Interview: Discommon Founder Neil Ferrier

Insight from the industrial designer and "Chief Conspirator"

Since the launch of their consumer product line in 2015, with The Watch Wallet, we’ve seen California-based design firm Discommon produce a number of jaw-dropping takes on relatively commonplace items. From a whisky tumbler made from aerospace-grade aluminum to ultra high-tech flasks, Discommon has a knack for taking the simple and making it extraordinary. What we’ve long wanted to know is where these ideas come from and what the imaginative firm will do next. Such information could only come from one person, Discommon’s founder and self-titled “Chief Conspirator” Neil Ferrier. We spoke with the affable Scotsman while he was in NYC for top secret meetings and we did our best to find out what exactly he was up to behind closed doors.

It hardly comes as a surprise that Ferrier and his team of designers are working on some cutting-edge advancements, ranging from mobile phone cases to super-yachts, but to understand their future requires stepping back. Following the completion of his formal education and the acquisition of a masters in mechanical engineering, Ferrier spent nine years in the advanced product development department at Oakley. As Ferrier tells us, “Starting at Oakley was a baptism by fire.” Ultimately, it would educate him in an entirely different way. Ferrier gained invaluable experience on factory floors, seeing firsthand how products he’d had engineered were produced. “When I left Oakley, I left with an education in crazy technology, like titanium injection molding for example.” That knowledge, combined with a self-diagnosed “allergy to mediocrity,” and frustration with design firms when consulting as an engineer, led Ferrier to start Discommon.

From the start, a major driving force behind the company has been what Ferrier calls “designer discomfort” and that’s what he says makes Discommon different. “I want to challenge designers and mix things up, like giving a sneaker guy a packaging task or bringing in a designer from McLaren or Nike to design a drill.” If having supercar designers work on a seeimingly unglamorous tool sounds over the top, you’re right—and that’s exactly the point.


Ferrier’s mission, both as a manufacturer of commercial products and as a design firm, is to deliver the absolute best version of “a thing” regardless of what it is. He put it to us in simple terms, “Let’s say you go to Dubai, stay at a five-star hotel, and spend the whole time shopping. That’s a great holiday for many people, but a generic luxury experience. Discommon is like going sand-boarding in Dubai; it’s the ‘holy shit’ experience.”

When you handle one of their thermoformed wallets wrapped in Italian calf leather or machined aluminum knives made in collaboration with The James Brand, the exquisite simplicity of their products is understood. Then you consider that Discommon is currently in the process of designing a 200ft yacht inspired by the age of classic Polar exploration. Here, the mad enthusiasm possessed by Ferrier begins to come into sharp focus.

“I understand these passions because I’m a consumer of them,” says Ferrier when we ask where he gets the confidence to tackle new projects like this. He continues, “We’re are not the natural choice. It’s hard for brands to take a chance on an upstart firm, so we have to keep doing wicked work big and small.” Oftentimes, that has meant Ferrier spends his own money on a project to show proof of concept. Fortunately, it has repeatedly paid off, giving him the “utter joy of being able to live off making the crazy shit in my head.”

If Discommon is doing a yacht, it’s not just going to look exceptional, it’s going to be functionally outstanding too. “Imagine this ship sitting among the other yachts in Monaco and there’s a nasty storm approaching. Instead of the occupants having to disembark and go into a hotel, we want them to be able to go out to sea and confidently sail to a safer harbor.” This is ambitious, but absolutely aligned with the mission of the company. “We are a design firm, but in the purest sense we want to disrupt the norm across the board,” Ferrier adds.

“It’s important to be able to morph, so we will stay small and work with the clients we want to, because we don’t want to be bigger—just better,” he says. Having such a clear sense of purpose and knowing full well the dangers of diluting a brand just for the sake of expansion, Ferrier has Discommon poised for longterm success. “We’re not just a design firm, we know how to make stuff—that makes us different. We’ll continue to build up our little cult of people who dig what we do and if it matches our skill set, we’ll manufacture it.”

The yacht isn’t all that will further their brand awareness—there’s a handheld ultrasound device from start-up medical company Butterfly that plugs into an iPhone and allows users to do total body-scans at home. There’s also an educational watch brand for kids, an idea from Ferrier’s wife. “Kids struggle with the passage of time, especially these days with how much information they’re bombarded with,” he says. “So the idea is to give them a well-designed analog watch that helps them understand the passage of time.” We can imagine the watch also being popular with adults, given Ferrier’s affinity for all things horological. After all, this is the guy who took a 1969 Tag Heuer Autavia, CAT-scanned it and then made a titanium version for vintage expert Abel Court to resto-mod using new old stock parts. It seems—considering his vast portfolio—as though if he thinks it, then it can be done.

Images courtesy of Discommon