This is the latest in our series of interviews with new designers identified by the Design Council as ‘Ones to Watch‘. Ross Kemp‘s ‘Asap’ electric waterboard helps coastal rescuers get through the surf more quickly to reach people who are drowning. Inspired by a jet ski, it is significantly cheaper to produce and produces zero emissions. Ross’s project was selected in the Social Impact category alongside Julia King’s sanitation project for Savda Ghevra, the largest planned resettlement colony in New Delhi; and Neil Michels’s Civic School that includes the local population in the school’s remit.
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
I love making things. That moment you see an idea take form as something you can touch, hold and give to somebody – I think that is just awesome.
What inspires your work?
I am inspired by product design, which is beautiful in its simplicity and functionality. While developing our rescue water craft we constantly looked for ways to design things simpler. Our products will be used in the harshest environments of salt water and sand, so we really went out of our way to simplify everything to reduce the risk of things breaking.
Throughout this development process I was constantly on the look out for ways of designing parts simpler – I loved finding inspiration from everyday objects. Instead of holding three parts with three screws, we tried to find clever ways to hold three parts with one screw. I get a real kick out of finding these simplifications in design.
I am also very lucky to work with some super-talented engineers and designers, who inspire me no end with their ideas on how to do things better.
Talk me through your design and making process.
We make a lot – we are always prototyping and testing something. We will prototype a full water craft, then test it. Anything which isn’t quite right or doesn’t work, we re-design, remake, test, remake, and test again. We keep doing this until we have something which resembles the product we want to progress with.
By the end of this process we often have a prototype which is super messy and covered in tape – but works like a dream. It is usually at this point we get very excited – accompanied by strange looks from outsiders as we high five each other over a beaten up, tape-covered prototype.
We then remake everything from this messy model, this time concentrating more on manufacturing and assembly of each part. We test, then remake, test, then remake until we’re happy with it.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
Testing our water crafts is a lot of fun. We are lucky to be good friends with the National Water Sport Centre in Nottingham, where I live – so I am often popping down there to do some test runs in their lake.
What’s your favourite tool and why?
A few years ago I would have said a piece of sand paper – as I love nothing more than taking a piece of foam and working it to the shape I had in my head. But now, I would have to say the lathe, working with aluminium. I have been machining lots of aluminium parts and love it when you do the final cut and are left with the super-shiny finish.
Tell me about a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Ross Kemp.
A bad day is when things break during testing, which can often set us back weeks if parts need to be sent abroad to be remade. This can be really frustrating, especially when it is something you could have prevented by setting it up differently.
A good day is when I head to the lake for some testing, the sun is out and everything works beautifully. Then there’s still time to get back home to Skype manufacturers before the end of the day.
What defines good design?
Good design is defined by being unnoticed. Good design should be part of your life, perhaps even part of you, without you realising. When something stands out or gets in the way of what you wanted to do, this is often because of bad design.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the products we built to take to Australia. I was very lucky to meet Sir Richard Branson as part of a TV show. He kindly offered to fly me out to Australia, so I could test our Asap water crafts with some of the best lifeguards in the world. The weeks leading up to this trip were full of all-nighters from us all, and really pushed us to our limits. But the products we built in such a short time were amazing.
I rented a camper van and drove over 5000 kilometres up and down the east coast of Australia, testing these water crafts with as many lifeguards as I could find – amazingly, all with Virgin sponsorship. I was so proud of what we achieved during this time and the team I worked with. Those times really defined our product.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
To take a product to manufacture will of course take longer than you first planned – the product we thought was our production model has been rehashed more than a few times since! So I guess the best advice would be to have lots of patience and an insane amount of focus. Have a vision, then every day make sure everything you do is another step towards realising that vision.
What did it mean to you to be selected as one of the Design Council’s Ones To Watch?
This was a real honour. Our engineers and I work long, tiring days, often in a cold, dimly lit workshop (my garage!), sometimes unsure if what we’re designing and building is any good. So to be recognised in this way by the Design Council is absolutely amazing. As a product designer, it can be difficult not being able to publicly share the excitement of what you’re working on, for intellectual property reasons. So being selected as One To Watch by the Design Council really made all our hard work worthwhile.
And finally, what’s your favourite colour?
A light sky blue.
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
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