To create products that push visual and technical boundaries, you need someone to oversee the design process from beginning to end. In our latest Team Tala interview, we talk to Senior Product Manager, James Hyson, about his unique skill set and why physically demanding sports are what gets him up in the morning.
Q1. How is the London summer treating you?
Very well indeed, busy but exciting. England and London are always exciting in the summer. As a massive sports fan it’s hard to overlook the likes of the Cricket World Cup, Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the upcoming Rugby World Cup. And with work developing at a blistering pace and a house move coming soon it’s been non stop. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q2. Can you tell us about your background, and how you ended up in your current position at Tala?
I went to the University of Leeds to study product design and fell into lighting by happy accident. I started as a design engineer at Photonstar in 2009. Committed to UK manufacture and sourcing where possible, they taught me the basis of the supply chain and product handling, and the tech they were working on back then is only now becoming relevant. From there I moved into decorative lighting as a design engineer at Tom Dixon, a world away from rural Romsey! TD opened up the lighting world to me. They manufacture across the globe and on a scale that took my breath away, plus getting to realise the whims of someone like Tom is a pleasure and really allowed me to stretch my technical understanding of manufacture. From there I moved back into architectural lighting at Concord Sylvania and then onto a smaller lighting design consultancy, Into Lighting. At both companies I was working closely with the end users to develop products for direct projects and user cases. The instant feedback loop from customer and maker gave me a much greater insight into what professional users of light actually require from a product.
And from there I joined Tala in January 2019 with the intention of tightening up the product development program and working closely with the growing technical management team to streamline the cradle-to-grave vision of our products.
Q3. What drew you to work in this field?
To be honest it was a happy accident. As a graduate in 2009, you couldn’t be too fussy, so I took the first design job I could. It just turns out that as an industry, lighting affords a great deal of scope for growth, has allowed my skills to develop naturally and is exciting.
Q4. You have a crucial role at Tala, bridging the gap between the Design and Engineering teams with the Supply and Operations teams. How would you describe a typical day in your role?
My day consists of about 85% planning and 15% reacting. Product management is a continuous and iterative process, moving new designs through the incredible Tala design team and into factories, as well as extracting and improving existing products. Being involved in the feedback loop with the marketing and sales teams hopefully ensures reliable and successful products. Then just for fun, a problem with a product or supplier will crop up just to keep me on my toes.
Q5. Can you name some of the biggest challenges and rewards you’ve experienced in your time at Tala?
It’s fair to say Mr Trump’s tariffs and staying relevant in the growing competitive filament LED market are real challenges. But to be developing genuinely interesting products is a great reward. The brand really does stand behind sustainability as a must in all aspects of operation, so contributing to that is both challenging and rewarding.
Q6. We have always worked closely with our manufacturing partners in China. How much time have you spent over there, and what are the key benefits of being out there in the factories and offices of our partners?
I couldn’t tell you the exact number of days, but it’s safe to say that in the 10 years I have been in the industry there has only been about six months where I haven’t held a Chinese visa. Understanding the manufacturing process is possibly the single biggest aspect of product development that I can think of.
I have seen the most talented designers working for the best brands get egg on their faces due to not understanding if, and how, something can be made. And it’s the one thing that can’t be taught in a classroom. It requires a lot of time asking questions and getting dirty and sweaty (south China in the summer is mad hot). If I was to give budding designers or engineers one piece of advice it would be to go and work out how things are made. Your factories will love you for it.
Q7. How do you see the lighting industry develop over the next few years? Can you see a shift in the way customers and audiences perceive it in their day-to-day lives?
I actually think consumers still like to switch on a light, have direct control and to be able to move/customise their lights. I can absolutely see the rise in smart lighting and it has a place in commercial spaces, but the tech has existed for a decade now and its uptake by the general public has not been what Tomorrow’s World might have predicted. There is a place for it, but it still needs to be paired with attractive, tactile and tangible functionality.
Q8. How do you think Tala differentiates itself from the other designer lighting brands out there?
I think Tala has capitalised on the yearning by consumers to connect to their lights and not hide them. They are raw and honest. The technology is on full display and the bulb is shamelessly, ney proudly, put front and centre. And they genuinely perform well. There is no deception in Tala’s performance figures – our engineering team push the technology to its limits.
Q9. Away from work, you’re a fan of physically demanding sports. What draws you to that side of the human experience?
I basically don’t want to die too young. And since I love food and consume far too much of it I need something to stave off the heart attacks. I’m also obnoxiously competitive, and rather than take it out on people, I take it out on a climbing wall or last times triathlon time. I also love kit.
Q10. And finally, can you tell us about your tattoos?
Well, I had them done following a bit of a troubled time in my recent years and I needed something that defined me. Both are my own design, which is worrying, ha!
On my left is a family tree, each ring and dot represents someone in my family; it’s my intention to be 95 years old and getting some great grand nephew inked on me in my retirement home. On my right arm is actually a geometric representation of Stonehenge, which is about 15 minutes from where I grew up. I was always a little bit of a hippy growing up.
Some final quick-fire questions for you
Q1. Worst sporting injury?
I broke my ankle recently playing football, I slipped in pee on a dark basketball court.
Q2. Hardest climbing move?
Waking up at 5.30am.
Q3. Furthest distance cycled?
In one day it’s probably about 120 miles, but then we turned around and did the same thing the next day.
Thanks to James for talking to us. His unique mix of technical knowledge, creativity and experience in the field means he is a crucial member of the product team. Expect to hear more from James in the future, or better yet, pay him a visit at our studio to find out more about the Tala design process.