so hard and contrasting to their environment, it just seems strange, like seeing a gin and tonic next to a salad. I’m constantly thinking about how we can refine things and create harmony. They’re like loose ends that need to be tied up. Whenever I focus on those juxtapositions it inspires me to create a solution.


The world of design seems to exist in an increasingly digital space, what are your thoughts on that?

By our nature, we are analog. When we have the ability to input data quicker than our fingers on a keyboard via Neuralink or similar technology, we’ll definitely move deeper into the realm of digital.

Digital is great as it’s searchable and editable, but there’s a slowness to design that is important. Our minds have to connect dots and there’s a limit to how fast we can do that. The speed at which you can input data isn’t as important as the time it takes to connect those dots. Drawing on a piece of paper is almost better as we can achieve that maximum pace of joining those dots but get tactile feedback at the same time, it forces us to take time. Pushing design to be quicker is a fruitless exercise as we can only connect dots at a certain speed. Trying to design quicker can be detrimental.

 

So you said you took a couple of years out of studying to design professionally. Was there anything that surprised you in that transition from a student to a professional workspace?

In the university environment, the whole focus is learning so as a design student you get very used to doing things from start to finish. You learn most things through the first 25% of your coursework and then spend the year ticking boxes for the sake of it. In the professional environment, you get to be an essentialist. You have to focus on what is essential because someone is paying money for the work. As soon as it stops making sense, you stop as continuing would be inefficient, a waste of your time and the client's money. It’s refreshing when you can attribute value and price to your work, it makes it feel much more meaningful.

 

We were having a look through your portfolio and we all loved the replacement handles you made for your steamer. You’ve repaired something, giving it new life and improved it in the process.

The main reason for that project was I had an image in my mind of what I wanted but couldn’t find it anywhere, everything available online was injection moulded. Even if I was willing to pay loads of money for something high end, nothing was quite what I was looking for. I had this steamer that worked fine so I just thought of it in terms of an hourly work rate and invested a day into it. I had the necessary tools and time so made the most of them.

 

The design world is fast-changing, where do you see it going?

Distributed manufacturing is going to be big. At the origin of manufacturing, things were produced in a very distributed manner. The first instances were Homosapiens making tools for themselves, then as our species progressed, production slowly changed into a much more centralised system. By the 1800s after the industrial revolution, mass production was standard practice. That trend has even continued to now where production is globally centralised in places like Shenzhen and Shanghai.


It seems like production is centralised for most things now, food, clothes, cars. Is there any future for small scale production?

Well, what we’re seeing now is consumers wanting a more customised, tailored product whilst retaining the same quality. I see us moving increasingly toward a manufacturing system called CTC (close to consumer) where products can be altered to the consumers’ taste, manufactured closer to them, and shipped directly. 

This is being driven by consumers obviously but also by legislation. The EU has passed legislation obligating manufacturers to provide parts and replacements for their products for 10 years. With the current system of huge batches of products being produced at one time, in one place makes this tricky as they’re going to need somewhere to store all those spare parts, which is expensive, and somehow forecast how many spare parts they'll need to last 10 years. Producers need to work out a way to produce these parts as needed and get them to the consumer. This is just one of the forces pushing production to a CTC model and we’re going to see a lot more products being produced to order in the next few years.

The whole paradigm is shifting from a ‘technology push environment’ to a ‘technology pull environment’ where consumers are now the driving force in the market. There are some positive results from this; greater knowledge of planned obsolescence and movements like ‘right to repair’ put much more power in the consumer's hands. It’s easier to buy things than ever before and consumers are deluged by new products. They can now question these products alongside countless alternatives.


So with that in mind, what are you working on at the moment?

Recently, I designed a pair of headphones that are designed to be manufactured anywhere in the world. The main challenge of it was looking at each component and designing them to be tooled correctly and made to last. Aside from that, I’m continuing to design a plant pot which indicates when it needs watering that I’ll be launching on Kickstarter.


Is that the one we saw in your portfolio?

Yeah, I’m redesigning it in ceramic, I was looking into injection moulding but the manufacture and tooling costs were very high. Ceramic allows me to be a bit more conservative with the numbers. It’s a scary thing to invest a load of money into one of your own ideas when you should probably be saving for a house.


Quick Ones

 

Who’s your favourite designer/maker/creative at the moment?

I really like Marc Ange. He’s merging art deco and post-minimalism, it’s a refreshing take on interior design.


Do you have a favourite object or design tool? A specific pen, knife, notepad, etc.?

I would say my journal, it’s just where I can be mindful and externalise stuff, connect the dots ya know. I actually buy a whole stack of identical journals at a time and just fill one after another. Aside from that, and I don’t want to be too blatantly endorsing but my Høvel pencil sharpener and a pencil are always with me.


Are there elements of design you dislike?

I hate design for design’s sake. Seeing things that will never be executed in the real world definitely annoys me, KeyShot renders of conceptual objects that no one has ever intended on existing. You can just tell from the materials used and the structure of them.

Another thing is universities pushing students to design medical products that are just unnecessary. Most of the time they solve a non-problem, like designing a new inhaler when there are already products perfectly fit for purpose out there.

It’s the creation of fictional problems that annoy me, it’s just an excuse to bring more plastic shit into the world.


When do you think design becomes art?

I think it becomes art when something becomes ingrained in your life and lifestyle. Like my penknife is always on me, it’s become a part of me, a part of my identity.

 

END OF INTERVIEW

 

We can't wait to see what Will creates for the world, and truly hope that our futures will continue to intersect.  If you want to follow Will on his journey to his first Kickstarter, follow his Instagram @will.vickery and we will be sure to share his milestones on our own @makerscabinet! To see more of his work check out his website willvickery.com

Thank you for joining us for our first edition of the Cabinet Session interviews.  Join our mailing list HERE or check back in a month to read our next interview where we speak with an Interior Designer who has just finished her first hotel!