MEET: Sam Li
Design engineer and visionary of Azio. Having studied at the Arts Center College of Design and abroad, he brings his experience and vision to all of our products at Azio.
You graduated from Arts Center College of Design and undoubtedly you could have applied your education and experience in a plethora of other industries. What drew you to designing tech peripherals?
The opportunity to design everyday tech peripherals allows my designs to reach a wild spectrum of users across various industries and interests. I was honored AZIO offered me the chance to steer their creative department and to differentiate ourselves from the general peripheral computer market.
How have you tried to change how people view and experience everyday tech accessories like keyboards and mice? And what has influenced you most to bring this vision to life?
We aim to achieve this through design and unique materials- the fundamental elements of any product. I study, explore, and find the unique characteristics of each material, then translate them into a functional design. I want to fuse design with innovative materials that will relate to and inspire the user. Today, most daily tech accessories are cold in feeling, cookie cutters, price driven, and losing the human touch. Perhaps, this is to make products affordable, but I believe we can certainly do more to change that.
Not everyone knows, but Azio has been around for a few years and was previously centered around gaming. However, you’ve changed directions, and your vision is now to bring warmth and inspiration to people’s creative spaces and work experiences. How did you steer the company in this direction?
I wanted to shift the focus to lasting elements through quality materials and design, to make users feel connected to their tools instead of pushing mass designs with unpractical functions.
How important is not only the material of your design but the quality of the material? How does that change the experience and perspective of the user?
When it comes to materials, quality is something you can feel. We focus on not only sourcing the best possible material to use but on selecting the right material for the specific part of the tool. For example, when we selected the leather top of the keyboard, we had to keep in mind that soft leather, though beautiful would be too delicate. On the other hand, durable utilitarian leather would be too stiff. We are continually juggling between the material characteristics, quality, price, availability, craftsmanship, and its place and purpose in our designs to find the perfect equilibrium to deliver to our users.
Azio doesn’t seem interested in building its identity as a premium or luxury peripheral brand but instead focuses on providing a unique user experience. What experience do you wish users to have with your products?
The “premium or luxury peripheral” tag naturally came to the Retro Classic Collection, which honestly was not the first intention. We set out to select the right material, pair it with the fitting craftsmanship and accomplish all the attention to detail. We knew that in doing this premium would be an inevitable companion of our products that users would feel. It is our desire to provide our users a tool that will serve them well in today’s working and creative environment both visually and functionally, without sacrificing emotional connection.
The products of Azio are focused primarily on peoples’ workspaces or creative spaces. How valuable is your workspace and for what reasons?
Books, sketch pads, and crafting tools occupy my workspace at all times. I am a hands-on guy; therefore, quick sketching and rapid prototyping ground me during the design process. Since the shift to digital prototyping the 3D printer has become the newest addition to my workspace. But I still keep my hands-on tools in reachable distance for quick sketching or model making. I am quite picky when it comes to tools as I’m a big fan of writing instruments and well-crafted tools. There is an old saying that “a handy tool makes a handyman”, therefore, a collection of tools and writing instruments grow in my workspace. This saying also serves as a core design mentality behind our Retro Classic Collection.
Just on a practical note, as a designer, how do you personally stay inspired and what do you draw inspiration from?
I am a story junky, both real life and fiction. At times my inspiration even comes from a non-story form such as an art piece, product, or any object. I like to find out how people tell their stories through all mediums and how others react to it. It’s my way to explore, find, and learn what emotionally triggers people, not precisely like or dislike, but how they react to everything or the emotions it brings out. I am most fond of reading or watching the story of making. It’s not limited to design, it can be on business, culinary, nature, or any other matter, since it’s all about facing unsolved obstacles, finding creative solutions and making life better which is the ultimate intent of every design.
On a final note, could you tell us about the next project or product you’re exploring?
Our next step moving forward is to explore designs and materials representative of modern living, a futuristic lifestyle, but not losing the human touch and connection to it. We wish to incorporate clean, minimal form, with surprising elements in every detail. We are also expanding our product category on top of keyboards and mice to creative office accessories and audio products. The more surprising outcome will come in the short future for sure.