Behind the Design: in Conversation With Jan Paoli

Our mission at Ruark is to design products that appeal to the heart as much as the head. Since we began in 1985, we have achieved this by creating products that lean on a mid-century aesthetic offset by modern styling counterpoints. The end results are timeless and iconic.

A passion to create music systems and radios that sound acoustically stunning and look aesthetically beautiful is what drives us, as well as making products that we want to use ourselves in our own homes.

To share a ‘behind the scenes’ look into the design process and production of our products, we had a chat with our very own product design manager and engineering extraordinaire, Jan Paoli.

Jan Paoli, product design manager at Ruark Audio

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I’m British, Italian and Norwegian. I was born in England, but I spent my early childhood in Italy. My father is an engineer and my mother is an artist and a teacher so I grew up with creative and technical people around me – my parents were friends with architects, engineers, graphic designers, musicians, so my career in product design and engineering has definitely been influenced by many of their sensitivities, language and interests.

What made you fall in love with product design?

One of the single most important events was when I visited the graduate summer show at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London in the mid-eighties. I was fascinated with the design students’ projects on show; their ambitious problem solving, the adventurous style, the materials, the sense of fun and exploration. I remember being absolutely clear that that’s what I wanted to study and after a year working in Milan and four years studying mechanical engineering, I applied and got a place; I was so over the moon!

What was the first product you ever designed and went to market?

Luna, a desk lamp designed with a swivelling lamp head that could be pointed downwards to provide focused task lighting and then rotated to point to a diffuser screen where the light was reflected. I originally designed it when studying at the RCA and it won me a 1st place in a national design competition, becoming the 1994 student lighting designer of the year.

When and how were you first introduced to Ruark Audio?

When Alan was starting up the brand in 2004, he asked around for a designer to help him create designs for the debut range of DAB radios and my name popped up. At the time I was working from a studio in Northamptonshire and when he drove up to meet me, we immediately got on, so I penned some initial concepts which together we refined into the first R1 and R2 models.

Concept sketch of Ruark Audio R1 Mk4

How has the design language of Ruark Audio evolved since you started working for the brand?

It’s the same fundamental retro-skandi-brit style we defined for the debut products back in 2004 and we refine it with every new generation. With each design, the details are sharper and the underlying technology more powerful, but the overall forms and extensive use of real wood veneers remains the same.

What inspires you when working up a new design?

Every product we design is a product we want to own, and the inspiration can come from seemingly trivial events in our daily lives. What makes our lives difficult is our biggest influence. Alan and I work closely when designing new products, and although we agree on many things, we don’t agree on everything, and it’s this tension that is often a real creative force; it’s about finding the best solution that we are both delighted with. In fact, sometimes it’s the constraints as much as the freedoms that can be a catalyst for new ideas.

What does the design process look like? How do you maintain integrity from the concept to the final product?

It starts with a simple idea - a material, a piece of technology or a construction method. I then evolve and refine the concept, and choose two or three directions. Each direction then converges to a family of individual concepts which are then whittled down to a single design, then the real details are developed -the electronics, the display, the extra features, developing the amplifier, refining the user interface and so on. The visual design is resolved within 6 months, but the whole process, from concept to mass production typically takes us 18-24 months.

Wooden grill for Ruark Audio R1 Mk4

What’s your favourite Ruark product you’ve designed?

MR1 speakers – at the time, I was looking for a nice pair of desktop speakers to use with my laptop and I couldn’t find any I liked. So, I took a couple of R1 cabinets and mocked up a pair and they looked great. We then sorted the amplifier, developed a new woofer and tweeter, built them, listened to them, refined them, listened to them again and again until we were happy.

What excites you most about the company?

Ruark is a small company so everything I do has a big impact – I have a big influence from the first designs through to production. We do not have the resources to design and develop products that don’t make it to market, so it’s exciting when coming up with new ideas and refining concepts because we know we have to get it right. There is no second chance! Many of my friends own Ruark radios and music systems and it terrifies me when they buy one because I fear they won’t like it - this is also tremendously exciting!