“Bringing a product like the Slate to market in such a short time is crazy!”
As head of Chedal Anglay Design and artistic director of Petzl, Christophe Chedal Anglay came to iskn with 25 years of experience in high-end technical product design and his valuable network of partner companies. We met in Grenoble on July 6, 2015, for a long discussion about the birth of the Slate and his collaboration with iskn. Part 2 of our interview (if you missed Part 1, it’s here).
Is a technical constraint a problem or an asset for a designer?
A constraint is a constraint. It simply exists, it’s there. There’s nothing to ponder: it’s there, whether it’s legitimate or not. You can always go back and question the specifications, but there comes a time when you just have to say “enough” and then do something. You have to work with it if you want to release the product on time. With the Slate, only 14 months passed between completing the first design and shipping the product to our backers. For all the other companies that I work with, it takes three years to come out with a product!
Legal considerations and patent protection slowed us down more than the actual industrialization process did. But bringing a product like that to market in such a short time is crazy! It helped that I have 25 years of design experience, and I always want to know how something is going to be made. Design isn’t just about giving an object its form and function. It’s also about creating the object, having it made. That is part of the essence of our profession, and I have a lot of experience in this area with many different companies. So I was able to put iskn in contact with my network, and the team was also very active in looking for the right people in the right places.
What about designing the Pen?
The Pen was also really important because it represents the brand just as much as the Slate does. Because we also created a brand with specific characteristics, a formal language, and brand values, including the idea of quality drawing. The Pen has a square-shaped part like a Conté crayon, a traditional French drawing tool, and a round part like an ordinary pen. We started with the Conté crayon and then came up with a circular ring. That was a constraint since the Ring is a magnet and it had to be round. The proportions are strange: we deliberately made the Pen long to evoke a fountain pen and the idea of quality drawing. It also addressed another constraint, which was the distance between the Ring and the tip of the Pen. That was a technical specification, so we made the pen cap shorter. The Pen introduces something new without losing the essence of the gesture of writing, which is deeply rooted and meaningful in our culture. Human writing was the beginning of civilization! Yet at the same time, we’re on the cutting edge of high tech.
Why did you say yes to iskn?
We met when I was in charge of a design school at the CEA in Grenoble. I was the head of the project studio and the iskn team was in the same space. Basically, we were developing projects in the same area. When they told me about their project, I saw the potential of the technology and also their enthusiasm. I knew that I had a lot to contribute to their process. With iskn, I really didn’t give it a second thought: it was clear that we were on the same wavelength and that we should work together. When you begin working with a startup, you sometimes ask yourself, “Is all the energy I’m putting in worth it?” As a designer, I’m lucky enough to get a lot of offers for work. But you end up having to choose at some point, so I asked myself that very question about iskn. I didn’t have to think about it for long: when I saw how much energy the team was putting into the company to make it successful, and how quickly they were moving forward, the answer was clear.
When do you consider your work as a designer to be finished?
There’s a really easy answer to that: it’s never finished! Because there’s always something you can improve. It’s never over, because once the object exists, you get feedback on it. I’ve always believed that nothing is perfect, and anything can be improved. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing this job! It’s all a matter of context. We designed the first version of the Slate with sketchnoters and Kickstarter in mind, and the industrial conditions were very specific. Then we further developed the Slate so that it would more broadly meet the needs of creative types: designers, graphic designers, illustrators, etc.
I’m proud of what we’ve done: the product is sound, and I have no desire to redesign it. Now the industrial steps need to be refined, which is the next logical, natural part of the story. We’ve established the brand’s DNA, the design codes, all the things that make up its identity. But the design work continues: we’re developing packaging and accessories to enrich the user experience. For instance, the Rings will allow you to use the Slate with a range of pens and pencils. So the story isn’t over yet, and I think that conditions are right for the iskn story to go on for a long time!