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Design Heads :: Interview with Josh Buller

Design Heads :: Interview with Josh Buller

by , May 23, 2014

When it comes to design, experience is key, and someone who has a wealth of that, in particular, is Josh Buller.

He’s been doing awesome stuff for years: serving up his clean and original style, nailing product design with the Hexhead Studio, freelancing for some of the world’s best brands from Kelty to Timbuk2, and manning the helm of Tumi’s T-Tech brand as Design Director. He knows carry and more importantly how to hit that sweet spot when it comes to design, and that’s why we thought he’d be perfect for Design Heads. We dropped him a line to get the insights we know you’ll all dig…


Case Logic

Are there any key insights that guide your stuff? What do you know that most others haven’t realized?

I like to approach my designs from a viewpoint of utility. I think that the best designs are the ones that have the function placed foremost. These also tend to be the best-looking bags. I will always choose a bag with useful pockets and straps over one with arbitrary swoops and color pops.

What are your main channels for your creative inspiration?

I love to look at specialist carry – military bags, saddles, boating gear, shipping containers. These types of bags and containers have very specific uses that have been honed over time to excel at that use. I often find new ways to apply pockets or buckles or whatever from this type of specialized bag.

Design Heads :: Interview with Josh Buller

Where is your most creative space and why?

I spend a lot of time out on Cape Cod. It is a small strip of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and very much has an edge-of-the-Earth feel there. I have my workshop and tool shed out there, and it’s a great place to get out of the city and get into inspiring adventures.

Who do you look to in the bags world? Who does rad stuff (brands or designers)?

I am a huge fan of Master-Piece (as I’m sure most of your readers are). I love the way they are able to create such fun designs and still retain such a high level of quality.

I also love all the small boutique brands that the heritage boom has brought us. This trend has given us an increased focus on quality and craftsmanship, but I’m worried that all of the designs are starting to look the same. I’m interested to see how these brands move past the heritage look and into whatever’s next.

Are there any trends or things folk do in carry that drive you nuts?

I think a lot of companies put out new product just because that’s what they are expected to do, without a lot of thought on how it will be used or who it is for. A good bag needs a reason to be.

CLOUD 7 x Tumi

You’ve worked with a number of different teams and brands. What are some of the ingredients that help you make better designs? Is it about good managers or good customers?

The best situation is to have a narrow brief. Constraints really help drive good design. Working on a blue sky project is fun, but when you have perimeters X, Y and Z, it really forces you to get creative and look for new solutions to the problem.

What are your tools of the trade?

My main tools are pen and paper. I get ninety percent of my real work done with that. Computers are great for embellishment, but I think that the real design work gets done in sketch form. It’s where the creative mind gets closest to the written page.

That being said, I have a new Cintiq that I love. I got the one that is also an Android tablet when you unplug it, so it’s great for working on the go.

Sketches - resized

What materials do you most like to work with? Are there any new materials you’re experimenting with? Anything that will break the time-space continuum?

The new material trend in luggage is SRPP (aka Tegris or Curv), which is a woven polypropylene that is very strong, yet very lightweight. The military uses the stuff as armor for the bottom of their trucks, and it is used in shoulder pads for football. I think you’ll start to see this material replace PC plastic in the luggage industry over the next several years.

Do you have to go to the maker to make a good bag? Can carry design work remotely?

I’ve designed plenty of nice bags remotely, so I know it’s entirely possible. But the more the designer and maker can communicate and interact, the better chance you have of getting your design translated into reality.

Design Heads :: Interview with Josh Buller

How do you test your product? What do you look for when testing?

You have to actually use the product in day-to-day use. The most beautiful design on paper means nothing if you can’t use it effectively.

What products are you most proud of?

I am proud of the line I designed for the collaboration between Tumi and Ducati. Ducati has such a strong aesthetic, it was a lot of fun to translate that sporty look into a line of luggage and soft bags. It definitely turned out like nothing else on the market.

Design Heads :: Interview with Josh Buller

Do you have any favorite tips or habits for carrying better, either EDC or when traveling?

I am a minimalist, so my carry ethos is that less is more. If you don’t need it, don’t bring it.

You’ve been in the game for a long time. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about design and secondly about the carry industry?

The most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to be honest with your designs. Straight-forwardness and simplicity are almost always the right answer.

What carry product (of your own creation, or anyone else’s if you feel like being generous) do you enjoy the most? What makes it enjoyable?

My dependable Tumi Tegra-Lite suitcase (yes, I did design it). The thing is a tank, and has been around the world multiple times and is still going strong.

Can we see a pocket dump?


pocket dump - resized

While you’ve got the camera out, would you mind taking a photo of your workspace, and perhaps identifying any tools or personal items that help you most in your creations? Specific drafting pencils or a lucky charm or an explanation of why your workspace is so tidy and ours is…something not describable using the terms of polite conversation?

My light table – where the magic happens.

Workspace - resized

What bags do you run with daily?

I tend to switch bags every few days. I’m on the eternal search for the perfect bag, and I still haven’t found it.

If you weren’t making carry products, what would you likely be doing for a profession? Or do you have another passion that your carry creations help you enjoy more fully?

I think I will always be doing some sort of design or making. In my career I’ve touched upon graphic design, web design, industrial design, sewing…I love to solve problems and create new things.

What’s next for you?

I’ve recently made the move to full-time design consulting, which is great because for every new project I get to see a different facet of the carry industry.  I’m always excited to work with new brands and see how we can collaborate to create something new and exciting!


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