Meet Neil Foley, who draws inspiration from nature and the human body to create his funky products …

He has designed revolutionary products ranging from consumer durables to bicycles, fashion accessory products like watches, eyewear, bags to kitchen appliances, and packaging design to retail design. Bangalore-based Neil Foley is a leading Product Designer. This year he won the ‘Silver Prize' in the 14th International Bicycle Design Competition. His design ‘Spine', as the name suggests, is designed like the backbone and supports the whole body. In Chennai recently, Neil spoke to NXg about his career in design and the thrill of winning at an international level.

When did your interest in designing unique products start?

Right from childhood, I had this inquisitiveness about how things work. When I saw a product I asked myself why it was made in a particular way. Was there a better way of doing it? Can I make an alternate design of my own? I used to doodle a lot. And whenever I had an idea I put it down on paper and then later worked on it.And that's how I thought National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, would be a good fit. NID helped convert my thoughts into a profession. I did Industrial Design from NID; later, I joined Domus Academy in Milan, Italy and that really helped me learn the trends and designs overseas.

Your inspirations?

It's very important to have a theme or a metaphor for a design. Nature is a big inspiration. Most of my designs like The Ant, The Urchin and the Jellyfish are inspired from nature's wonders. I like to travel. I strongly believe that design is the way forward for an improved lifestyle and through design I hope to bring a positive change in the lives of people.

The Spine, your most recent creation, won the Silver Prize at the 14th International Bicycle Design Competition in Taiwan.

Designing the Spine was very challenging. For starters, a bicycle is already so simple! How do I make it unique? The competition is based on four parameters: Innovation; Creativity; ergonomics and manufacturability. So I had to see if my design fitted into these parameters. I had about 30-40 ideas. It's not like I designed the Spine right after the 40th idea. The spine was a result of the essences I picked up from each of these 40 designs.

What aspects did you keep in mind when designing the Spine?

The essence of the bicycle design is brought out by its simple, elemental and basic structure and lack of visual clutter. So I concealed the drive within the skeleton, which made it more elegant. Then the durability factor; I had to take Indian roads and weather into consideration. The basic factor I concentrated on was safety. Usually when you have an accident with a bicycle, the metal components cause the injury. So I clad the metal in Elastoma which is a shock absorber. This will help reduce injury. Also, the bicycle was made out of light weight metal; so it's easier to manage it.

You design a variety of products like watches, consumer goods, kitchen appliances and luxury coaches. In which do you take maximum creative liberty?

Each category poses a challenge. My interest lies in taking those challenges and making a unique product out of them. The final outcome should be innovative. As a designer you need to tax yourself to benchmark with the designers overseas. So you always have to come up with new ideas and techniques so that your creations are right on the top.

How eco-friendly are your designs?

Well, most designs depend on the client's requirement. But I do the best I can for the environment before I start designing. I think about whether there is an eco-friendlier way to make this design. For example, I suggest a bio-degradable plastic to manufacture it.

Tell us more about the 14th International Bicycle Design.

There were 720 entries registered from 49 countries and, more than Neil Foley winning the prize I felt an Indian won the prize. I felt honoured to represent India in this big competition.

Apart from design, what do you enjoy doing?

I am a very outdoorsy person and I travel a lot. I like to imbibe information, read a lot about culture. There is only a certain amount of knowledge you can get from a website. It's a multi cultural society and travelling always helps me sync with different cultures and learn a lot about them.

You have won over 37 awards for your designs. What gives your designs that winning edge?

Be true to your profession. People appreciate that. And it always shows in your design. Always push the envelope of design. I reason out everything and I always think that my design has to be much better than what exists in the present scenario. It feels good to see someone wear your designs and that feeling is truly one of a kind. I feel every product has a story to tell of its own. When people see my designs I want them to think “Wow! A lot of thought has gone into it”. The product doesn't serve its purpose if the “Wow” factor doesn't happen.

Rehna has an MSc. in Visual Communications from Loyola College.