Designer does swimmingly when designing new products

By CIndy Atoji Keene

It’s late September, but Paul Osimo is still thinking about summer paraphernalia – pool floats, swim training aids, dive sticks, and flotation devices. As an industrial designer at Aqua Leisure, he’s tasked with designing or reviewing hundreds of products as the Avon-based sporting goods company gears up for summer 2015. Creating the inflatables that Aqua Leisure is known for, such as lounge chairs, baby boats, and even snow tubes, is particularly tricky, said Osimo, who studied at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and has also worked in infant products and sporting goods. But with blow-ups, “there’s no good way of knowing what will happen when you fill an idea with air,” said Osimo, who also helps coordinate the Hong Kong engineering devision and Chinese factory quality inspection.

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Q: Your office is filled with gear – did you design all these lounges, toys, balls, pop-up pools and swim aids?
A: This is the Aqua Leisure product development area. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory here but instead of candy, there are inflatables everywhere, both ours and our competitors. Some of this stuff is prototypes awaiting approval; others might be old products we’re thinking about rejuvenating. We have pegboards that span the perimeter, with an infinite amount of printouts, including what’s trending, Pinterest discoveries, and sample sketches. And if you walk by at any given time, you can find someone laying on top of an inflatable lounge, checking its form and feel.

Q: You’ve designed all types of products, but inflatables are a completely different animal, right?
A: At design school, no one tells you how to create something that you lay out flat and fill with air. With inflatables, you can imagine what the finished product will look like, but it never matches your expectations. A flat sketch doesn’t take into account over-inflating or under- inflating, or what gauge of PVC to make it in. For example, a thinner gauge stretches more and can balloon out like that those 1980’s balloon letters. But when I send out the design to our division in China, these are the guys who know everything there is to know about welding big sheets of PVS into something that makes sense. It is truly an art form.

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Q: You recently did some pool testing – how did that go?
 A: I try to get out to the pool often to improve products and uncover any defects. Maybe I’m not sure a river tube is the right size; I’ll throw it in the water, see if it holds air and make sure it floats correctly when you add body weight. Or maybe I’m checking out dive sticks – I want to make sure they actually sink to the bottom of the pool. I’ll take some notes and maybe even take a video with a GoPro camera. Sometimes even the sales guys will show up in their bathing suits, because hey, they have to sell this thing.

Q: How do you get new product ideas?
A: Inspiration can happen anywhere, even on vacation. I was in Hawaii and I noticed people playing around in the waves on these weird little surfboard things. I looked into them discovered they were 3-6 foot ‘paipo’ boards, which is a concept I’m working on. I’m also experimenting with dynamically sinking dive-sticks; ones that have kinetic movement on the way down, like fishing lures.

Q: Since you spend so much time inventing new water toys, is water your element?
A: I’ve been working on fishing boats since I was 14, and grew up around the ocean. Now it’s great that I can design things that have to do with swimming. I have a 14-foot Carolina skiff; it’s more like a boogie board with an outdoor motor, but I get fresh insights from being out on the water.

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