Binary Horology: An Interview with Nooka Founder, Matthew Waldman

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It was four years ago when Matthew Waldman decided to start Nooka, Inc, a company who's digital watches have become increasingly popular for their funky designs and unconventional methods of displaying time. We got a chance to speak with Matthew about everything from the Nooka design process to his personal design icons. Check out that and more from our interview after the jump.

Were you a "watch guy" prior to starting Nooka?

Matthew: Not really. I wasn't even a regular watch-wearer until I discovered Spoon watches in Japan in the mid 1990's. In terms of career, I was a corporate identity and interactive design specialist when I came up with the designs that became Nooka.

What kind of feedback do you get from people at traditional watch brands, if any?

Matthew: I'm a bit out of the loop from traditional watch brands so i don't get any feedback. I do remember the feedback when I was looking to license the designs over 10 years ago, and it was overall, negative. Things like "Oh, we tried non-standard displays before and it didn't sell"...

Take us through the design process. How many hours are put into one design from concept to production?

Mathew: I always start with very rough pencil sketches and notes to go over with my design team. We then do digital sketches in Adobe Illustrator to get a feel for a new design. Then after tweaking in Illustrator, we make a 3-d model of the piece. We then either have a prototype made for approval or to send out for press responses. The process from idea sketch to prototype can be as fast as 3 months or as long as 12 months if new components are required, so the average development schedule is 6 months.


(left: Nooka Zon, right: Nooka Zirc)

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Nooka has been well received by everyone from the design/fashion savvy consumer to the media to Kanye West. Did you expect to get this much attention when you started the company?

Matthew: Yes and no. When i started, I understood advertising, marketing and brand development, but i had no real idea where P.R. fit into a marketing plan and launching a brand. I started Nooka Inc. after severing my licensing agreement with another company for the designs, so honestly, I had set my expectations quite low. So, all the attention has been unexpected and needless to say wonderful – especially the early support of MoMA, Kanye West and a long list of other great people and organizations.

More and more people tend to reach for their cell phone rather than check the time on their watch. Be honest, do you check your phone or your watch for the time?

Matthew: I check my iPhone. The reason Nooka is a success is because most people check their cell phone for the time. This is not to distract from the philosophy that a Nooka represents, nor its ability to tell time. I think that the ubiquity of clocks [cell phones, computers, etc.] has created a space for Nooka to exist, freeing the wrist to display something that speaks more of the wearer's personality than simply a tool to measure the day.

Nooka has done a number of collaborations, say a rolodex magically fell on your lap with an infinite amount of contacts listing a who's who of designers, architects, musicians, etc.. Who would you would call first?

Matthew: Miuccia Bianchi Prada

What would that collaboration look like?

Matthew: It would be fun to adapt the Nooka philosophy to the Prada aesthetic. Beyond that, I would love to design some shoes with them [men and women].

Your mission with Nooka was to find a more intuitive way to tell time. Is there anything you feel besides watches that could use a re-imagining.

Matthew: It's a long list: cell phone, luggage, airplanes, the whole experience of skiing from the boots to the way resorts are designed.

Sounds like you need to start your own Design Consultancy Firm. Any chances of that in the future?

Matthew: Actually, I do design consultancy via my studio, berrymatch [www.berrymatch.com]. I also view Nooka as a design think tank and would entertain commissions there.

Every designer has their own favorite "iconic" designs, what are yours?

Matthew: The 1965 Citroen iD19, the TWA flight center designed by Eero Saarinen, Hello kitty, the CBS logo, and a list of sci-fi films/tv.


(top: Citroen iD19 bottom: Hello Kitty, CBS logo)

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Ok, you have to explain Hello Kitty.

Matthew: Everything I do, and many things I respond positively to are things born at intersections [technology and design, art and commerce etc.]. Before Hello Kitty, the marketing of "cute" was always connected to a relatively complex narrative. Whether it was strategic or accidental, I don't know, but Hello Kitty is stylistically more akin to a logo – a graphic distilled to the lowest common denominator designed to express a core value – and this case, the single core value is "cute". From a design perspective, it is fairly brilliant in it's success.

You've been teaching courses at Parson's for the last seven years, is there any one thing you've learned in your career that you feel every student of yours should know?

Matthew: Anyone can be a good designer, but becoming articulate about your process is what will get you the big bucks.

Nooka has primarily been a watch company since its inception, do you plan to expand beyond watches? Anything we should look out for in 09?

Matthew: Nooka is a design company whose current product line happens to be a timepiece. We are launching a wide array of non-time related products this year but I'm not allowed to leak any information until we're closer to launch.

Looking forward to it, Thanks for your time.

For more on Nooka, visit: Nooka.com