3.15.2011

IDSA Innovation Intro - Spring 2011

Designing With or For?
The Patagonia catalog is one of the few that does not feel like an offense when it appears in my mailbox. The photography and stories are often as interesting as the products they sell. This winter was no exception.
A full-page image of a man at a band saw caught my attention and imagination. Any image of shop equipment snaps me back to some of my best memories of studios, friends, coworkers and projects. This one was different. The guy in the picture was pushing a long rough-cut form through the saw—in it was the perimeter of a ski.
While our guest editor Warren Ginn worked tirelessly pulling together the best in our profession for this issue devoted to materials and processes, this image bounced around in my head. What was that guy up to? What problem was he trying to solve? And how do you make skis? Something about the ski was still mysterious to me. It was definitely in the domain of something I would not try to build at home—its secrets were locked away in the alchemy of the K2 shop or assembly line.
I couldn’t resist, so I tracked him down. Turns out Jason McCloskey is a furniture maker who needed a new pair of powder skis. Bewildered by the price, but not his skill and equipment, he told me, “I can figure this out.”
He shared a story of research, experimentation, rocker, camber and side cut, feeling his way to the perfect ski to manage tight turns through a chute to get to the untouched powder—then to float from there. He explained that skilled hand planing was more precise than CAD and CNC to shape the core to attain perfect form and stiffness in the right places, and that he could repurpose his vacuum bag to work like a ski press.
Jason was trained by a master furniture maker as a traditional apprentice with an emphasis on dovetails and handwork. The down economy gave him a bit more free time to leverage his furniture studio to pursue the perfect ski, and his willingness to break boundaries led him to a new and totally unique creation.
It was no surprise to hear that his commissions for skis—custom tailored to the skill and terrain preference of the client—started outpacing the demand for furniture.
This project is a great example of how intimacy with material and process gets you somewhere you just can’t go when it is at arm’s length. Some of us design for a material use—draw it up, send to the shop, check it out when it comes back. Jason is designing with the material. Each finished product is an iteration toward the next ideal. A memory of how the core was formed, wrapped or pressed is inside each ski. Jason recognizes this as a factor that often separates furniture design from industrial design.
I’m certain that because of this boutique approach, these skis are more precious and meaningful to their owners. Being more personal, they probably deliver a richer experience.
My programming wants to see Jason codify the designs, reproduce them and make them available en masse—but deep inside I just want my very own ski, dialed in to my idiosyncrasies and imbued by a great entrepreneurial story that was launched from a great photograph.
They are called “Flitches”, and I placed my order.

—Alistair Hamilton, IDSA
Innovation Executive Editor
Subscribe to Innovation at www.idsa.org/innovation
Photo by Colin Meagher www.inmotionphoto.com

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