You may have never heard Fred Bould’s name, but if you’re into gadgets, there’s a good chance you own or have at least used one that he’s designed.
Bould Design, the small Silicon Valley-based studio Bould founded and directs, is responsible for the look of devices from widely popular brands like Roku, Nest, Hunter Douglas, GoPro, Logitech – to name a handful.
A company called Slim Device, eventually purchased by Logitech, is responsible for bringing Bould, who started in the tabletop and giftware industry, over to consumer electronics in the early 2000s.
"Slim Devices made a network music player that, from a technical standpoint, was at the very top. But it was ugly. Their board members said, 'You need to hire an industrial designer.' Eventually, they found their way to me," he recounted.
"We relaunched their product. The redesign single-handedly tripled or quadrupled their sales pretty much overnight. For me, that was a really great story about the power of design."
The most famous Bould Design gadgets are probably the various versions of the Roku smart TV boxes and remotes, which have sold in the tens of millions. Bould took over the design of the brand 10 years ago, at which time the iconic purple tag was born.
"We said to ourselves, 'How can we differentiate their little black box from everyone else’s little black box?' And we came up with the idea of the purple tag," said Bould.
"When we presented the concept, it happened to be bring your daughter to work day, and Anthony Wood, the CEO, asked his daughter Rachel, 'Out of all these concepts, which do you like the most?' She said, 'I like the purple tag.' He said, 'Alright, make it so.'"
Bould’s team went on to work with Nest Labs, first designing the company's Learning Thermostat and then its Protect smoke detector, devices that attracted Google, who bought the smart home company in 2014 for over 3 billion dollars. Newer versions of the two gadgets released since still carry the look of the originals.
Being chosen to design for other brands means Bould’s name doesn’t make it to the front of the product, and it’s scarcely ever publicly praised so well as someone like Apple’s Jony Ive, known for spearheading the design of the iPod and iPhone. But that you know his designs and not him doesn’t seem to bother Bould.
"I suspect the best designer in the world is probably buried in a corporate design office somewhere, and nobody knows who he or she is," he said. "I think it’s more important to focus on the design and not the person.
What’s next for Bould and his team will be more smart home and personal gadgets, sure, but also plenty of other small and big electronics.
"Right now we’re designing robots, and that’s particularly challenging – it’s interesting," he explained.
"I can have as much fun designing a camera as I can designing a wall adapter. There’s opportunity everywhere to make things more useful, more functional, to bring joy to the experience."