A conversation with Joseph Hofer

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Ho fer I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N O NE

Describe your journey to where you are now.

My early years in rural Ontario were focused on the journey of becoming a craftsman, building and refinishing furniture. To expand on what I was learning about making things by hand, I began studying industrial design in college and during the first few years of my career. After learning traditional design techniques such as prioritizing a products function, form-giving, materials selection and CAD systems, I began questioning and thinking about a product’s purpose on a deeper level. Today, I’m developing Hofer Studio, a design

practice that draws talented professionals together, such as design researchers, graphic and industrial designers, and engineers—to deliver thoughtful product experiences for clients and users alike. The unique ‘design partner’ role I often play has given me viewpoints into different business models, strategies, and the effect on product relevance.

A conversation with Joseph Hofer


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N O NE

Describe your journey to where you are now.

My early years in rural Ontario were focused on the journey of becoming a craftsman, building and refinishing furniture. To expand on what I was learning about making things by hand, I began studying industrial design in college and during the first few years of my career. After learning traditional design techniques such as prioritizing a products function, form-giving, materials selection and CAD systems, I began questioning and thinking about a product’s purpose on a deeper level. Today, I’m developing Hofer Studio, a design

practice that draws talented professionals together, such as design researchers, graphic and industrial designers, and engineers—to deliver thoughtful product experiences for clients and users alike. The unique ‘design partner’ role I often play has given me viewpoints into different business models, strategies, and the effect on product relevance.


Q U E S TI O N S & D E S I G N NICK Y HOPE A N SW E R S & I M AG E S J OS E P H H O F E R


I N T RO DUC TI ON

Joseph Hofer resides in KitchenerWaterloo, Canada with his wife Kathryn. He is a multiple Red Dot and iF award-winning industrial designer and entrepreneur. He strives to communicate a product’s purpose and usability through obvious interactions, enduring aesthetics and technical innovations. His sense of intuition, empathy and rationality has influenced the BlackBerry device portfolio for over a decade, including the BlackBerry Bold family and the BlackBerry Passport.


Joseph is now directing Hofer Studio, a Kitchener-Waterloo based design practice that serves as a strategic design partner to redefine industrial and consumer brands, as well as cause-marketing ventures through honest, enduring, and user-focused design.


I N T RO ERVI DUC EWTI ON Q UESTI O N O NE

IDescribe contacted your Joseph, journey to decided on ten questions, where you are now. then fired them his way.

My early years in rural Ontario were focused on the journey of becoming a craftsman, building and refinishing furniture. To expand on what I was learning about making things by hand, I began studying industrial design in college and during the first few years of my career. After learning traditional design techniques such as prioritizing a products function, form-giving, materials selection and CAD systems, I began questioning and thinking about a product’s purpose on a deeper level. Today, I’m developing Hofer Studio, a design Photo: Felix Kunze

practice that draws talented professionals together, such as design researchers, graphic and industrial designers, and engineers—to deliver thoughtful product experiences for clients and users alike. The unique ‘design partner’ role I often play has given me viewpoints into different business models, strategies, and the effect on product relevance.


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N O NE

Describe your journey to where you are now.

My early years in rural Ontario were focused on the journey of becoming a craftsman, building and refinishing furniture. To expand on what I was learning about making things by hand, I began studying industrial design in college and during the first few years of my career. After learning traditional design techniques such as prioritizing a products function, form-giving, materials selection and CAD systems, I began questioning and thinking about a product’s purpose on a deeper level. Today, I’m developing Hofer Studio, a design

practice that draws talented professionals together, such as design researchers, graphic and industrial designers, and engineers—to deliver thoughtful product experiences for clients and users alike. The unique ‘design partner’ role I often play has given me viewpoints into different business models, strategies, and the effect on product relevance.


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N O NE

Describe your journey to where you are now.

My early years in rural Ontario were focused on the journey of becoming a craftsman, building and refinishing furniture. To expand on what I was learning about making things by hand, I began studying industrial design in college and during the first few years of my career. After learning traditional design techniques such as prioritizing a product’s function, form-giving, materials selection and CAD systems, I began questioning and thinking about a product’s purpose on a deeper level. Today, I’m developing Hofer Studio, a design practice that draws talented professionals together, such as design researchers, graphic and industrial designers, and engineers—to deliver thoughtful product experiences for clients and users alike. The unique ‘design partner’ role I often play has given me viewpoints into different business models, strategies, and the effect on product relevance.



I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N TWO

What does a typical day look like to you?

A typical day starts with a coffee and quiet time. If not, I can lose sight of the big picture. Planning my week happens on Monday morning, so I typically have a schedule and list as to what needs to get done on that particular day. I use blocks of time to either focus on something near (a deliverable for a client that week, etc), or far (planning longer term projects, future business developments, etc). Since most of my clients and contributors work remotely, we use video calls, screen sharing, and group messaging to interact throughout the day. It’s always been important to me to maintain and build my network, so a coffee or two a week with old and/or new contacts is not uncommon. Since family is my top priority, I try to keep evenings personal though I can be found ‘burning the midnight oil’ at times to keep a commitment.


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N THREE

Have you had any mentors along the way?

I have, but I think the key is to not only have one. I’ve had different mentors for design, personal, business, finances, etc. Some were authors, design leaders I’d never met, others became close friends for a season.


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N F O UR

Are there any particular lessons from them that stick in your mind?

“

Jake and Junia Hofer, parents to treat others as I would prefer to be treated Kathryn Hofer, wife to plan what I do before I do it Frank Tyneski, design and life mentor to collaborate not control, to forgive and believe for the best in people, and to always be learning and pushing oneself Todd Wood, design mentor to constantly adjust design focus from macro to micro, back to macro. To look for patterns, develop principles, and be intentional about design choices—never be careless Doug Heaman, business and life mentor to love those hard to love


S CR EW C A N C E R S C R E WDRIVER

Gerry Beekenkamp, design mentor to appreciate materials and processes Colin Nanton, life mentor to pursue my purpose and passion Brian Klemmer, author to listen without judgement Daniel Pink, author to consider the effects of automation, Asia, and abundance in planning my future Steve Fleming, father-in-law to be of integrity


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N F I VE

What makes a project challenging? Are challenging projects the most rewarding?

In my experience there are two types of challenging projects. The first type of challenging project is one that’s culture-driven. It could be a lack of openness to change from the team, decision-maker to developer. It could be strong egos, with individuals wanting things their way over what’s best for the user. Not having a collaborative, respectful team will stall innovation, cause rework, and kill passion. The second type of challenging project is constraintdriven. Often a new product will be birthed out of specific constraints—technical, business, or user criteria that are important for the point in time. These constraints are incredibly inspiring and needed to breed innovation, as creative brains work to solve the problem through ideation and iteration. In a nutshell—weak constraints create a weak design, strong constraints create a strong design.


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N SI X

How has your work at BlackBerry influenced your current work?

It has influenced me tremendously: I’ve become bolder in my creativity, more diligent in my design, and more empathetic in my choices. I’ve learned to structure the design process to maintain a clear congruency between the day to day design decisions to that of the product and brand purpose. Deciding on criteria for success early on has helped me prioritize when I find myself deep in discussions around trade-offs and compromises. From experience, I’ve come to believe that if something needs to be forced, it’s maybe not meant to be. As Frank Tyneski once said, “Design is like holding a bar of soap; if you squeeze it too hard, you’ll lose it”.


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N SEVEN

What factors did you have to consider when designing for BlackBerry?

“


A few buckets come to mind though there were many others. Design for humans. Loyal BlackBerry users loved their device. Was it fit in hand, materiality, tactility, configurability—or a combination thereof ? Designing something to be cherished and used hundreds of times a day was not an easy challenge. I helped develop the BlackBerry keyboard surfacing that resulted in a harmonious blend of ergonomics, brand identity, and speed of use. Along with that, every aspect of the device was studied in an attempt to make it feel ‘second nature’ and accessible. Design for physics. Working closely with the antenna and mechanical designers, the product designs themselves were often shaped by technical achievements or considerations. Such as the Bold 9900 metal frame, one of the first products with a full continuous metal frame that acted as an antenna, and without antenna-gate. Design for the brand. The BlackBerry Bold product design created a language that influenced brand identity for generations of products to come. Considering a portfolio and designing a framework to build future products with was top of mind.


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N EI GH T

How do you think designers help to shape the world?

“

By listening before creating, we build better worlds for all.



I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N N I NE

What advice would you give to budding designers?

“Be patient.

Treat others as y prefer to be treat Never stop impr Focus on both th and the details.


you would ted. roving yourself. he big picture


I N T ERVI EW Q UESTI O N TEN

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

“

A more effective design entrepreneur, by focusing on family, good design, smart business, and personal growth.

PA I R KN I F E



EP I LO G U E

At such a divisive and uncertain time, Joseph reminds us of the importance of empathy, compassion and humanity. It is with this knowledge and understanding that he creates such functional, emotional, and outstanding design.



EP I LO G U E T H A NKS JOSEPH !

PA I R K N I F E R E C I P I E N T O F 1 I N 1 0 0 D E S I G N L I N E S AWA R D TORONTO DE SIG N WE E K 2017 HOFER STUDIO IS AN INDUSTRIAL DESIGN AND C R E AT I V E PA R T N E R T O B O T H S TA R T- U P S A N D E S TA B L I S H E D B R A N D S A L I K E , WA N T I N G T O C O N N E C T W I T H U S E R S I N A B E AU T I F U L A N D M E A N I N G F U L WAY. A L L I M AG E S © C O P Y R I G H T 2 0 1 7 JOSEPH HOFER - HOFER STUDIO