Paperclip Design – Sketching Elbow Room

Paperclip Design – Sketching Elbow Room




James Lee 李誠軒 (BEng 2005)

Did you ever sketch on textbooks when you were young? If so, what did you draw?

While most people have blurred images of their childhood pastimes, Paperclip Design founder James Lee remembers.

“Even back in primary school I always drew airplanes and cabin seats,” said Lee with a laugh. “I was considered the artist in the class.”

But who could have guessed this somewhat insignificant hobby actually laid the foundation for the future air cabin seat designer? Now, the 30-year-old is armed with a list of international design awards.

Between 2009 and 2012 his signature invention “Paperclip armrest” scooped four accolades including the A’ Design Award,
Good Design Award, Red Dot Award and the Crystal Cabin Award. The two-level design saves passengers the trouble of fighting for elbow space. Though originally designed for planes, the dual-user feature also suits theatres.

“I came up with this idea while sitting at a crowded lecture room at MIT,” said Lee, who furthered his studies in the United States after graduating from HKU with a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering in 2005.

“Design and aviation are the two things that I have always been passionate about,” said Lee. “I like solving problems using creativity.”

The entrepreneur also impressed the world with a “Butterfly” convertible seating design. This allows airlines to reuse and
transform seats in Economy class into seats for Business class. Just flip the seat’s back and you will get a bed without taking up extra cabin space.3

Lee currently has a major client – a seat manufacturer – who hired him to design its products, but it will probably take a while before people can fly with his armrest and convertible seats. Getting the aviation industry to turn new designs into real products takes time. One major deterrent is the extra cost incurred from safety and requirement tests.

“My main income source is now from offering design services as a hired consultant,” said Lee. “It’s not from patented design concepts I come up with and sell to people.”

The young talent is optimistic, determined and confident that the future will embrace the design values he has created.

“That is what is fun about design. You work within the constraints and boundaries.”

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