Like a Samurai Hot Rod
How the Oakley Design Team Created Jawbreaker
By Frederick Dreier
Product designers are a different breed.
Like other professionals, these men and women pursue passions outside of their work, and draw creative energy from epic bike rides, thumping surf swells and the post-workout endorphin high. But unlike the rest of us, product designers also find inspiration from both physical objects and abstract ideas. Using head-scratching math and plenty of pencil lead, they create our automobiles, office furniture – and yes, sunglasses – through a process that is equal parts art and science.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the two men behind Oakley’s latest sports sunglass, Jawbreaker, entered the project with vastly different visions for the finished product. But Ryan Calilung and Nicolas Garfias melded their respective ideas and passions into a cohesive design, which now adorns the faces of the world’s fastest professional cyclists.
“You start with these very abstract concepts and launch your ideas from it,” said Garfias, Oakley’s design manager. “Then you ask yourself, if you froze this idea in time, could you build a three-dimensional product from it?”
A veteran of the automobile industry, Garfias is the artist behind Jawbreaker’s unique aesthetic. He’s a regular at the Lower Trestles surf spot in San Clemente, and also runs long miles along the many beachside trails. But Garfias’ passion is in automobiles. He restores hot rods, and cruises through the Orange County hills in a 1929 Ford Roadster.
During the earliest phase of the Jawbreaker project, Garfias highlighted two qualities he wanted to see in the design: speed and motion. Like a racecar, Garfias wanted the product to look fast, even when they were at rest.
“In automotive design, you always ask yourself if the car looks like it’s going 200 mph when it’s parked,” Garfias said. “It’s the same when you see the glasses sitting on someone’s face.”
Across the office, Calilung, Oakley’s research and design engineer, entered the project with technical qualities atop his list, namely protection and ventilation. Calilung is a competitive road cyclist, and participates at the highest category for amateur racers. Long before his tenure at Oakley, he worked at bike shops, where he developed a love for bike gear.
At the onset of the project, Calilung sat down for lunch with British sprinter Mark Cavendish, who has won 25 stages of the Tour de France, as well as the world championship. The two chatted about the proposed glass design, and what qualities Cavendish valued in his shades. Cavendish expressed a desire for a glass with greater coverage of his face, for increased protection. He said the protection was needed for the chaotic sprints, and then recounted, in great detail, the sensation of a field sprint.
“It’s chaos. You’re going 40 miles per hour, and guys are elbow-to-elbow,” Calilung said. “The whole thing sounded like a knife fight – like a battle.”
As Cavendish recounted more anecdotes, Calilung’s mind conjured up images of protective items for battle: suits of armor, shields, and finally, helmets. The vision of a samurai helmet stuck in his head. Like the glasses, the helmet provides protection, while also inspiring its owner with a fearsome design. Like that, Calilung had his starting point.
But how do you fuse a samurai helmet with a racecar, and then come up with a state-of-the-art pair of racing sunglasses?
The two men met to discuss the various performance and aesthetic highlights of Jawbreaker. Although Jawbreaker was to be a descendent of the popular Jawbone, the two set to work building a model from scratch.
Garfias spent several weeks at his drawing board, churning out hundreds of sketches. He nailed down the building blocks of the design – the broad coverage and removable single-lens design. Then he set to work refining Jawbreaker’s finer points, such as the nosepiece and vent shapes. After several days, Garfias realized he’d become somewhat obsessed with the task. He took his sketches home with him, working well into the night.
“It’s like sandpaper, you go from coarse to fine designs,’” Garfias said. “And then eventually you get your ‘Oh shit, this is it’ moment.”
As Garfias sketched, Calilung worked with his team to bring his helmet-like vision to fruition. Of course a battle helmet does not breathe, so superior ventilation would be required. And helmets do not always produce the best field of vision. Calilung and his team studied the field of view, and settled on a lens design that gave the best blend of coverage and visibility.
After several months, the two designers began blending their work together into three-dimensional models. Jawbreaker took shape over the ensuing weeks, as both men directed their teams to create plastic models of the glasses.
The project was not without its hurdles. The team hit a major hitch with the removable impact-resistant lens. With Jawbreaker’s large design, removing the single lens required a redesign of Jawbone’s locking system. When several preliminary designs did not pass his test, Calilung became frustrated.
It was 7 p.m. on a Thursday, and both he and Garfias wanted to go home. Instead, they began furiously sketching out prototypes with a grease pen on Calilung’s glass desktop. Dinnertime came and went, and the two stayed focused on the design. Eventually, they created an innovative prototype that locked and unlocked the lens through the nosepiece.
“That’s the moment between an also-rand product and something that is special,” Calilung said. “Two hours ago we thought all was lost. It was extremely satisfying.”
From start to finish, the project took nearly two years to complete. One of the first usable prototypes went to Cavendish, who wore them at the 2014 Tour de France. The Brit has continued to wear the glasses, and he regularly praises them for their protection in the sprints.
“I shared my ideas and Oakley listened – we both obsess over the little things, which makes a difference,” Cavendish said. “Jawbreaker is more than just eyewear.”