Q&A with leading British designer, Trunki

30 November 2015

Rob Law, Laura Breen

Trunki is a British company which has designed a range of innovative kids travel accessories. Trunki was founded by Rob Law MBE in 1997 after winning a university design competition. Since then, Trunki has gone on to collect a host of product and design awards, including several from Design Week, Mother and Baby, D & AD, Right Start, Practical Parenting and Nick Jr. Trunki currently sell their products in 97 countries worldwide and remain at the cutting edge of British design.

Image of ‘Terrance’ kindly provided by Trunki

Rob: How would you describe Trunki’s signature style and/or specific approach to its product design work?

Simply understanding we have 2 customers; the parent and child who have separate needs. The parent is looking for functionality and utility which saves them time and solves their concerns when traveling with kids alongside an education angle to help their child's development. The child is simply looking for a personality they can make friends with or in our case fall in love with. Usability needs to be 100% intuitive. This leads to all our products having innovative features. The Trunki brand is bright with our products sharing our 10 signature colours of the trunki rainbow. Our signature semi-circular saddle shape is incorporated to the form of several products. Circles play a key part of our design language as the wheel represents the essence of mobility.

Rob: What is your favourite design object or product [could be one of Trunki’s products or something else entirely] and why?

 Probably my office chair, the Herman Miller Aeron chair. It has to be a product I get the most use out of but hardly know it's there. The ground breaking design is around 20 years old but brought a revolutionary use of materials, ergonomics and longevity. And it still looks cool in our funky office!

Rob: Which trends do you think have or are having an influence on design in the UK today?

 I tend not to look at trends as they are short term. Every project needs a fresh approach and to be seen through a consumer's eyes.

Rob: What are the biggest challenges that Trunki, as a product designer, is currently facing?

Other than IP infringements, there is huge pressure to make products electronic; adding technology to solve problems. We strive to find solutions using classic product design and stay focused on our core skill set of making fantastic products in plastic and fabrics. Apps can offer simple solutions to problems but consumers love hard tangible objects they can interact with and form a relationship with. After all, we still love the tactility of paper.

Laura: Some people say “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. What are your views?

Nothing hits home the uniqueness and success of your idea more than being copied; seeing the success of Trunki has inspired others to jump on the bandwagon, or should that be ride-on! However, for the designer and entrepreneur, seeing your precious idea being ripped off is heart-breaking, especially when it took so much hard work and overcoming of obstacles to bring the product to market in the first place. For the small company, when your business is your livelihood, not only is it the principle of stealing ideas that hurts; it's the impact on your margin, and that of your retailers and distributors, that is so detrimental. Trunki will always be the original and best but that doesn’t stop the copycats treading on our toes trying to make our concept their own. Far from flattering; in this regard imitation is potentially catastrophic.

Laura: How do you deal with the challenges posed by copycats?

For a small company, the number one consideration always has to be cost. Protecting your brand doesn't come cheap so, as well as Intellectual Property protection in the form of trade marks, patents and design registration, Trunki are as creative with our IP as our products! We operate a several-pronged approach to battling the copycats. Online Brand Protection provides global marketplace monitoring and outreach for excellent return on investment, whilst our loyal distributors keep their eyes and ears open to any copies spotted in bricks and mortar retailers. A specialist IP firm provides a direct approach to tackling prolific copies in areas of high brand presence and distribution, giving best return on investment, whilst an in house cease & desist strategy for less crucial territories provides an opportunity to achieve the desired result for a fraction of the cost. And, of course, our constant innovation means the copycats are only ever playing catch up!

Laura: Where would you like to see improvements in the law/court system to better protect your business?

It is imperative we see a more transparent approach to intellectual property to give UK designers the confidence to innovate. It seems crazy that the UK Government are claiming to support UK business growth on the one hand whilst maintaining a confusing judicial approach to IP on the other. Design law absolutely needs to be clarified and simplified, not just in the UK but EU wide, so that Designers can rest assured their ideas are fully protected and taken seriously.

Rob Law (CEO) and Laura Breen (Head of Legal)
Magmatic Ltd T/A Trunki

This article is part of the December edition of the DesignWrites by Bird & Bird.

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