Q&A: Mike Boylan


Mike Boylan is an industrial designer who seems to just be really good at all things design. He has an amazing eye and has managed to use it in so many ways. Want a really beautiful, well-designed and just plain cool looking bottle opener? Mike has an idea for that. Need to replace some stodgy old trash cans in one of the most well-traveled areas in the world? Mike has some very interesting ideas for that. Here he tells how he got his start, his inspiration and process, and his plans for the future. 

1. When did you realize you were a creative person?

My father is an artist so I always considered creativity something that can be drawn upon. I took a few years of photography classes in high school, and that was probably one of the first places where I got the experience of executing creative work on a level where I was actually proud enough to show it to people. 

2. How did you decide you wanted to pursue industrial design?

I was initially drawn to architecture, as that was the only field I was aware of that required equal measures of creative and technical acuity, which I felt was my area of strength. After declaring that my major, I visited a junior level industrial design exhibition when I first toured the campus at the California College of the Arts. The show was all scale models of gas pumps and I had a realization that they were (and could be) beautiful objects. That really struck a chord with me and I decided to pursue it. 

3. How did it feel when you first got to work in and be paid for being creative? What was that first job?

My first gig was a few-months-long, full-time, freelance job at a Williamsburg design consultancy in 2006. It was short-lived, but it was great to actually put my skills to the test in the real world. It’s humbling to realize that when you are right out of school, you are so green that you really need a second period of education to acquaint yourself with the professional world and all the skills that they don’t teach you in school. I worked on the design of a pre-paid cell phone package that I later saw used as a burner-phone in both (TV series) "Prison Break" and "Breaking Bad" which was more gratifying than many other jobs I’ve had to date.

4. I imagine your clients' demands drive what you design, but where else do you get your inspiration?

Many places. I keep an elaborate folder of images that are thought provoking to me and mesh with what I find aesthetically relevant. I look for interesting details constantly in the world around me, I maintain a design library both at home and at work, I try to stay current with design magazines, I go to design exhibitions and talks when I have the opportunity, and I go to the furniture fair and the design openings during Design Week each year. 

5. What have been some of your most favorite, fun, or exciting projects?

I designed the trash and recycling cans for Central Park. It’s an unusual project. The park is visited by 40 million people annually, and most of the design within the park is very traditional. We were able to elevate the visibility of what is often an incredibly mundane object to a very high level using design, and it really worked. Recycling is up 35% since they were installed. The new design is fairly avant garde in terms of the parks aesthetic, but that’s really the point at the end of the day as it draws attention.

I also worked on the design of the bottle for the fragrance “Bang” by Marc Jacobs. The bottle is faced with a sheet of metal that is formed like the impact of a hammer. When it debuted, the ads showed Marc Jacobs all oiled up and holding a giant version of the bottle as his only clothing. The fragrance was a bit strong for most people's taste, but the bottle certainly caught their eye. Crowning achievement of that project was seeing my design in the duty free shop at an airport in Cambodia years later. 

6. As anyone with a creative side knows, you are never just exploring one project. Aside from your day job, what other projects are you working on that you can share with us?

I have a side project that I am planning to launch as a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a wall-mounted bottle opener that will (hopefully) be made in cast brass or stainless steel. It was designed initially for a design showcase put on by Fab.com, where they told us that a few items from the show would be licensed and produced, but the two guys responsible for the show immediately left the company afterwards so nothing ever happened with it. It was sad because they actually used my design to advertise the show. Everyone I’ve shown it to has told me they want one, so I hope to collect on that when I get the fulfillment plan all worked out.

Also, I teach a class at the New School in 3D modeling, so I am always looking for engaging methods of teaching digital form creation skills.

7. Everyone has a terrible day or moment that makes them reconsider what they are doing. Have you ever had one of those moments and what were your lessons learned?

I had a meeting where my team showed a prototype of a packaging project to a client and he asked us to create a new one that was .25 mm larger in diameter. That’s .0098”. These prototypes cost $1,000 or so a piece to make and look like the real thing. I never thought I was in the wrong career, but I definitely decided that I don’t need to stress the details that much.

8. How do you find the time to design both your industrial design projects and to explore your own ideas? What are your process and schedule for both parts of your creative life?

Truthfully, I don’t always find the time. I have tons of sketches and renderings and 3D models of original ideas that I execute, and they end up in a folder somewhere and I don’t use them for anything, so I’ve been trying to change my process to actually develop them and bring them to market somehow, which is much more difficult than actually designing them to begin with.

9. What are your short-term (ie 2015) goals, creatively speaking? What are your long-term goals?

I’m always endeavoring to advance my craft to enable myself creatively. There are a few pieces of 3D modeling and rendering software that I would like to learn to help with that. Also, I may have the opportunity to teach a design studio next year, which will require some consideration to make it engaging creatively for the students.  

10. Would you like to push the boundaries of your creativity? If so, how can you do that?

I have done work in product design, consumer electronics, furniture design, lighting design, package design, interiors, retail, and trade shows. That said, I would still definitely like to branch out. I’m interested in learning about animation, welding, ceramics, and sculpture. Hopefully, I’ll make time for all of those!

11. Where can people see your work and/or learn more about you and what you do?

www.mikebdesign.net and a visit to Central Park.

Continue the conversation on Twitter (@LaBoss) and follow Mike Boylan on Instagram.


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