David Carniel On Challenging Rules, Creating Change & Redesigning A Ruined Surf Culture


Since graduating from QUT, David Carniel has been exploring avenues to continue to connect his passion for social policy and urban environments.

After honing his skills as a craftsman in the construction and manufacturing industries, David took his newly established design skills to Munich where he worked in the Digital Connected Services - Innovation Lab at BMW.

David is now looking to put his strong multidisciplinary design skills to work, bringing digital innovation into the urban art and product design space.


David discusses his recent Stoned Surfboards project which challenges the current un-sustainability of the industry, as well as sharing insights into changing policy by design, blockchain innovations and advice for design students.


Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - David could you please share a bit about your background in design and what led you to working on the Stoned Surfboards project? [1:49]

[David Carniel] - Well I started after leaving school, I went into urban design and planning. I was looking more at how people interacted with urban spaces and looking at the social behaviours that you could recognise amongst people, and how you could design things in order to shape how people move through spaces, or interact in common social areas. That was my first direction after leaving school. Alongside that, I was doing tiling as a tradesman, which has been great for me as far as working out how to build things, how to design things with whatever constraints whichever client I'm working for has.

There's a constant learning how to work with people and finding common ground, and finding successful results. That was basically the foundation of what got me into the industrial design.

Then I was visiting Melbourne at the time and met a guy that basically had a 3D printed torso back in 2010, which was the start of 3D printers. That was the moment where I'm like, "Hang on a minute, this is what I want to do." I left Melbourne, came back to QUT and started the industrial design degree. I've always made things in the backyard, the backyard sheds where I lived basically.


Yeah, with limited materials too. There was always scrap stuff around the yard and stuff, so I had to make do with the stuff that was there, I didn't have money to go buy new timbre, new metal, or whatever, so it was always those challenges of what you could do with what was around, which I think was one of the best things for me, getting through design and learning about it.

After that I applied for an internship at BMW in Munich and went over there and worked in a different area. It was a lot more in the digital side of things, which is a space where I didn't expect to be straight away, but after spending time there, just seeing the value it can add to projects, especially with new tech. You always seem to be chasing the next advancement in tech, and you think it's moving so quickly, but it only takes a little step back and you can actually start to see it, and it's not moving as quickly as first thought, and you can start to use and incorporate it in projects. I came back and finished my degree, and am graduated now and ready to go down to Melbourne to try and chase some work down there with new people and new environments.


Tell us more about stone surfboards, like what did you learn during this research? [4:24]

I grew up on the Gold Coast with a father who was Gold Coast born and a lot of his mates. There's was the personalities within his friends and his surf community that I don't see today anymore. You get colourful characters, larger than life, and awesome people to surf in the water with. It was jokes today. Then you go to the surf today and you've got 150 people in the lineup fighting for one wave. It's just, it's a different...

It's tragic.

It's bad, it's so bad. I have seen both sides of it and struggle to see why there is a contradiction of... you've got this environment of people that are so adamant about keeping the ocean beautiful and all this stuff, but yet they're building surfboards out of foam, which are petrol based materials every day. More and more are being used and they're being built lighter, and they're more prone to be broken. They're high performing boards that are sold to novices that don't actually need high performing boards.

You've got this cycle of creating this lightweight, perfect surfboard that doesn't last a long, long time. You're selling it in the masses to someone that it doesn't suit. It's ruined surfing culture in my eyes.

I wanted to try and find a way to make the surfboard the centre point of surfing again and have more than just something you ride for six months, it turns yellow, you throw it in the bin when it snaps. I wanted a board that could be constantly repaired without destroying the character of the board or the performance of the board. Something you can actually show to your friends and go, "Hey look what I'm surfing, this is a little bit weird, doesn't really perform as well as the best board, but hey, it's a lot of fun, and it's different, and it's neat." It was about creating surfboards that meant a lot more to the person that rode it, rather than just having a bigger Billabong sticker or something on it that aligned them to a certain class of people, or select group, a subculture, where this Stoned Surfboard could actually separate you from a collective, and you could start to stand out as an individual and encourage other peoples to step away from that brand recognition surfing culture.

Tell us about the materials you used and how you decided on using these natural materials, in many respects. Also how you think, from a mindset point of view, that can then show these individuals that it is possible to innovate in this area, perhaps in a way that does use more sustainable materials? [6:39]

Well it all started out as a joke, let's make a surfboard of rocks. It was simple as that.

I locked onto this with my dad one time, and actually making the joke successful, which it basically drove the whole project just out of pure, "I just want to make a board that floats that made from rocks." It seemed like a fun idea, and something strange and out of the world, so I just kept trying to do it and do it. Growing up doing tiling and working with stone projects and stuff, it sort of came second nature. I had the correct tools to use already, and it sort of just fell into place. And because I had a bunch of people telling me I couldn't do it along the way. "Nah, it won't work. It won't work."

That was an excellent driver.

Yeah. Yeah. Just to prove people wrong. It goes a long way to push me. There was a few challenges that came with it. Essentially to be able to go back to the same way the Hawaiians established surfing, where they chopped down the trees on the foreshore and built their boards by the ocean. So now you can go collect pumice stone from the ocean or the foreshore and start to build your own board. You don't have to go to a blank factory and buy a big chunk of petroleum foam to start with. If you want to enter the DIY of surfboard shaping that would be your first point of call, you'd go buy a blank that's been shipped across the country and it's got a huge carbon footprint already, and then you start.

If you can pick the stuff up off the beach, you just remove that whole first step. Not only are you taking that negative environmental part out of it, you're creating a new industry of innovation where people can share the way they are learning about shaping these new boards.

They might add something else but pumice stone to it, that was just my first take on it. The whole casting process can be done with a multitude of materials, and that's what I want to see be done, so someone else to take it a step further and take it a new direction. Hopefully that can snowball into a lot of people trying to cast their own boards out of all sorts of wacky stuff.


I imagine build a stronger emotional connection with that board to then want to keep it for a longer amount of time, to tell a story with it?

Yeah. I did break one of the boards in the process of designing it, and the best thing is it repairs and you can't see the damage. I personally can look for it and see the fine little crack, but the way the board was put together and the imperfections in the actual surface just creates an aesthetic that you can add onto it and improve and create more character within.

You spoke about snapping the board when you're testing it. What have been some of the key challenges you've come up against on this project until now? [9:25]

Collecting the stones from the ocean, that was easy, great, but having them completely dry. Dehydrating the actual stones from the get go was one of the things that I didn't quite tackle properly the first time. Because I ended up sealing the stones before I cast them, I actually sealed all the wet moisture in each stone, which created a lot more weight throughout the board. The following board I heated all the stones to begin with, and lost about 30% of the weight. There was a huge advantage in just that one step that I missed in the first time. After breaking it and repairing it, find out it's better when they're repaired, it was all just a process, it got to where I needed it to be.

Stepping into the topic of design education, you've just finished yourself a Bachelor degree. What do you believe design education could change to help give students a stronger understanding that some of the social and environmental issues and problems that we're facing in the world, as well as forming designers which don't just understand these issues, but are proactive about trying to tackle them? [10:17]

Well I see it as, you don't have to be obsessed with policy or politics, but following where the new infrastructure projects are or where money's been allocated to, you can start to understand who has the power within policy.

If you don't agree with one of those policies that is being implemented, like the reason for them to implement the policy is actually contradictory to the root problem, which is often the case, because they allocate funds to something that's quantifiable. Take roads for instance, you've got full roads, you need more roads, you don't need less cars in the eyes of that.

If you could solve the car problem you'd solve the road problem, but they just build more roads.

If you come across policy that's implemented by government or whatever, that you disagree with, I feel design has the ability to undermine that and have a stab at that policy. If you can create a product that still supports the root problem but disregards the incorrect policy in your eyes, I think you've taken a step to actually take design further and actually have a power within it to make some sort of change.

Rather than just sitting back idly and watching the powers that be just do whatever they want with the place.


Do you think there could be a bit of a space there for students to delve a little bit more into politics and policy, and understanding where those dollars are being spent? Where the voices are? [11:54]

Yeah. I think that's a huge part about design, not just industrial, interior, whichever discipline of design.

You can have a set of rules that people tell you to adhere to, but that's a constraint that you're going to only get the result that they're bordering you to. Until you can step outside of these rules, you don't have to break the law, you've just got to challenge these rules and keep the people that are making them accountable for these rules.

I guess there's a lot of power in that.

What advice would you give then to the design students listening who are keen to use their future careers to generate a better world? [12:32]

Just keep researching. The more reading I do the more I find out I know nothing. There's always someone out there that can give you a piece of information that'll put two things person A and person B said a year apart; it'll just click and then everything comes together and you're like, "Hey, that all makes sense now." The people around you may not have had those connections yet.

They may still have them, but it's about making those connections before other people and acting on them. You can make the connections, but if you don't act it's pointless. You've got to make those connections and actually do something. Step out and have a go. If you fail, so be it. You're young, it doesn't matter. Start again.

Definitely a difference between talking and doing there.


What inspiring projects or initiatives have you come across then recently, which you believe are creating some really great, positive, social change? [13:23]

After being at BMW and going into the digital side of things I've been looking a lot at blockchain technology. There's a project called Trigger, which essentially, in America they've got this problem with the second amendment, and gun rights. There's this challenge of, again, back into policy, do we have a blanket rule that says no guns? Or do we have a blanket rule that says, only certain people can have guns? Or whatever. With new technology you can have different security measures on firearms where they get fingerprint recognition.

In the case of a home invasion in America for instance, if someone has a gun to protect themselves, they have the chance of that gun being turned on them and shot themselves. Then our new tech says there's a fingerprint that on there that only you can shoot the gun. Now they can't take the gun and shoot it back at you. Now you have this data being stored. Then that's where the whole thing falls apart, because if a central organisation holds this data, it's a weakness and they can corrupt it, they can do whatever they want with it.

Where blockchain comes in, is it's a decentralised ledger where all that data can't be manipulated.

I see this project being a way to find a middle ground between, I guess reform within the American legislation, or however they want to put it, but I guess it allows people to remain in control of their firearms. But they're a little bit more accountable without having the overarching governance or centralised network that says, "Okay, this person shot that."

You've got to leave a lot of trust in that network, but technology can remove that trust you need to leave within a single person.


It was just recently that we'd published an article with Carlos Monteverde. He was talking about Blockchain and describing a lot more about that. The listeners can also head to that article and get a stronger understanding, but it's certainly got a lot of potential. It's going to be really, really interesting to see how it disrupts so many different industries, not just the financial ones, right? [15:10]

Yeah. Because they talk about a bubble (that 100% aspects of it that is is a bubble; they're making money out of thin air), if you can find a project that has a real use case, and will this be around in five years time, is it still relevant? Then they've got some legs, and I feel that this Trigger project has a lot of legs.

To finish off then, could you please recommend a few great books or resources to listeners? [15:54]

I don't read a lot of books as such. I do a lot of research and reading online, I spend a lot of time on Reddit, 4Chan of all places, people disregard that. Reading sentiments, there's a lot to be taken.

People can tell you one thing, but if you look at how people are describing things when they believe they're not being watched, you can take a whole different take on what they say and read into the reasons behind what people are saying, rather than just the upfront communications they're giving.

For those people that have never visited Reddit, how does Reddit work?

It's an online forum where people can talk to each other without being seen. It's not anonymous like 4Chan is or anything like that, but you get groups of people that are talking passionately about a single thing and you can start to read that sentiment and how people perceive basic ideas. 

Sure an idea might be great, but will it be accepted by a collective of people? These are the people that are talking about it that are the same people often that need to be accepting it.

It's the best sort of research you can do; they're a target market talking about the product that they want and it's a very powerful place to be.


Initiatives, resources and people mentioned on the podcast


You can contact David on LinkedIn. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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