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A Q&A With Anton Willis

After working with Fusion 360™ software, Fast Company caught up with Anton Willis, the designer and founder of Oru Kayak, to learn more about his creative process and strategy in refining elements of his innovative kayak.

A Q&A With Anton Willis

After working with Fusion 360™ software on the Project Fusion challenge, Fast Company caught up with Anton Willis to learn more about his creative process and strategy in refining elements of Oru Kayak. As the founder of a rapidly growing business, Willis shares insights on how Autodesk® Fusion 360™ helped his team efficiently and easily collaborate on fresh designs to power the future of Oru Kayak.


What inspired you to create the world’s first foldable kayak, Oru Kayak?

A few years ago, I moved into a small apartment and had to put my kayak in storage. At the same time, I read a magazine article about a renaissance in origami, led by some incredible artists, scientists and mathematicians. I started wondering: what if a boat could fold up like a piece of paper?

In the early days, how did the idea take shape?

I began with actual origami- folding dozens of paper models. I was able to get the basic shape down fairly quickly, but finalizing the design and connections would take years.

Once the idea was formed, how many prototypes or iterations did you make before arriving at the first generation Oru Kayak?

Over 25 iterations. We’re still making minor tweaks to improve the product, based on customer feedback.


What was your greatest challenge while designing Oru Kayak?

Finding the balance between portability, performance, and cost. Our current model is a really high-performance boat—much more than I originally set out to design—but it is a bit heavier and bulkier than some of the early prototypes.

How has the advent of cloud computing impacted your design process?

Our team is often dispersed in different places, at the factory, on the road for public events, or otherwise at large. Cloud computing has been invaluable for letting us stay organized and on the same page.

How does integrated design software help you transition from ideation through engineering?

From the beginning, ideation and engineering have been strongly integrated in the Oru Kayak. Origami folding comes with strict rules and constraints—the engineering is built in from the beginning. Designing with 3D modeling tools that let us quickly iterate through prototypes (especially with 3D printing) and manufacturing quotes is very useful to our process.


Describe the impact of functional, streamlined design software on your business

Our core team is only a few people, a fact that surprises many who’ve seen our product and website. Functional and efficient software helps us streamline and optimize our process so that we can do more with less.

How does trust in your design software impact both your creative process and business?

When a single injection mold for a part can cost tens of thousands of dollars, trusting the capability of our software is extremely important. We’re a small startup, and we can’t afford to waste resources on design tools that won’t deliver the results we need.

The Fusion 360™ Experience:

How were you able to use Autodesk Fusion 360’s cloud services to access design work during the kayak refinement process?

Our team was able to collaborate remotely from different locations, a terrific benefit.


Did you feel that all-in-one access and functionality allowed you to increase productivity?

The ease of tracking files and design revisions made it much easier to iterate and make changes.

How would you use Fusion 360 to power your expanding business?

In the future, we’re excited to use more of the initial ideation features. Since we’d already done most of the design work on the kayak, the current phase was more about refinement for manufacturing. We’re eager to use it more in the early creative phases of future products.

Which Fusion 360 features did you use most often during your design process?

Sharing, comments, and different surface manipulations.


How do you feel Fusion 360 responds to the need for designers to access work across multiple devices and share with team members?

Fusion 360 is a great response to current trends. The barriers to making physical products with small, agile teams have never been lower, due to tools like crowdfunding and 3D printing. We launched the Oru Kayak with three people and personal savings; just a few years ago, it likely would have taken a large product development team and lots of investment money. However, this way of working means that the team is often spread apart, and design revisions have to be quick and agile. Fusion 360 enables this kind of collaborative environment, which we see becoming more and more common in the future.