Innovation is at the forefront and heart of what we do at Clipsal by Schneider Electric. As part of the Schneider Electric family, we benefit from having an array of talent and diverse skills to continuously deliver quality products for our customers.
To give you a bit of insider information on what goes into creating the products you love to use, we chatted with Schneider Electric’s Vice President Design Lab Asia-Pacific Tim Rochford about his experience, design philosophy and how to continually innovate.
How did you get into design?
‘Well’ laughs Tim ‘my father was a graphic designer – he told me “you can do whatever you want but do not become a designer”.’
‘But I grew up on a farm where invention, play and creativity were at the forefront. With no TV, I made my own fun’ describes Tim. He always had a love of drawing and creating – which came from his father – and being on a farm, ‘everything was hands-on.’
Tim followed his father’s advice at first and studied politics and anthropology at university after school, before returning to university years later to study design. Product design was a natural fit for Tim, as it was a cross-section of his interests and skills, ‘you get to be creative but you also get to be technical – creativity mixed with technicality.’
Despite his career initially taking a different path, he explains everything he studied has ended up intersecting. ‘Anthropology crosses over with design – it’s the relationship between people and things’ explains Tim ‘Research methodology that you use in anthropology, you now use in design.’
What other past experiences have added to your design arsenal?
‘Traveling worldwide while backpacking for two years was exposure to a world of things I wasn’t familiar with – it showed me how things can be better, which is fundamental to design’ recounts Tim.
His previous work experiences also helped him understand design in a special way. When he began working as a product designer overseas, Tim says he ‘learnt how to accept risk in a new way – as Australia isn’t always so great at new and risky.’
‘Occasionally you have a hunch – which is actually an estimated and educated guess’ explains Tim. ‘I learnt to throw it in the market and see. Short term risk, with a long term goal and to focus on continual improvement.’
How did you end up at Schneider Electric?
Tim explains how he was approached by the former design director at Schneider Electric but wasn’t initially enthusiastic.
‘However’ recounts Tim, ‘then he brought me into the story – that they recognised it’s a product that’s neglected and that hasn’t had the intensity of the human-focus design brought to it.’
Once the previous design director showed him the research, Tim jumped at the opportunity to 'see the level of innovation that could go into something we all use every day.' Something that has carried through all his work at Schneider Electric.
How does culture impact designing things for everyday use?
‘Australia isn’t always the fastest moving in terms of trends’, explains Tim, but culture informs trends – and fads. But, as Tim describes, ‘we can’t be dealing with ‘fads’ in our industry.’
So how do you ensure it’s not a fad? ‘Hindsight’ jokes Tim. He explains his own approach, ‘For while no one knows for sure, you need to be aware of history. Understand that trends happen in cycles. You can see trends building up, then you need to look back and see what’s going to last and what’s going to be cyclical– to explain it in another way, it’s ultimately the difference between fashion and style.’
Has the current global landscape had an impact?
‘Yes – people have had more time to stare at the stuff that they own! That means they start to see the problems with it, which then leads to opportunities for design’ describes Tim.
As a result of the pandemic, Tim believes ‘consumers are becoming more intentional.’ Something that could play a big role in how we buy and what products we use moving forward.
Consumer needs are obviously crucial to what you do – how do you ensure you put them first?
‘When I was at Dyson, they would put you in the call centre for two weeks to listen to all the issues and problems so that you could identify the problem’ Tim recounts.
That experience stayed with him and he adopted his own similar approach when he started at Schneider by ‘registering at TAFE for one day a week with the first year electricians to learn about the issues’ and get firsthand knowledge of who he was creating products for.
This methodology of hands-on customer research is carried into everything Tim does – his design philosophy, process and how he designs. He believes ‘everyone in the business should be spending time on a job site with people/customers/clients.’
Describe your design philosophy.
‘Empathetic and customer-focused’ says Tim. ‘And, at Schneider Electric, we have a clear message of what design is for us – design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones
‘Design can be many things, but at its heart it is about creating things that help solve people’s problems – otherwise it’s art’ he explains. ‘The constraints make it design, achieving a price point is a challenge that makes it design. Free form is art as it’s an expression of yourself and your ideas.’
‘Not everyone involved in design is a designer, but you always need a designer as they’re the one who can see it end-to-end and sit at the intersection to ensure the customer gets what they want.’
‘We’ve had a narrow view of what design is in Australia but there’s a push now to see the broader view – Schneider is part of that by investing in design, here in Australia, to make sure the product is localised and addressing the needs of the Australian market.’
How do you continue to be innovative?
‘Innovation can be getting new patents, new systems, new intellectual property – it ultimately depends what innovation means to you’ advises Tim.
To Tim, ‘it’s not a formal process – it can be a little change that just makes someone’s life better. My favourite industrial designer, Achille Castiglioni designed the little switch that goes on the lamp cord. It may not seem that big but people now use it every day. It improved the situation.’
Tim explains, ‘a subtle change can actually make a tremendous difference for people’ – and that’s what he loves most about design.
Interested in more?
We also chatted to Tim about innovating at Schneider in part 2 of this series.