By Rob Walker
After more than a year of work, Rajiv Laroia was on the verge of a breakthrough. By the summer of 2014, with the help of five or so engineers, he’d developed a digital image-making system that could achieve the resolution, depth of field, and focus control of a clunky digital single-lens reflex camera (commonly known as a DSLR) in a device just a fraction of its size. At least that was the plan: Although they had the technology locked down, Laroia and his team still faced the daunting task of fashioning it into a product people would actually want to buy.
Laroia, now 54, and his business partner, Dave Grannan, 53, envisioned a product that would look “more akin to a smartphone or tablet than a DSLR, or even a point-and-shoot,” Grannan says. The camera, which they dubbed the L16, was to be the first product from Light, the company they’d founded. Even more than the technology involved—16 tiny lenses acting in concert by means of a unique computational-imaging process—the real achievement would be to create a standalone camera compact enough to carry around. The team asked themselves, “What are other things that have done what we’re trying to do here—take something traditional that hasn’t changed in a long time and reboot it?” recalls Light’s senior vice president for marketing and product design, Bradley Lautenbach. That’s when they thought of Fred Bould.
Bould’s biggest claim to fame is his work on the Nest thermostat, the revolutionary energy-saving smart home device that won raves from designers and users alike when it was released in 2011. Nest won the top award given by the Industrial Designers Society of America, and it was inducted into the permanent collection of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum not long after Nest Labs, the company that made it, was acquired by Google Inc. in 2014. The eponymous founder of Bould Design doesn’t have the name recognition of a superstar such as Apple Inc.’s Jony Ive or Swiss designer Yves Béhar, but his 10-person Silicon Valley company has become a go-to for entrepreneurs who dream of reinventing entire product categories.