Swedish industrial designer Thomas Meyerhoffer feels equally at home surfing waves in the Pacific Ocean and walking boutique-lined streets in Paris. Whether he’s designing ground-breaking computers or cell phones — he worked at Porsche, Ideo and Apple before starting his own firm — or creating new windsurf sails for NeilPryde and his own line of surfboards, Meyerhoffer is always looking for ways to innovate and entice consumers. Among his latest products are the Wikireader, a palm-size electronic encyclopedia, and a surfboard collaboration with Cynthia Rowley and Roxy that sells in Barneys New York and Collette in Paris. The San Francisco-based designer also is working on a soft sporting goods collaboration that is still under wraps.
WWD: What were your early style influences?
Thomas Meyerhoffer: Growing up in Scandinavia, it was the Swedish design movement and the open landscape. When I came to California to attend Art Center College of Design, I realized there was a strong connection aesthetically. It was a great mix of Arts and Crafts, modern design and science. Now, I am really interested in how nature designs things that appeal to our eyes and our minds. I love reading National Geographic.
WWD: What is your typical day like?
T.M.: Normally, the tide guides my work. I surf at the best time of the day and work around that. When I design, I shut down my Internet and e-mail so that I can work uninterrupted for three or four hours at a time.
WWD: When you worked at Apple in the Nineties, what inspired your design for the eMate, which became a precursor to the iMac?
T.M.: When Steve Jobs came back to the company, it was like the floodgates opened. We discussed how a computer could be something other than a beige box, so we created different stories around it and the user. One of the tools was to use color and translucency to show that we stood for a whole different message and brand experience. It’s funny how outdated the iMac looks now.
WWD: How does fashion influence what you do?
T.M.: Fashion has always inspired me because it’s a great commentary on our society. I’m always interested in how you take stories from fashion and bring them back into the product. I designed the Chumby, a soft beanbag-like computer, just like a sneaker. The back part of it was actually made in a sneaker factory. Our target audience was teenagers using it in their bedrooms. Applying this knowledge about fashion, we were able to make something entirely new that we enjoy in a different way. That’s really what I am interested in doing.
WWD: But ultimately you would choose functionality over form?
T.M.: Yes, because it’s functionality that changes a person’s interaction with a product. That’s the basis of the surfboard I designed. I wanted it to turn like a short board and paddle like a long board. Once I started to change the form and shape of the board, I applied design values on top of that. A lot of the greatest fashion has a function, too. Think about a Dior dress whose purpose was to show off the shoulder. It’s telling a story to the end user from a visual point of view, but it’s doing something new.
WWD: Do you think the Internet will render the printed page obsolete?
T.M.: It will change in that a lot of things will become more similar. Just like music, where it’s not about the whole record anymore, but about each song. Newspapers will become all about headlines and video and that will make mainstream media more homogenous. It’s not the death of print, but we have to go through that shift before print can experience a renaissance. Then I think people will want to see high-quality print because it will represent a bigger contrast to quick media and blogs.
WWD: How do you force yourself to always look forward instead of back?
T.M.: It’s important to keep training your intuition by putting yourself in situations where you aren’t entirely comfortable, where you don’t know what might happen.