Not many would have heard of David Caon. That’s because he spent most of his formative years in Europe chipping away at the fine art of design under some of the world’s greatest designers.
After scoring a coveted role alongside Marc Newson, one of the most accomplished and influential designers of this generation, Caon quickly rose to take on big name projects for players like Qantas, Dom Perignon and Nike.
These days when Caon isn’t dreaming up things of beauty for everyday use, he can be found designing premium cabins for major airlines and cruising the streets in his immaculate 1972 Alfa Romeo GTV2000.
We sat down with this week’s Man About Town to chat creative forces, designing for outer space and building a successful career from curiosity.
MH: Italians can be peculiar with their aesthetics. Has design always been in your blood?
DC: I come from a family heavily involved in the restaurant industry; my father was a restauranteur in Adelaide and he had five or six places, [and] I grew up in those restaurants. My grandfather was a carpenter, and taught me wood work from a very young age. He also worked as a wool dyer. So most of my spare time was spent doing things with my hands and making things. It was very creative.
MH: Were you the drawing type of kid in school?
DC: I always had a pencil and paper in front of me. I grew up drawing Italian cars, particularly the Lamborghini Countach. I still have a few sketches. I tried to study economics at university, but I failed miserably. The only thing I passed was Japanese because I love the country and I’ve always had a strong interest in it.
“I moved to Italy at twenty-two with no job and no accommodation, and came back with the beginnings of a career.”
MH: Your initial goal was to be a car designer, what triggered you to broaden your scope of design to other areas?
DC: I was accepted into Conventry in the UK to do my Masters of Automotive Design but before I started I took a trip to Italy. Those two months were so much fun that by the time I got to Coventry, I wasn’t in the headspace anymore.
Marc Newson (who I ended up working with later on) had just done a concept car for Ford and it made me think that I didn’t need to do something specialised to one day work in my desired field. I thought, maybe I should be broader. I didn’t want my passion diminished.
MH: You’ve worked for some huge brands in your career. How does your creative process work?
DC: My creative process starts by spending time learning about the client and what they want. Then I find out what excites me about it and I pull together my references. You’ve got to put a lot of effort in, it’s hard work. The success is down to ideas, then applying the right methodology to get those ideas to come to fruition. You have to need to start with a good idea.
I always have a mental checklist of what I want to achieve with every project. I don’t like to use term ‘benchmark’, but there are always things I want to ensure the product or project does successfully or evokes.
Quality is super important in everything. It’s not just the quality of the product or project, it’s the quality of the idea and the thought process. You learn that from your mentors and people you work with, they ultimately form your process.
MH: Are major projects like the Qantas A380 cabin design more exciting than the smaller ones?
DC: Being a member of Marc’s team was incredible, but it was a very long process. The design took five years and it was hugely detailed. Larger projects like that are great because the scope of them is enormous but on the flipside with a smaller more concentrated project, you get your fix quicker and see results sooner.
MH: Which would you say is your most memorable project?
DC: My most memorable projects were the A380, because of its sheer scale and just how important it was. However, the recent furniture project we’re developing with Living Edge is also shaping up to be really memorable.
We’re working on giving commercial clients the opportunity to create two different environments; enclosed spaces without having to build walls. It’s based on the work I did with aerospace. It’s purely self-initiated, and we’ve done nothing like it before. It has scope to grow. I think it’s critical to manufacture things in this country.
MH: If you could design anything in this world, what would it be?
DC: A zero gravity environment would be incredible. I’d like to do some concepts for future transport. That’s a big area where I think we can improve things. By air, or by land.
MH: What advice do you have for the young designers out there?
DC: My advice for young guys is to get out there and start doing it. Whether it be via education or assisting. You can do an apprenticeship in a design studio or travel – which I think is critically important.
We live in a remote corner of the world, but a lot of my work is influenced by overseas; Italy, France and Japan. You also need to go through your own process independently, design and exhibit things yourself.
MH: Was following that path your biggest risk?
DC: Definitely moving overseas after I graduated without a plan. Just the desire to do something and see where it took me. I moved to Italy at twenty-two with no job and no accommodation, and came back with the beginnings of a career.
MH: Was it daunting working alongside one of the world’s leading designers, Marc Newson?
DC: My first week was spent without a lot of sleep. I was quite inexperienced and I realised the level I’d stepped into. You do feel the responsibility of preserving the quality of the designer’s work. From that point it is daunting, but once you get into the rhythm of the studio, it does become easier.
MH: I’m sure many designers out there would like to know, how does one score a job with Marc Newson?
DC: Getting that job came down to being the right place at the right time. But Marc’s studio isn’t massive, so for me it was a case of meeting Marc, getting to know him and letting him know I was available. Then it was down to my portfolio and training. He’s one of my favourite designers, so it was a huge moment.
MH: You’ve had a long passion for drawing cars. What’s your favourite?
DC: I have a classic Italian sports car, a 1972 Alfa Romeo GTV2000. They used to call them baby Ferraris. My favourite car though is the Ferrari 250 SWB. It almost looks like a muscle car, it’s gorgeous.
MH: Is your personal style reflective of your impeccable work?
DC: My style is quite simple, minimal and relaxed. I like to mix elements of Japanese streetwear with classic Italian style. I don’t like wearing brands or logos, but I do love Comme Des Garcons, Sunspel, Common Projects sneakers and Jac + Jack. I also love Patrick Johnson. He’s a good friend of mine.
MH: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
DC: My father told me years ago the ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ principle. It’s good advice in business and in design, otherwise you lose purity. It can be applied in how you approach your work and how you do your business.
MH: And if you weren’t a designer, you’d be…
DC: If I didn’t go into design I’d have gone into hospitality like my dad, or automobiles. Yes, it’s very Italian.