Oakley’s Disruptive by Design manifesto is central to its unique approach to optical engineering. A game-changing innovator, Oakley combines digital R&D processes with analogue design techniques using a combination of state-of-the-art 3D printing and pencil sketches. The Californian company looks at the world ‘upside down and backwards,’ says CEO Colin Baden. ‘It was founded on the idea that everything in the world can and will be made better.’
Oakley's unique design process, as explained by vice president of design, Peter Yee
The lobby at Oakley's headquarters in Orange County, California. Taking design cues from Blade Runner, the building is a vision in steel and is home to a display of Oakley imagery and products alongside industrial relics
A desk at the modelling shop, where Oakley's game-changing optics are designed and refined
Oakley’s design process is a mix of digitally produced and hand-sculpted art
A vast array of modelling tools, all utilised in pursuit of Oakley's quest for precision, quality and performance
Sketches and notes on a desk offer a glimpse inside the mind of one of Oakley's 'mad scientists'
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Prior to joining Oakley, Colin Baden was a partner at Lewis Architects of Seattle, Washington. In 1993 he worked as brand consultant for Oakley, advising on image and design, before joining the company in 1996, first as director of design, then vice president. He became CEO in 2009, and was also the chief architect on Oakley's spectacular Southern California HQ. ‘We keep trying to push the edges with new technology,’ says Baden. ‘While Oakley is rooted in a heritage of sports and innovative technology, we’ve never leveraged our own culture. So now we’re talking a lot about industrial design and what we can do (for our customers) with our technology. That’s our new journey.’ Here Baden discusses the design process with Wallpaper*...
Wallpaper*: Oakley uses state-of-the-art materials and production techniques. Yet your design department always starts with simple hand-drawn sketches. Why?
Colin Baden: Human creativity is an analogue process. Drawing is a natural way to start that can then evolve into other mixed media such as paint, pens, and CAD drawings.
W*: Talk us through the design process of Oakley eyewear.
CB: A little bit of magic, art and mad science with the occasional nasty explosion.
W*: How much does 3D printing feature?
CB: Oakley has been 3D printing for over two decades. When we purchased our first rapid prototyping machine only the aerospace and medical device industries were using it. We created the first fully digitally produced sunglasses, Oakley Eye Jacket, in 1994. Today the process is still integrated into our designs.
W*: What influences the creative team?
CB: We design great products because we need them ourselves. Some of our best work is when we repurpose an expected object in an unexpected way. For example, Over The Top, an iconic hingeless frame worn over the head, was inspired by two pairs of Oakley Time Bomb watches held up on [Oakley founder] Jim Jannard’s forehead. Over The Top debuted at the 2000 Olympic Games and challenged conventional thinking of how sunglasses should be worn.
W*: Why do classic Oakley models often engender an emotional response from customers?
CB: An Oakley product must solve a problem and improve people’s lives. We get pretty emotional about our products as well.
W*: How has Oakley's design philosophy changed over the years?
CB: We were founded on the idea that everything in the world can and will be made better, it was just a matter of when and by whom. Now, the pace has exponentially changed and the speed at which we must create is vastly different. The processes and technology to deliver in this competitive space have also evolved. However, our focus on quality, precision and performance – what people have come to expect from Oakley – has not wavered from our humble beginnings.
W*: Please explain your Disruptive by Design manifesto.
CB: Disruptive by Design represents our unique point of view as we aspire to be a cultural leader in design, technology and experiences.
Photography: Spencer Lowell