Neil Foley was an inquisitive child. He would peer at objects and wonder why they looked that way. Could they look different? Could a bookmark, or perhaps a chair, appear entirely new? He would jot down his imagined ideas and keep scribbling.
Today, at 42, with his signature innovation and novel designs, Foley is one the best-known designers in India. “The fact of creating something new and unique, which is tangible, which could improve and influence the lifestyle of people, was one of the main reasons why I chose to be a product designer,” he says. One day, he is designing watches, the next day a store and the day after a game for children; his repertoire covers kitchen appliances and automobiles too.
Designing such a wide gamut of things begins with a fundamental question: Do we need this product in the first place, or are we just accustomed to it? “I question the very existence, and I then take that use to a surreal point and bring it back to a realistic world with spontaneous forms that work with the need of that product,” says Foley, describing his design philosophy.
The process of designing a product, he believes, has no definite beginning. It is an awareness that seeps in and remains in the background. It is only after this that tools like research, competition mapping, analysis, concept ideation, visualisation and engineering fall into place.
Lifestyles of people teach me so much, and I always head back home with new ideas and design solutions,” he says. “On my most recent trip to Japan, my first impressions were that they were a beautiful, respectful and caring country. Their simple design innovations emerging out of cultural stimuli were fascinating.” In particular, he recalls the design details to protect urban trees: Every tree was wrapped in a well-crafted bamboo structure to ensure their health.
It is, perhaps, in these details that Foley’s god lies: “My world is centred around detail; actually attention to detail in extreme is what impresses me.” This passion for details is also why he thinks that had he not been a product designer, he would have been a filmmaker. “I see a lot of similarities between my passions and making movies; it’s about expressing ones vision to the very last detail.”
But product designing is what Foley has steadfastly worked towards since his days in school, looking up and researching educational institutions that had something common in thought with him. He graduated from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad in 1995, where he was one half of the ‘Foley Brothers’—his elder brother Michael, too, is a well-known name in the world of product design. Following NID, and a stint designing luxury buses and another at Titan Company designing watches and various other products, Neil went to Italy’s Domus Academy in 2005.
His career has been sprinkled generously with prestigious international awards and recognition, including the International Red Dot Design Award, the US’s international design review award, and Germany’s BraunPrize.