Joachim Nordwall – An interview with the Chief designer at Charge Amps
Joachim Nordwall has worked as a designer since 1995. One of the main lessons he has learnt in his profession is that good design can change everything for a company or user. The first Charge Amps’ product Nordwall had to design was Ray, and even back then he thought that Charge Amps’ products should not be like everyone else’s – in terms of both design and function.
How and when did you get involved in Charge Amps?
I was approached by Boel Swartling, who’s an acquaintance of mine. She put me in contact with other partners at Charge Amps who put their trust in me. I thought that Charge Amps was a very appealing and exciting company with interesting products.
You have an impressive background in design – so what made you want to work in the field of design?
I was always drawing when I was a child. When I meet old classmates, they often say that I was the one who was always drawing cars in class. Cars were also a particular interest of mine. My dad saw this and heard about a design school in Switzerland that specialised in cars.
How do you view the connection between stylish design and usability?
“Form follows function” is a rather trite expression and there are those who sometimes challenge it. I would say that it depends on what sort of product it is and which context it’s used in. I think it’s hard to say what’s stylish and what’s unpleasant to look at. There are loads of things made without any intention for them to look good – like a structure that’s well designed, but you can only see this when you “lift the lid” on it.
The question evokes many other thoughts. If you’re selling a consumer product, and a person’s first impression is that it doesn’t appeal to them, that might not matter much if the product is practical – because nobody sees it anyway, unless you invest a lot in marketing. On the other hand, if you buy a product that appeals to you but doesn’t meet your expectations for usability, you might lose trust in the brand.
How do you see the evolution of electric cars and plug-in hybrids in the future? Can you see any advantages or disadvantages for future production?
This is a really tricky question, especially since Charge Amps is one of my customers. I was an early advocate of electric cars and was blown away the first time I was in a Tesla. It felt as though I’d travelled 20 years into the future, and I asked myself what on earth the rest of the motor industry was doing. After my experience of Tesla, I have set my hopes on the development of batteries and the generation of fossil-free energy.
Today a lot of people say that an electric car isn’t that much better than any other car, but that it’s going in the right direction. In any case, I think it has set off a debate, along with the realisation that development had been far too slow before Tesla. This is also linked to politics and cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels. The dilemma with batteries and the raw materials for them is a massive problem with our current technology. I tend to think that the internal combustion engine has long had its day, since it’s based on an incredibly complicated product that needs servicing in which a lot of things can break down. But it’s also been refined to an incredible extent and has a lot left to give, with plenty of potential to become even more efficient. The great thing about electricity is the simplicity of the technology. There are few parts to fail and it runs silently.
Apart from this, I have a great belief in fuel cells if we can just solve the issue of generating energy. Modern nuclear power plants or fusion – but there’s not enough focus on that and so development is slow. Perhaps not the answer you wanted to hear, but that’s my conclusion.
What was your approach when you were going to start design work for Charge Amps?
The first product I had to design was Ray. The thought was already established that it shouldn’t be like everyone else’s product– neither in terms of design nor functionally. We shouldn’t just regard the charger as the equivalent of a petrol pump in its design, which its competitors did, but more like a plug. I also think that it’s important for the design not to feel scary or too technical, especially with a product like this that is new to many people and is carrying current. That was the overall thought process behind the design for Charge Amps. It was to be an inviting and human-centred design.
What is your approach today?
After having worked on a number of products for Charge Amps, you learn how incredibly complex such products are and the demands placed on them. They have to fit into a variety of contexts, which makes the design work really demanding and exacting.
What opportunities and challenges do you see?
There are enormous opportunities, considering the future of electric vehicles and the global investment being made in them, as well as the planned future ban on internal combustion engines. Charge Amps’ advantage could be their specialisation in slightly more exclusive products and smart solutions. The challenge is that competition is growing fast, Charge Amps is a small company and there are large established companies out there that have joined the fray now – in this product category, too.
How and why did you choose to take the direction you did with Charge Amps’ design work? What opportunities did you see?
I believe that, in this industry, it’s important to have a product portfolio that is as comprehensive as possible in order to build trust among customers and to establish a brand. For that you have to have a consistent design language used throughout all your products – a design language that stands out and is relevant.
What has the collaboration been like and how has it worked? Were there any particular challenges?
The collaboration worked well. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages with a relatively new startup such as Charge Amps, with plenty of challenges and opportunities. But I’m really grateful to be working with a small team that operates in much the same way as I do. There’s no reason to come up with expensive, time-consuming, flashy presentations – just do the job as efficiently as possible. Challenges emerge all the time in the form of large components that need to be included in a product that shouldn’t be too big, for example. You might be satisfied with a design but then the conditions completely change and you have to scrap that design and start from scratch, but that’s part of everyday life for a designer.
What were the biggest design challenges?
The biggest challenges often arise in the many different standards for connectors throughout the world that have a major impact on what the product looks like.
What were the results like and what thoughts do you have about the future of Charge Amps?
I’m really pleased about what we’ve achieved, although in some cases we’ve had to make compromises because you have to resort to using a number of visible industrial components that haven’t gone through a design process. I think the future looks bright for Charge Amps, but it’s important to focus and always stay one step ahead of everyone else.