Ten Questions for: Tom Karen

British industrial designer Tom Karen headed up Ogle Design from 1962 until 1999, and worked on projects including the Bush TR130 Radio, the Bond Bug, the iconic Raleigh Chopper bike and the Reliant Scimitar – as well as Marble Run.

With Ogle Design marking its 60th anniversary this year, Karen tells us about trusting clients too much, finding inspiration from within his own consultancy and ‘making fun toys’ for his grandchildren.

Tom Karen

When did you realize you wanted to be a designer?

When I discovered there was an activity such as industrial design.

What was your first job?

In a stress office in the aircraft industry after studying aeronautical engineering. A bad mathematician, I was lousy at it.

How would you describe what you currently do?

Where to start? I would like to get a lot of ideas off my chest ­ there is room for new, better products. My frustration is alleviated by making fun toys for my grandchildren

What has been the biggest change in design since you started?

There are a lot more really well designed products around.

What is your favourite project that you worked on?

I loved doing the Bond Bug sporty three wheeler – ­ a bit of a dream come true to be allowed to design such an original piece of work. But the Marble Run we sold to Kiddicraft in 1970 that is still giving pleasure to children gives me huge satisfaction.

What is your favourite project that you haven¹t worked on?

I would love to design a chair as brilliant as that of Michael Thonet: ­ elegant, light, inexpensive but with a kind of floating seat that allows for a right posture when working or eating, also when leaning back to relax ­ with a little wriggle room. It would save a lot of people having back problems.

What was your biggest mistake?

Not charging enough money for the great work we did. Also trusting some clients too much.

What is you greatest ambition?

To redesign the world to banish cruelty and misery and to preserve it so that my grandchildren have a future in 50 years’ time.

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

I found inspiration working with able, talented people in my company Ogle Design. ­ Not only designers but also model makers and admin staff – ­ without them we could not have achieved the success we did.

What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?

Product design is a hard way to make money. ­ Graphics, packaging, perhaps corporate identities and interior design seem easier.

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