Welcome to 20 Queensland Designers. Through the Design Minds initiative managed by the State Library of Queensland, I was commissioned to interview a select group of the state’s most intriguing designers.

The idea was a celebration of sorts, a showcasing of some of our top talents, and a more intimate glance into their work and background than may have been recorded before. The subjects come from a broad range of disciplines, and included areas such as medical research and digital games development — areas that are not in the usual ambit of design writing. The premise we decided on was a simple one – to ask each designer what led them to the work they do today. Everybody is interested in a life story, and it is telling that many of the people I interviewed talked about early influences and identified key moments in their young lives that were turning points for their career paths. Each was generous with their time, and candid with their comments. Each has a passion that I believe is imbued in their words. I hope you enjoy these little vignettes and insights into a designer’s mind and inspiration.

Leo Yip and Steve Barry met at university during their Industrial Design studies. They established Heluva in 2008. While the pair harks from different generations, cultural backgrounds, and academic approaches, a remarkable synthesis has established itself in their business. Heluva began as a way to independently create and market their own products as well as offering industrial design and manufacturing services to external clients. With plenty of tinkering over their own motorbikes in the background, another brand, Ellaspede, soon emerged and has been growing exponentially since. Ellaspede designs and customises bespoke motorcycles for commissioning clients, and brings them to exhibition standard. A show at Artisan Gallery in 2011 launched the brand to a new audience of admirers and acolytes. A range of clothes and products also share the label. Of late they’ve exhibited design products in the US, held internationally recognised motorcycle events and developed successive apparel ranges that are stocked in stores around Australia. Both Barry and Yip have lectured and tutored at their Alma Mater QUT. Now, they say, they are learning how to write press releases.

When did you first know you wanted to be a designer?

Leo Yip

I went to school at Kelvin Grove, which now has design as a subject, but not then. I was going to study medicine like all good Asian kids. Then in my first year I watched a tv program about two famous English industrial designers, Seymour and Powell, and I thought “Wow, that’s exactly what I want to do.” I went into uni and quit my science degree and enrolled in design.  I did a Bachelor in Built Environment majoring in Industrial Design at QUT. In my fourth year I interned at an industrial design company, CMD. It gave me a lot of experience. They offered me a job. After a while I decided I wanted to do something for myself, and give myself a challenge.

Steve Barry

I’d always wanted to design but didn’t know it. I always tinkered in my father’s shed, and played with things and made things. I wasn’t academic, and school made no sense to me. I bumbled through various careers: I was a hairdresser, and worked in my parents’ school bus business, and had a T-shirt business, and have done a lot of renovation work. I moved to Brisbane from Northern New South Wales, and got stuck here. I was cutting a client’s hair one day and he told me he was an industrial designer. I didn’t know that was even a career. I thought they were just weird old guys in sheds. I enrolled in uni, to study it, but I was annoyed I had to go to uni. The experience was good. It made me think. I started as a mature aged student and it was a nice leveler. I knew I wasn’t good at working for other people, so wanted to set up my own company. Leo rang me one day and proposed we launch a few of our own products.

Leo and Steve

Also, quietly on the side, we were building a couple of our own motorbikes for ourselves. That spawned Ellaspede and that just snowballed.

We started with Heluva and launched Ride Line first –  a tubular registration label holder for motorbikes. It is a simple product, and we became the manufacturers too. It’s spawned a series of products to do with registration stickers, number plates etc. It was a good start. We got the bikes up and running then for Ellaspede. Then we got hit by the Brisbane flood and lost everything in the workshop, and all our money. All the money we’d made from Ride Line we had to pour back into re-establishing everything. It helped us form a stronger partnership in a way. Just muck in and do it.

Then we were approached by Artisan to exhibit a couple of our bespoke motorbikes in their Gallery. It was such an honour.

Our days involve research into new product ideas, and mapping out how viable products are in terms of capital. We don’t seek clients like a consultancy does, but instead look at needs out there and think of what would improve things. To an extent we’re problem-solvers, but there’s a bottom line – you have to make money too. We like to pick and choose what we do, and develop products that have value. And our interest has to be sparked. We don’t want to push out just future landfill.

Mentors (of Leo’s): My parents  – business owners who can advise us

Loves (of Steve’s): to make something out of nothing

Photos: AJ Moller Photography
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