In our “Tech Talk” series, we speak with the industry experts here at HARMAN Professional Solutions to get the inside scoop on AVL technology. Today, we’re speaking with Uffe Toft, Principal Industrial Designer, Lighting for HARMAN. Uffe graduated from the Aarhus School of Architecture with a Master’s Degree in Industrial Design before joining the Lego Group in 1999, where he worked as an Art Director and Design Manager. In 2007, Uffe joined Martin as an Industrial Designer.
Given his unique role within HARMAN, I wanted to talk with Uffe about what goes into industrial design for performance lighting fixtures—and why it matters.
[SKD]: Industrial design is one of those topics that people don’t always understand. In your opinion, what is industrial design and why is it important to products generally, as well as lighting products specifically?
[UT]: Industrial design deals with the ways products are designed when they will be mass-produced. Cars, for example, are made up of a number of parts that come together on an assembly line. In your design, you must factor in the way the product will be produced and how hard or easy that might be given the choices you make. You have a user at the end of the product that you have to think about as well. You have issues of ergonomics and, in the case of lighting products, you also must consider how serviceable it is. You have to think about how well it comes apart and comes back together, and consider how the customer is going to maintain it. Really, the user experience over the entire lifetime of the product is being designed, in a way.
[SKD]: What are some of the industrial design concerns you encounter when you are manufacturing a moving head or other performance lighting fixture?
[UT]: There are a lot of considerations, because the customer or user of a lighting product could be several different people, all with their own concerns. There are a lot of people that are impacted by the industrial design, and they are impacted in different ways. First, there is the lighting designer, who is designing the show, and for them, we have to consider how the product looks, both with the physical enclosure itself as well as the types of effects that we put into the fixture. Then, there is the person that stores and transports the fixture, who is concerned with how compact we make things, so they take up less space and can be stacked closely together in the rig. Then, there is the rigger, who is concerned with ergonomics and how lightweight it is, both of which affects handling and pulling it in and out of flight cases. You have to design around the whole aspect of touring. One person may be paying for the cases, but the “user” might be somebody else, so there are some choices you have to make along the way to balance all of those different concerns.
[SKD]: What are some of those compromises and choices you have to make when developing the industrial design of a lighting fixture?
[UT]: Often, we think a lot about the optics and effects that we have inside of a fixture. We have a lot of specialists who create these innovative designs for those effects. It’s part of my job to take all of that and wrap it in an enclosure and try to make it visually express what it does. With that whole expression, I’m trying to make the fixture look as effective, lean and sharp as possible—sometimes mean even. It has to look like it works, so that it is clearly an optimal design rather than a bulky waste of space. So, we spend a lot of time to make it sleek and compact. That also helps it pack down better as well.
[SKD]: Is some of the concern trying to get all of the different effects to fit inside the enclosure in the best way possible?
[UT]: We have a lot of moving parts inside and physical effects that go into the light beam. That whole mechanism often takes up a lot of space. As a designer, you have to deal with how to make that package look good. Even in a professional environment, the device is going to be seen and people are going to have opinions about it. So, you have to decide what the opinion is of the person who is going to use it. If you are designing a product that is going into a theater, for example, you might design something that has references to old theater lamps, perhaps, or make sure they recognize it is a modern product but with references to the history as well.
[SKD]: I know you used to work at Lego at one point. How has that shift been, and has there been some cross application for you?
[UT]: For many years, my life was toy designs, and behind everything was a system that was Lego. The whole idea of a modular system and the idea of having a platform of reusable elements is something I brought into HARMAN as well. I also draw upon my experience with plastics. Many of the elements we create are designed using CAD software. The engineer calculates what the optimal design should be in the software, and then I take it, make it moldable and find a way for it to be mass-produced.
[SKD] It’s really amazing how all of these pieces come together and create such an intricate and effective product. Setting aside the technology geek in me, though, at the end of the day, why should someone care about the industrial design? How does it affect them and what they get?
[UT]: Part of it is that you have the brand and you have the look that tells people, “This is a Martin product.” There is a line between the products that gives them signature lines and a signature profile. If you’re watching a TV program, you can tell that these fixtures are Martin fixtures just by the silhouette that you see, even if it is out of focus. We try to put those things in, so the fixtures are recognizable from a distance. If there are two versions of a product, we will try to put slight differences between the products, so you can tell if it is one or the other from a distance. It’s about identity, really.
Industrial design also has a big impact on the way it lasts and is serviceable throughout its lifecycle. Even with the casing, a lot of the parts have an outside purpose and an inside purpose. For instance, we have parts that combine a metal chassis with an outer plastic shell, where they come together and form something stronger than they would on their own. The design then becomes part of the structure, ensuring the product will last over time. Each time we have a new product, we push innovation just a little bit further, and over time the outside and the inside start to merge, and they become one singular design, really.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to Uffe for speaking with us. As you might imagine, designing and building things is a big part of Uffe’s life outside of work as well. He is passionate about building things from wood, from carpentry to designing furniture that is available for limited production runs. He even restored his own summer house, which he enjoys with his wife and three kids. He also enjoys hiking, running, skiing, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Do you think good industrial design is important in AVL? Share your insights in the comments.