Interuption of Service

| March 5, 2009

I’m never quite sure what to say when people ask me “What do you do for a living?”  If I say I’m a Professional Ski Mountaineer, that leads to all sorts of embarrassing questions, like, “Can you make a living at that?” (no) or “How many of you are there out there like that?” (two)  Usually I say I’m a writer, or photographer or freelance somethingorother. But, as a profession, I’m an Industrial Designer.  I did this for years, but then thought I better ski while I could and design later, and so far later has just kept getting later and later.

The Hotwire Carabiner - one of my favorite design projects while I was at Black Diamond Equipment.

My favorite design projects are for the outdoor industry, which conversely are also the lowest paying.  The higher paying projects are usually incredibly boring, but pay the bills so there is more skiing time.  Right now, I have an incredibly super boring project to work on, which will mean more skiing and skiing discussion later.

Happy turns,

Help support and get 12 months of my life compressed into two metal parts in the form of the Black Diamond Hotwire Carabiner from Click on the photo below…


Category: Commentary

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (6)

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  1. cgd says:

    you seem like a feller in the know then. How does one take an idea for a piece of ski equipment and make it a possible reality?

  2. Andrew says:

    Your best bet is to make a working prototype first. Not only will this give you an idea if the product actually works, but if you are interested in selling it to a company, a working prototype is an excellent sales tool.

    If you are trying to sell an idea to a company, make sure you really (really, really) understand their business and market. A company like Voile might be interested in bindings or ski crampons, but not a $2,000 indoor telemark skiing simulator.

    Another kind of fine-line is asking a company to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If you have an idea for a binding, a binding company is going to be leary about signing anything sight-unseen that limits their ability to pursue a certain design idea as perhaps they are already working on something like that. A patent is your best protection, but aside from that, a detailed description of your idea (without giving too much away) will help get you in the door.

  3. Rob says:

    To me there is a certain process for new product development (he types, as he listens to a professor discuss the very subject), and while I’ve only designed two or three products all the way to the prototype stage, the logical process I have followed in all of those cases has held true. Start with an idea. Talk to your friends who are into the same thing you are about the idea, and make sure they would buy it. Then split it up into sub-problems. For a ski binding, how do you hold the boot in place? How do you release the boot? (Add for rando, how do you tour?) Solve those problems. Then create a computer model to make sure that everything fits together (and to get spiffy pics for your presentation), and even test to make sure it does not fail. Then you have a sick prototype.

    I would disagree with Andrew on one thing. At least as far as I know, you don’t need to patent it. One inventor I know who had worked as VP of engineering for the company that owns Ryobi, Milwaukee Electric Tool, Dyson, Hoover, etc. said you should only patent when the company you are pitching to pays for it. If they make it and you have the evidence to show that you invented it, then you can make oodles of money. Since they know it, they tend to pay for your patent.

    One important thing is that you should be careful to specify that the information you are sharing is private as you only have one year after the first “public showing” to get a patent, and companies can be very disingenuous about that.
    Best. – R

  4. Andrew says:

    In general, I think the Outdoor Industry is fairly trustworthy as far as not ripping off ideas. From my time at BD, I think a couple of items (FlickLock poles, Avalung) were from outside designers who approached the company without having a patent.

    On the other hand, another one of BD unofficial designers talks to the BD design management, gets an idea of what kind of products they might be looking for (say, a crampon with fully adjustable points that doesn’t require any tools for adjustment) and then he goes out, develops prototypes and patents the idea, which he then licenses back to BD. I don’t know if this is still the case, but the one designer I’m thinking of came up with a couple of really good ideas that worked out well for him and BD.

  5. kirk turner says:

    I was just wondering if you overall have been happy with ID as a career choice? I am 20 living here in slc, but am planning to move to Western Washington in Bellingham to pursue a ID degree. I have always been a hands on/mechanically inclined individual(I also have a fine arts back ground), so after two semesters I grew board with Graphic design and I currently really feel like ID is what I want to do. I really look up to guys like you and lou dawson, any regrets or words of advice? thanks for a wonderful site, keep up the good work…

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Kirk – I’d say that I am very happy with ID as a career. I’ve always been interested in art, so ID gives me a chance to build and design stuff without having a degree in engineering (I’m really bad at math). I started out with Architecture, but the ID department was in the same building, so I changed majors.

    Western has a very good ID program, as well as some excellent skiing. By chance, Louie Dawson (Lou’s son) is going there now and studying ID>

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