Cloud atlas: Richard Clarkson's weather-inspired lights

  • Design
  • April 6, 2017
  • Anna Bradley-Smith
Cloud atlas: Richard Clarkson's weather-inspired lights

Standing in his industrial Brooklyn studio, 26-year-old Richard Clarkson exudes Kiwi chill. The mayhem outside is muted by hanging clouds, light and water displays and music. A “thinking swing” hangs in the middle of the room.

The industrial designer has transplanted his Hawke’s Bay upbringing into the city that never sleeps.

Despite the whirlwind of the last few years – which saw Clarkson shoulder tapped at university in Wellington, selected as the youngest member of an inaugural design course in New York, and thrust into business – it’s easy to imagine he maintained that air of cool. Even when he was placed literally in the eye of the storm.

“I had arrived in New York and about four or five weeks into living here this huge super storm came through, Hurricane Sandy. In New Zealand we don’t really experience too much of that. We certainly have our fair share of earthquakes, but this was something I’d never been a part of.”

Taking shelter in his new class at the School of Visual Arts, Clarkson was given one of his first briefs: to design a plush night light. Inspired by what was going on outside Clarkson says a cloud “just made sense”.

“There was a certain sense of awe and wonder, and, in some cases, beauty to it.”

Over the next two years his first prototype – “just this tiny little fluff ball with a couple of LEDs in it” – developed into The Cloud, his signature product. And this has thrown him into the spotlight and been selling worldwide.

The lamp reacts to movement and music and an inbuilt Bluetooth speaker mimics thunder and lightning, reflects a beat with multi-coloured flashes of light, or creates a peaceful ambience, thanks to its Arduino technology. It was the first of a series of clouds Clarkson continues to make out of his studio.

His most recent project is definitely the most ambitious – a levitating cloud. The collaboration between Clarkson and levitation technology company Crealev is ongoing, but the first prototype has been released and the fully rotational cloud floats up to two inches from its base using magnets.

The desire to push materials to their limits and explore different functions is fundamental to how Clarkson works.

“There are all these new opportunities to let the technology drive the design process and drive the direction.”

Clarkson, who grew up on a 1500 acre sheep and beef farm in Maraekakaho, just outside of Hastings, learnt to be hands-on from a young age with his father, a farmer, employing “typical Kiwi ingenuity”.

“Making something to make your life easier was very much a part of what he was interested in.

Clarkson followed his dad into the shed, but says he was more interested with pulling things apart than finding solutions.

“To me the more interesting part was seeing what was inside.”

Eventually Clarkson headed south for Wellington’s Victoria University and was completing a Bachelor of Innovation in Industrial Design when a lecturer shoulder tapped him for a design programme starting at the acclaimed School of Visual Arts in New York.

Although doubting his chances and writing in his cover letter that he didn’t have the funds to attend, Clarkson was accepted as “they ended up creating a scholarship type situation for me”.

At 22 he was the youngest in the inaugural two-year Products of Design programme run by renowned designer Allan Chochinov. Clarkson says as the faculty are all working professionals teaching part time the teachers were invaluable in giving him access to a new design community and networks.

“Even now there’s a lot of times when we need to call on those contacts and connections. That’s very New York, everyone is so busy doing everything that everyone is always helping each other out.”

It was just after graduating in 2014 that Clarkson had to make the quick transition from design student to entrepreneur. He says framing his personal portfolio as a sales website helped to get the ball rolling and the project quickly became a product.

Clarkson’s then girlfriend and now wife Erin Ross moved to New York to help the blossoming business and the couple rented a studio.

“We started the studio playing catch up trying to fill orders that we had got. It was a really interesting way of starting a business, kind of like a Kickstarter, without a Kickstarter.”

The initial capital came from presales and there was a lead time of around six weeks, Clarkson says. Everything was being figured out along the way.

“It was pretty insane. We were working long hours at that point trying to keep up, it was like a crash course in how to run a business and how to start a studio.”

But without investment capital or partners, Clarkson says they were able to tailor the business as they saw fit.

The Cloud retails for US$3360 and other iterations are between US$380-1200. Clarkson says although the model is sustainable, he is constantly working on bringing the price point down.

Clarkson employs a studio manager and paid interns, while most of his time is spent developing. Other products include a rain lamp merging water and electricity, a sabre reflecting soundwaves with patterns of light, and hand-crafted furniture.

Clarkson is also diversifying his services by offering consulting work. He has just finished a project with technology giant GE designing a smarthome lamp that was released in December.

But his long-term goal? To head back to New Zealand.

In a few years the couple hopes to open a studio in Wellington or Nelson, he says, while keeping the New York studio running.

His aim is to create a new range of products for the New Zealand market using local materials “rather than shoe horning our current products into that”.

“We want to celebrate what New Zealand has to offer in terms of a design culture. That’s going to be one of our bigger challenges, in terms of how we manage that transition, but it’s something we’re really excited about.”

This story originally appeared on Idealog.

​ ​

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.


Military-style semi-automatics ban announced

  • News
  • March 21, 2019
  • The Register team
Military-style semi-automatics ban announced

As of 3pm on March 21, a wide range of semi-automatic weapons have been reclassified under section 74A(c) of the Arms Act as requiring an E endorsement on a firearms license. This means they can no longer be sold to those with A-category gun licenses, and their purchase now requires police approval.

Read more

Retailers gather for insights at NZ Retail and The Register's breakfast

  • News
  • March 21, 2019
  • The Register
Retailers gather for insights at NZ Retail and The Register's breakfast

NZ Retail and The Register’s sales and marketing breakfast saw dozens of Kiwi retailers come together to network, sharing tips and tricks and absorbing expert advice.

Read more

Who stole Christmas?

  • News
  • March 21, 2019
  • Kelly Withers
Who stole Christmas?

Results are starting to trickle in from Christmas 2018/2019, and for many retailers, they're a little disappointing. Paydar chief executive and co-founder Kelly Withers explores the data.

Read more

Social scoreboard

Zavy and The Register have worked together to create a scoreboard that compares how the top 25 traditional media advertising spenders in New Zealand have performed on social media over the past 30 days, updated in real time.

Concept to closet
Business coverage of New Zealand Fashion Week.
Town centres
A positive retail environment over the past 12 ...
Amazon Arrival
Keeping up with all things Amazon as it ...
The Retail Yearbook 2017
As we battle our way through the busiest ...
Hospitality enhancing retail
Some think food and integrated hospitality offerings will ...
The future is bright
We spoke with four retailers in their twenties ...
Spotlight on signage
At first glance, the humble in-store sign might ...
Red Awards 2016
The Red Awards for retail interior design celebrate ...
Auckland Unitary Plan
Auckland is changing. The Unitary Plan will decide ...
How to open a store
Sarah Dunn considers what it would take to ...
All things to all people
Kiwi retailers share their omnichannel strategies.
Rising stars
Retail's top young achievers.
Delivering on your promises
The sale isn't over until your item is ...
Retail in heartland New Zealand
Retailers keep the regions pumping, but how strong ...
Women in retail help one another. We spoke ...
The changing face of retail
Shifting demographics are creating big changes in New ...
The retail yearbook
With the help of experts in the retail ...
Retail rogues
We put the spotlight on staff training. Jai ...
Here come the giants
Topshop has arrived in Auckland’s CBD, David Jones ...
Window shopping: A spotlight on social media
Sarah Dunn and Elly Strang look at how ...
From retail to e-tail
Ecommerce has become part of the way mainstream ...
Loyalty in the digital age
How are retailers maintaining loyalty? Sarah Dunn, Elly ...
The Innovators | In partnership with Spark Business
Technology is rapidly changing the retail industry as ...

Chinese businesspeople raise millions for Christchurch victims

  • News
  • March 21, 2019
  • Radio New Zealand
Chinese businesspeople raise millions for Christchurch victims

A group of visiting Chinese businesspeople have raised $2.35 million for victims of the Christchurch mass shooting.

Read more

The Retail NZ Awards: What does it take to be a winning retailer?

Take this time to shine with the upcoming Retail NZ awards, a chance to show the retail industry what makes your business stand out. No ...


Hunting & Fishing New Zealand voluntarily pulls military-style assault weapons from sale

  • News
  • March 20, 2019
  • Sarah Dunn
Hunting & Fishing New Zealand voluntarily pulls military-style assault weapons from sale

In the wake of the attack on Christchurch’s Muslim community on March 15, strong calls for changes to New Zealand’s gun last have been made. Trade Me was the first retailer to act, halting the sale of all semi-automatic weapons on its platform, and it has now been joined by Hunting & Fishing New Zealand.

Read more
Next page
Results for
About us.

The Register provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2015 Tangible Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

The Register

Content marketing/advertising? Email or call 022 639 3004

View Media Kit