Simon Matthews, Designer
Hi, my name is Simon Matthews. My position is Group Director of Design (for both Focal in France and also for Naim Audio in the UK). My responsibility is to drive forward and direct a vision for the visual and physical appearance of all design output across the Group.
Specifically for Focal I work closely with Alain Pineau of PLP Design to deliver our product vision for the future. My goal is always to create designs that delight and excite our customers old and new and to also aim to do justice to the technologies and passion that is breathing inside all of our magical products.
What has been your career path?
After completing a Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters Degree in Industrial Design I then worked for twenty years at three of the most influential Design Studio’s in the UK (PDD Ltd, Therefore Ltd and Native Design Ltd). During that time I participated in the development of products across a broad range of industries such as technology and computing, healthcare and science, toys and gaming, sports and outdoor equipment, military and defence, communication and mobile phones, domestic products and, most significantly for my chosen career path, I delivered designs for a number of premium companies operating in the audio industry. In 2012 I accepted the offer from Focal and Naim of my current position.
Why a design career?
For me design offers the perfect marriage of the technical challenge, the human need and the desire to excite and inspire. I have always loved creativity and the beauty in objects but I have also always been inspired to use technology to improve the world around us. I see design in everything and I am always looking for ways to improve our relationships with these complex objects that we chose to fill our lives with. Great Design has the power to enrich our experiences and improve our lives.
How are you creating? Do you have a process of creation?
Every new design challenge requires a new approach. Certainly over time and with experience I have learnt to refine and adapt my methodology. I always try to start from the position of the human need and the potential for an experience to be magical. Magical can be many things, sometimes the aesthetic beauty of a form, sometimes the elegance of a well executed engineering mechanism, sometimes in the honesty of a gorgeous material or the expression of a craft, technology or process. The job of a designer is to hunt for and capture the magic!
Who are the designers inspiring you?
I have been an audiophile and music lover for all of my adult life. My first summer job at the age of seventeen was to save every penny I earned to purchase a Naim integrated amplifier. So in truth I have always found it easy to be passionate about designing products in the world of high end audio! So for me it is completely natural to be inspired by the ‘greats’ of audio design:
Dieter Rams once said ‘Good design is as little design as possible’. Whenever I get lost in the process I remember that immortal line!
Jacob Jensen who sadly passed away in May 2015 is a huge inspiration to me. This man completely defined the Bang & Olufsen design language during its peak influence of the mid 1960’s up to the 1980’s. The entire B&O brand story was driven by his output. In 1978 the MoMa in NY presented an exhibition of 28 of his audio products. When an art gallery of that stature recognizes the cultural importance of an audio designer I think it says everything about his abilities and the Global reach of his work.
Jony Ive has completely transformed the value of design to the modern technology consumer. His work at Apple has raised the bar and has been an inspiration for a generation of Global industrial designers. Steve Jobs completely recognized his contribution and chose to place him at the very centre of a company which is now the Global market leader and a recognized beacon for design.
What does Focal represent to you, visually/graphically speaking ?
Somebody much smarter than me once said ‘All art aspires to music’. I think the meaning is that, more than any other art form, music is a completely personal, emotional and abstract experience. So at Focal we aim to allow the individual the freedom of expression to imagine music through our products in a completely unconstrained way.
According to you, what is the current graphic universe in France? What is the trend there?
I think in France, like much of the developed world there is a return to more authentic values in design. As we become more and more digitally connected this has had the effect of making us all feel a little disconnected and we often feel we lose a little of our soul and individuality. So I believe we are now in a period of reaction to this phenomena. I think it is a good time for designers and companies who are looking to recover humanity and return genuine experiences to peoples lives.
To you, what kind of design the Focal sound echoed?
I think Focal has always found its own journey in contemporary design. We focus on the listening experience and we strive to deliver enduring and timeless products that give a lifetime of pleasure. At the end of the day we produce physical ‘portals’ or ‘doorways’ which we hope take the listener into and become completely lost in the music. If we manage that then we all feel hugely proud of a job well done.