INFLATE AND PRODUCT DESIGN
In the mid 1990’s, Nick Crosbie founded Inflate while studying at the RCA, London. The niche brand started out designing and producing pop-up household products using inflatable technologies. The products, whilst functional, had abstract qualities and ranged from inflatable ash trays to room dividers and table lights. Through its creativity and broad scope of work, Inflate became one of the pioneering young design brands of the 1990’s, exporting all over the world and exhibiting in the most prestigious galleries and stores.
In 1998 Inflate was recognised for its achievements with a headline show at the V&A Museum, London. To accompany the show, the first Inflate publication, titled ‘Swell’, was produced. By then, Crosbie had worked with many well known brands including Paul Smith, Sony, Virgin, Crayola and Pepe Jeans, to name a few. Inflate products were even the main focus of the band Menswear’s 1998 pop video, and were used as props for Channel 4’s film night. Crosbie and his designs were also often be seen on TV shows with Chris Evans.
In the late 1990’s Crosbie successfully turned his hand to other manufacturing methods for creating products. The ‘Snoozy’ rota moulded bed won the OXO Design Award and was later nominated for a D&AD Yellow Pencil. Simultaneously, a launch of their dip moulded products saw Crosbie and Inflate undertake projects that included CD covers for the band Super Furry Animals and the production of over a million functional toiletry packaging products for Boots UK.
In the mid 2000’s Crosbie was commissioned to design the prestigious cover for the D&AD Annual by Michael Johnston, after it was said that Jonny Ive had come up with a design too costly to produce. From the Millennium to present day, Crosbie has been involved in designs for a range of consumer goods, from household electronics to homeware accessories.
In the late 1990’s Crosbie was commissioned by the creative director of the ‘Swiss Expo 2002’ to develop a range of modular Inflatable elements with which to build event spaces. This work led Crosbie to investigate and experiment with a huge range of materials, production methods and pneumatic geometry. It was during this two-year period of discovery that Crosbie opened himself up to a world of architectural scale.
At the beginning of the 2000’s, Crosbie began to implement airflow technology into his designs, using light weight nylon fabrics to create indoor event structures and experiential spaces. A project for Home and Interiors in the USA led Crosbie to create a product called ‘Buckets of Fun’, which directly preceded the D&AD award wining ‘Office in a Bucket’ pop-up meeting room.
The success of his new lightweight products led Crosbie to develop more exhibition and event structures, primarily for indoor purposes. Within a short period of time, prestigious clients such as Dyson, RedBull, Sydney Opera House and Natural History Museum London all commissioned pop-up products.
Before long, demand for the lightweight pop-ups gave rise to commissions for larger, outdoor spaces. Despite the fact these initial commissions were one-offs, Crosbie’s interest in repeatable production informed construction in such a way that enabled him to later develop the designs for volume production under the Inflate brand name. The first projects proved challenging, but the reward came from working with clients such as Smirnoff, Unipart, Coke, Virgin, Ford, MOMA, Vodafone and many more. With deployments around world in all manner of extreme and adverse conditions, Crosbie was able to stress test his designs, resulting in an unparalleled knowledge of the field. To his credit, and in spite if their formidable scale, Crosbie continues to perceive his structures as products rather than architecture.
Global demand for Inflate structures boomed and in 2005 Crosbie opened his own production facility for making structures up to 25m wide in the UK. During this period, Inflate moved to new premises in Kent to create a scaleable hub with which to support the launch of its dedicated rental, operations, and asset management business. In 2010 this was all moved to Carlisle and rebranded as Inflate Works, where it resides today.
AirClad - Generation Next
The success of Inflate enabled Crosbie to work with some of the biggest brand agencies and events marketing companies in the world. However for Crosbie, this was just the spark that ignited the flame. His quest to develop the next generation of mobile structures and bring ‘Fast Architecture’ to the events industry was just beginning. In 2007 he launched AirClad, a modular, lightweight, strong and secure system for building spaces, for temporary use or long-term.
Just like Inflate, early AirClad structures manifested as range of bespoke projects that included bars, restaurants, offices and meeting rooms. Then in 2012, Crosbie designed and built a two-storey AirClad system with integrated roof terrace for Puma that toured with the Volvo Ocean Race. The success of the Puma structure led Crosbie to develop AirClad as a scalable, modular system for the events industry. In 2013 the first prototype of the system as we know it today was made for Kia at the Australian Open and in 2014 the first range of products was launched under the name EXPRO. Demand for AirClad structures quickly grew and with the Inflate Works business well set to store and service these enquiries, a new rental market for AirClad was born.
In 2014 Crosbie developed the idea for a rapidly-deployable festival camping pod using AirClad technology, giving it the namesake of an older product ‘Snoozy’. 200 units were launched into Glastonbury and other festivals in 2015. The success of this venture led Crosbie into a broader scope of accommodation work, where he now hopes to implement his design knowledge and operational experience to address global accommodation needs.
Today, it’s apparent that AirClad is the ideal system with which to develop broader architectural solutions, with applications including airports, hotels, schools and hospitals on the horizon. With Crosbie at the helm, the future of AirClad looks bright.