Ryan Paetzold is of a rare breed. He’s a South African who isn’t at all
interested in rugby. Why? – “It’s just not that exciting man.” Maybe this need for excitement led him to eschew an obvious career path in engineering for the more colourful and creative world of industrial design.
If excitement was on his mind, he certainly picked an “interesting” time to arrive on these shores, with an economy on the verge of tipping into the abyss, along with a level of uncertainty unseen in Ireland for almost a generation. Hailing from Boksburg, Johannesburg, Ryan grew up in a turbulent era in South African history, and as a result was largely inured to the turmoil that engulfed the rest of us in 2008. He took the plunge into Irish life, found that he loved the place, and got on with it.
2008 was hardly a good time to arrive in Ireland. Why come here?
Well I grew up in a South Africa which was crippled with embargos, sanctions, and race riots. It was a very hard time, but one that gives perspective to what has happened here since the crash. I went to a multi-racial Christian Brother’s College. Every year on June 16th – the anniversary of the Soweto riots, which claimed 176 lives in 1976 – the black students would remain on campus overnight, or were hosted by ‘white’ families, in order to avoid being caught up in the inevitable violence in their townships. That’s what I grew up with, and I reckon that when times are hard and there are restrictions, well you just suck it up.
One of the main reasons why I came here was because of love I suppose. My wife is Irish, and I’ve always found the country incredibly beautiful. I could have gone to the UK I suppose, but I fell in love with this place, and the quality of life here is second to none.
Do you miss South Africa?
Johannesburg has quite a reputation, and I don’t miss the madness of the place. I do miss the open spaces, the sunsets, the smell of rain, the thunderstorms. There’s a certain electricity about Johannesburg that’s unique to the place.
Would you ever return there to live?
No, I wouldn’t go back. I made a life choice which has worked out pretty well for me. I wanted to be closer to Europe because of its variety. I also wanted to be closer to the things I studied, and there are a lot more business opportunities for an industrial designer in Europe than there are in South Africa.
When did Ryan the Designer emerge?
Well I come from a very mechanically-able background. My great-Grandfather was a horticulturist, as is my Uncle. My Grandfather ran a bone meal company, and my Dad runs a specialist concrete surfacing company. I essentially grew up with either a spanner or screwdriver in my hand, and I was always digging, fiddling, repairing, building or taking something apart.
It was inevitable that I would do something along the engineering / design spectrum, but I stumbled on my calling as an industrial designer by chance. I was on my way to lodge my application for the four-year engineering degree at the local university when I bumped into Bennet O’Connor, an old friend, who told me all about the industrial design course he was studying. It sounded like it had a mix of everything that interested me; colour, form, ergonomics, model making, and a lot more creativity than what I would get from a career in engineering.
What happened after university?
I initially set up my own design shop which didn’t work out, so I went to work for Genius Loci Architecture. Before moving to Ireland I worked for the Brand Union, who have an office in Johannesburg. This was my introduction to how design fits into the commercial environment. It’s one thing designing something beautiful, but it has to be commercially viable. We would execute a brief according to what the client wanted, but there were many occasions when our work would help the client design a proposition that was new to the marketplace. I found that very rewarding.
How have you evolved as a designer?
My design path has changed quite a bit since I arrived here. In South Africa my focus was very architectural and interior oriented, with a lot of retail, shop fitting, signage design and branding. The Irish economy nose-dived when I originally arrived in 2008, and that type of work disappeared as a lot of architects went out of business. I needed to change my focus. As a 3D designer you have a varied set of skills that can be applied across a number of domains, and I took those skills and began to apply them in the digital fields of new technology and motion graphics.
What’s the Irish design scene like?
It’s varied and vibrant! You have a very strong craft and manufacturing heritage in this country. There is everything from glass to metalwork, and jewellery to printmaking. Whenever I’ve attended design and craft shows in Dublin or Kilkenny I’ve been literally showered with information whenever I’ve enquired about where and how certain things are made. For me, being able to meet and chat with the likes of Saba Jewellery, and Roger Bennett Woodturning is brilliant and inspirational.
I’ve yet to meet a designer or artisan and receive a cold shoulder. Also, there is some extremely impressive animation and film coming out of Ireland. Check out the cool work from the likes of Cartoon Saloon, Brown Bag Films, and Windmill Lane.
Which projects are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all my work, but a few projects stick out. I had a lot of fun designing the medal for last year’s Dublin City Triathlon. In fact, when we were handing the medals out afterwards, I heard one girl say that the medal was the main reason why she did the race. I’m a member of Piranha Triathlon Club, who organise the race. I generated a digital model of the club logo and 3D printed it. I sent the files off to a manufacturer in China who then produced the medals and shipped them back.
The project I’m most proud of though goes back to my university days. In third year I designed a product for a woman who was quadriplegic with very limited movement. Transfer boards help people with disabilities to move from a wheel chair to, say, a car, and back again. They don’t look like much, but they are a very important part of a quadriplegic’s life. All the transfer boards available on the market at the time were made from heavy and cumbersome ply board that was 12mm to 15mm thick, with a sham fit edge. Believe it or not, anything that thick is akin to climbing Mount Everest for someone with little or no motor function. Funnily enough I have a mad fetish for composite and carbon fibre textiles. It’s magic plastic that you can do anything with, and I designed her transfer board using it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever designed.
Which Designers do you most admire?
Inspiration comes from everywhere – I recently watched a video of Jean Paul Gaultier interviewing Lady Gaga, which gave an awesome insight into fashion, performance, and attitudes. Philippe Starck has always been on the top of the pile for me, as his design is really beautiful and all-encompassing. He’s designed everything from an iconic juicer to hotels.
I like the Australian designer Mark Newson’s clean style. Anything produced by the team at Italian design house, Alessi, is always worth looking at. In the world of moving images I enjoy the work of Paul Clement. He really got the juices flowing with the work he did for the Ministry of Sound. Andrew Kramer’s work on After Effects was excellent. Likewise, the work of Greyscalegorilla, hellolux, and Pariah Studios is very impressive – the list is long
Outside of design what are your interests?
Bicycles!!! Bicycles!!! Bicycles!!! I’ve had a bike since I was four. I raced mountain bikes in school and I am currently trying to be a triathlete. I completed the 2014 Challenge Roth Ironman event in murderously hot conditions and am currently training for this year’s National Series.
Have you brought your design expertise to bikes yet?
No, but it’s on my list. I’m in the middle of upgrading a new 3D printer. Once I can produce stuff repeatedly, and with the same result, I’ll start realising the designs I have rolling around in my head.
I got the Silversun Pickups latest long player, Neck of the Woods, over Christmas, and it’s really good. They remind me of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins. I like my grunge and metal, hence I love bands like Pearl Jam and Black Sabbath. In fact, I caught Black Sabbath in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast last year.
Big Bang Theory
I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and Interstellar. A friend recommended Pacific Heights, Tootsie, and The Sting the other day, and I’m going to try to get my hands on them. My all-time favourites are The Deer Hunter, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, and The Godfather Trilogy. I recently picked up the Godfather Director’s cut edition, with includes a previously omitted intermission.
Thanks for your time Ryan!