'Making Work That Resonates'


For Designer Joey Roth, Simplicity and Authenticity Come First

Joey Roth’s approach to design is simple. Literally. The Portland, Oregon-based industrial designer, who creates sleek, minimalist products ranging from speakers to self-watering planters, puts simplicity and authenticity at the forefront of everything he does. 

We recently sat down with Roth to learn more about what goes into creating products with as few moving parts as possible -- and why smart design has more opportunity to flourish than ever.

How would you describe your design values?

My overall approach to design is to achieve the best functionality with the fewest number of design gestures. With the steel speaker, I decided it should be wireless and one piece, so that people can just plug it in and play music right away. Most wireless speakers have other features such as alarm clocks, different battery modes, etc. My approach is to have the fewest number of things and still be functional, so I can focus my energy and resources on perfecting the couple of things I do focus on.

Such simplicity is often challenging. What is your process when you start designing?

I will turn an idea around in my head for a few months while I’m working on other stuff, then start with sketches, and as soon as possible, go to the computer where I have a CAD program. I try to hold myself to the manufacturing process from the beginning and think within those lines.

I look at what else is out there and what people will be comparing my work to. I need my things to be so different and desirable that they won’t look elsewhere. I actually think that is similar to Soma. I don’t think anyone would say Soma is competing directly with the companies in its category. Those companies are so different. If someone wants a Soma, they probably won’t even consider the other options.



What’s the latest product you’re working on now?

I’m working on a new steel speaker. It’s the first product of complexity that I’m making entirely in the U.S. It is made about an hour from my studio, which allows me to iterate and improve the design.

I have friends who design for screens -- apps, etc. -- and the cool thing about that is you can change the design continuously. I’m now trying to be as close to the manufacturing process as possible, so when I launch a product I can go back and think of ways to improve it and then make those improvements with future versions.

Who would you say are some of your design heroes?

My number one is the minimalist artist Robert Irwin. In terms of designers, I also like the work of Tapio Wirkkala. His designs were really modern; he is most famous for making the whiskey glasses with water drops at the bottom.



When did you first become familiar with Soma?

I heard about the company back in December 2012 when the Kickstarter campaign was going on. I thought the concept immediately made so much sense. The space needed to be shaken up; the products that were out there weren’t all that great.

I’ve met a lot of founders and business people who say they are really into design. I think it is trendy to say that, but Mike [Del Ponte, Soma’s Chief Hydration Officer] really has an appreciation for it and I picked up on that.


Do you think now is a good time to be a designer?

I think it is a wonderful time to be a designer. The combination of tools available and customers interested in small brands and specific, focused products allows designers like me to keep working. If I’d started 20 years ago, I would have had to work at a design firm for a long time before going off on my own. When I started in 2007, people were into reading design blogs and interested in new work. Today, there is an appreciation for design-focused companies and customers who love beautifully designed products. That interest is allowing designers like me to be more authentic.