Interview: 30 Minutes with Peter Bristol of Carbon Design

Solving It, One Design At a Time

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re as completely and unashamedly obsessed with objects as we are. Interviews with designers are our way of getting back to the source and seeing who’s behind some of our favorite gear, and this week we got a hold of Peter Bristol,product designer/renaissance man and one of the driving forces behind Carbon Design Group. But the man can’t shake his creative itch even after he’s clocked out – some of our favorite inventions are from his solo portfolio. Read his full story after the jump.

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Design is always about learning where things are at and helping decide where they will go next.

Gear Patrol: We like to start off interviews with this question, but it’s even more important now that we’re talking to a product designer – what are five things you can’t live without? (They don’t have to be objects if you don’t want them to be).

Peter Bristol: Not sure I can quite set any products in a “can’t live with out” category. I suppose the biggies are: Air, Water, Food, Shelter, Purpose.

GP: How did you get to where you are today? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

PB: Ha, not sure where “where” is, I guess one thing led to another…

I grew up in a small rural town in North Eastern Washington. My family lived on a large chunk of land. I had a lot of freedom since I was very young, and my parents were supportive of my interests and tangents.

I made it well into college before finding the field of industrial design. It felt inevitable, like I had been heading there without knowing it. Definitely made the big “what am I going to do when I grow up?” thing much simpler.

Since then, I have basically been living life: doing and learning what I can along the way and hoping to be a positive addition to the planet. I have had the chance to work with great people as I continually work to create great products.

Ride Boots_

GP: What was the first object you designed?

PB: I have been making things since I was pretty young. As a child, I continuously created projects for myself. I made mini worlds for toy cars, scores of forts in the woods, topo maps of where the forts were, sculptures, paintings, branded our clubs, etc. Later on, I sort of naturally modified, simplified and altered many of my possessions to make them more how I envisioned them.

But, the first tooled thing I designed was a skeleton hand shaped lace guide for a special edition Ride snowboard boot. A far cry from impactful design, but I was pretty excited to get my hands on it!

GP: What is it like to see one of your creations in a store or in use, say, in a hospital?

PB: It is exciting to see products in the world. I always think we (the product owner/user and I) have some sort of connection through the design. It is nice to have someone choose something that you have designed; there is a lot of stuff in the world.

Training Dresser Peter Bristol_

GP: What is the relationship of Carbon to your solo work?

PB: Carbon is where I work. It is a great place: It is a talented pool of product development people that has and continues to bring amazing products and experiences to life. I have had the chance to “help guide” the visual brand of the company, direct and work on the interior design of the studio/office, as well as work on many very interesting and challenging projects during my time there. Carbon’s rigor in the medical and engineering exposes me to design problem’s that I would otherwise never encounter. They are excited about my personal work and view it as a symbiotic relationship. While working on my solo projects, it is great to have a bunch of crazy skill sets and smart people to draw on. Recently Carbon has been supporting me in developing one of my personal concepts. “Toggle” as we are calling it should be released about the same time as this interview, please check it out!

GP: What is it like to work in areas as different as consumer, industrial and medical design?

PB: Honestly, not sure they are that different. I feel like the mentality of figuring out what to do with a project is not really genre specific. Design is always about knowing where things are at and helping decide where they will go next.


GP: What goes into designing a great object?

PB: The right idea and the right execution…

Could be complex or simple, mass-produced or a one off, electronics or furniture, branded or unbranded. The right idea means you know that space, and have come up with something worth making. The right execution means you made it appropriately for the context (people, location, materials, processes, people, brand, etc.)

While it sounds simple, I am surprised at how few projects seem to do both.

I think in order for it to happen, there must be a shared vision and a team/company that cares about what they are creating. A vision is important at all scales: an amazing company, and a great product must have. The designers must either understand or create the vision.

There is something magic that happens when all these come together.

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GP: What is your process?

PB: Fall in love with the product, company, scenario, etc… this is usually while getting to know the product space/company/etc (unless it is one of those ideas that just comes out of thin air). Basically, between the problem and the idea itself in aggregate, I need to believe that it should exist. Then, once an idea, solution, product feels like it should exist, it almost takes on a life of its own and designs itself.

GP: Do you usually respond to clients, or identify and solve real-world problems on your own?

PB: That is the main split between Carbon work and my personal work. Carbon’s clients usually have a problem in mind and the team will help solve “it”. For my own work, I have been developing ideas that I feel should exist. I would like to find opportunities to work with companies that feel an affiliation with my work and want to add to their offerings, but in the meantime, I am quite entertained with things as they are…

GP: Is your process different depending on if you’re working on your own or for Carbon?

PB: Yes and no; at Carbon we tend to work with more traditional clients and documenting/communicating the process is a big part of the project and the deliverables. With my personal work, I work more loosely, focusing solely on getting the design done. However, with both, I am hunting for the solutions that in hindsight feel like destiny, like there were no other options.

GP: What does your studio look like?

PB: Carbon Studio looks like this. My personal studio looks like a cluttered corner of my living room..

It is interesting, once working, I don’t seem to care what the studio is like, nor do really get any “design” done in any studio. A studio tends to play the role of execution and grunt work: building models, playing in CAD, making images, answering emails and getting aligned with others.
There isn’t a common physical location where I feel comfortable designing, but there is a mental space that I have reach in order to explore concepts. It basically means that I can work anywhere or nowhere depending on whether I can get into the mind set.

I have heard people say that all designers are necessarily collectors. Do you collect anything?
Not a specific thing, but I have an extensive “junk drawer” habit that involves “pack-ratting” things that I find interesting for one reason or another. As far as collecting lots of the same thing, I tend to look for the “one” of each thing so that no more exploration is necessary.

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GP: Do you find that you have a signature aesthetic, or is it determined by a specific project?

PB: Probably not an aesthetic, but perhaps there is a common logic or approach associated with my work? I often look for an appropriately compelling architecture or functionality as the root of a design. If a product is inherently iconic through its design, the details are easier. Once a direction makes sense and is exciting at a fundamental level, the design takes a life of its own and details fall into place.

GP: Describe yourself in three words.

PB: Peter Wesley Bristol

GP: Do you have any funny or interesting stories about becoming and being a product designer?

PB: No, what we do is secret and serious…. Seriously though, don’t go into design unless you are willing to let it take over your life.

Established &Sons Corner Light by Peter Bristol_

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