John Houlihan’s Timex Designs

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John Houlihan’s Timex Designs

Post by koimaster » June 10th 2019, 10:01am

I wonder if he designed a Timex you have worn in your life? You have to scroll on the page to the middle of page to see his designs.

John Houlihan is a familiar name to readers of Dean’s Garage having been featured in three previous posts:

Who designed the ’71 Boattail Rivera?

How the Vega Kammback Came to Be

Cars of My Life

John also had participated in several League design projects, including last year’s Pierce-Arrow project.

John sent me a great number of exciting and innovative sketches from his work at Timex. I couldn’t edit them down, so here are all of them. His biography records his fascinating journey through very different design environments and disciplines.

TIMEX 1979—2001+

Ritusue Siegel (design placement agent) found the next job opportunity. I was contacted by her in mid 1979 regarding a design manager position at TIMEX. More interestingly, the new Director of Design at Timex, John Maliskas, asked for me by name. We had worked together at GE in Syracuse. This position was located in Middlebury, CT so I was very interested in checking it out. I admit, I was a bit concerned about the world of jewelry, watches and the like and how I would relate given my prior experiences in automotive and product design. What I found was the world of watch design and the product itself was fascinating. Ironically, watch design turned out to be the closest thing to automotive design in all my experience.

First, scale is critical to the creation, communication and execution of the design of an automobile. It took more than a year for me to get a feeling for the scale of an automobile so that my sketches and other visual communication looked accurate and believable on paper and resulted in a well proportioned design in full scale. Scale, too, is crucial in the visual communication of watches. The sketch needs to address the fine relationships of the elements of the watch case where fractions of millimeters can make a difference in appeal to the eyes. Since watches are small, sketches are usually done two times or even larger that actual size. This means the designer is working larger that the final product and has to have a genuine feel for the proportion of various parts and elements of the design. Most designers attempting watch design for the first time fail to grasp the scale challenge. So did I. It took time for me to achieve a real understanding of this scale challenge.

Sculptural aspects of the design challenge are similar in both automotive design and watch design. The product is three dimensional. While that should go without saying, a lot of the product design with which I was involved was largely two dimensional, that is, a box with high relief. Some products, such as the adding machines at SCM and a few of the audio products at GE were more three dimensional, none held the sculptural challenges of automobiles and, yes, wrist watches. Additionally, wrist mounted product involves ergonomic issues and challenging user interface complexities. Watches, digitals in particular, have multiple control procedures requiring the user to activate function via push buttons, sometimes two at a time. Conveying ideas two dimensionally via sketches, drawings, and renderings is not unlike the design sketches for automotive work. Knowing what the product will look like from various views requires a lot of experience both in the world of cars and watches.

Third, styling—the aesthetic presentation—is paramount in creating successful automotive and watch design. People react first to the look of the product. If there is no positive visual connection there is no sale. The customer has to have an affinity for the way the product looks. Creating the striking, unique and well executed design is, perhaps, the biggest challenge in designing a successful product, it is also the most satisfying.

So, I was finally at home in a design environment that matched my ability and interest. I stayed at Timex for over 20 years. To be sure it was challenging. I rose to the level of Director of Design World Wide with offices in Middlebury CT HQ, Cebu, Philippines, Hong Kong, Besancon, France, and London, England. There were over 40 employees working at these locations on product design. Oversight involved quite a bit of travel which was arduous and even exhausting. The satisfaction came when successes in the marketplace helped the company survive in the face of intense competition from the Far East.

The best example of this success is the IRONMAN Triathlon watch. In conjunction with the product planner Mario Sabatini, who had promoted a marketing connection with the World Triathlon Corporation, the TRIATHLON watch was developed using a new, top mounted, push button design which activated a novel lap memory system for runners to use while training. The IRONMAN Triathlon watch embodied this system and used the IRONMAN logo and name. The IRONMAN Triathlon, especially the one held in Kona, HI, became recognized as the quintessential endurance race in the country.

At the time the first Triathlon watch was introduced, digital watches were considered cheap, almost throwaway, timepieces. Cost was the key factor in their design, manufacture and sale. Japan, Casio in particular, owned this business and it was having a real impact on Timex sales. When the Triathlon appeared on the market it was three times the price of the usual digital watch and had an unusual appearance given the two large face-mounted push buttons. Many in the sales and marketing group were skeptical that this product stood a chance of selling at all. It sold, more than any other digital watch in the line. Then, a year later, when the IRONMAN Triathlon watch was introduced with a gray metallic (an automotive paint color) case, orange color accents and I-M logo it took off to become the largest selling single style in the history of horology. This was a magical combination of smart, innovative product development, shrewd advertising promotion, sharp licensing connection and bold, impactful styling. This product turned the corner for Timex and pulled them out of the sales doldrums of the mid ’80s. The IRONMAN brand continued to grow to an entire line of products that sell well to this day.

There were many other design successes and failures too numerous to list and explain. The experience of designing these products, working with the various elements of the process (engineering, sales and marketing, manufacturing) and with other entities around the world created an amazing opportunity. The design group was diverse, talented and hard working. I was very fortunate to be associated with these fine designers.

John T. Houlihan 5/19 ... X65wc0kyiY


“Your heart was warm and happy

With the lilt of Irish laughter

Every day and in every way

Now forever and ever after."
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