Product designer Tom Keen, founder of Sabotage shares his design philosophy at Workspace’s new business centre Ink Rooms in Clerkenwell

In the newly refurbished lobby of Ink Rooms, Tom Keen is explaining why he decided to call his product design company Sabotage. “I wanted a name that makes people smile. You don’t employ a design agency to give you what already exists,” he says. “When we approach a new product, we literally take it apart to understand it as much as we can. Break it. Make it better.”

Product design is already sounding a lot more fun than I’d imagined. “As designers, we're very lucky that we enjoy our jobs,” Tom confirms. “We look forward to sitting down and struggling through the creative process.”


Thomas KeenFounder of Sabotage

Having trained as a furniture designer in London, Tom spent over a decade working in Milan, Japan and Silicon Valley before founding Sabotage back in the UK in 2004. His global experience and network positioned the company well to support manufacturers from around the world. Today, Sabotage’s client base is split three ways between American, European and Japanese companies.

Tom and his team of designers (currently eight-strong) have worked on everything from cameras to toothbrushes, printers to mattresses. Designing a new range of digital cameras for Swedish brand Hasselblad ranks among the company’s proudest achievements. “We were very sensitive about being true to their Scandinavian design heritage while creating a very fresh, modern version of their DNA,” says Tom.

A long-standing client is Konica Minolta, for whom Sabotage have been designing printers since 2006. Adapting the products to the changing needs of the workplace is a key part of the job. “We’re helping to create environments that allow people to work in a much more productive, happier way,” says Tom. “If we're not improving people's lives, then we're doing something wrong.”

Tom talks enthusiastically about the workplace of tomorrow. “I could talk about work all day”, he says — further evidence, were it needed, that he enjoys his line of work. In his view, the future of work lies less in company culture, more in “connected experiences” and the interplay of people, their wellbeing, and the use of technology for good. “The emphasis should be on creating delightful experiences that bring teams together,” he says.

Thomas at Ink RoomsIn Clerkenwell

It’s this focus on collaboration that drew him initially to Workspace. As the first customer to move into the Ink Rooms, Tom is looking forward to meeting the neighbours. “Four architects are moving in next door to us, so we’re very excited about that. I hoped this would be a creative building, and it looks like it will be.”

After 15 years in Clapham, Toms finally decided to take the plunge and move the company to Clerkenwell. “It was time to own up to the fact that this part of London is where our industry is,” he says. “When I walk into a bar or restaurant on Exmouth Market, I see a creative community. My team need that.”

Upon viewing Ink Rooms, Tom immediately knew he’d found what he was looking for. “It’s a newly refurbished building so everything’s beautiful and fresh,” he says. “The light is fantastic.”

The extra details counted for a lot. “The showers, locker rooms, places for bicycles, 24-hour security… these are services that a company our size wouldn't normally be able to afford,” he says. “We like the fact that we’re a small company, but can have the benefits of being a large one.”

Sabotage has taken two separate offices in Ink Rooms — one to use as a creative studio, the other for research, user testing and client workshops. “Both those aspects are very important to what we do as a company,” says Tom. Ink Rooms also offered a degree of privacy that was important. “As a creative agency we need an element of confidentiality in our workplace,” he says.

The opportunity to expand further within the building was also a major draw for Tom — but not necessarily in order to grow his workforce. As some of Sabotage’s projects run for as long as two years, Tom likes the idea of being able to create a dedicated space for his clients within the building. It could give Sabotage the edge when pitching against other agencies. “It’s something that historically I couldn't offer,” he says. “So in a sense, being part of Workspace has meant that new business models are becoming available.”

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