Honestly, I'm not certain that I will be able to keep this up everyday—I stupidly took on 20 credit hours this semester (who knows, maybe that will change in the future), but I want to try and keep going for now. So, brand attributes, here's what to look for:
- Visual brand language (CMF / geometries)
- Manufacturing methods
- Aesthetic descriptors (styling)
- Brand philosophy / reputation / culture
- Functionality (inc. ergonomics)
- Availability (presence for consumers)
- Corporate structure
- Product / service offerings
- Social / environmental responsibility
Looking forward to starting a project aiming to expand a product offering of a brand!
Starting work on a project for a graphic design class, and excited to be putting a book together for one of these two Adam Curtis films.
First day back! Well, I really wanted to try and improve my story crafting, so I was really excited to learn about this neat little way of looking at/organizing it:
What | So What | What Next
Really looking forward to putting some stuff together, and getting to the point where I'll be able to put this into practice!
I figured the start of a new school year was a good time to try and set some personal goals for myself and putting them out there might help me be somewhat more accountable, so here goes:
- Build out and run at least one Kickstarter campaign.
- Work on a previous school project, developing it to make it into a portfolio piece.
- Develop thermochromatic project and its supporting material to make it sharable online.
- Write daily, recording process or experiences, to preserve and acknowledge them.
- Learn some more about casting and try it with some cement and silicone.
During my Fellowship experience over the Summer, I started to become interested in the inner workings of companies and how design companies as entities evolve, adapt or die. This is particularly typified in the leadership of a company—where a design direction comes from a few significant people or a figure-head. The thought that kept coming to me was, what happen when that leadership leaves.
There are many companies where the legacy left by individuals seems to rule the company still—especially with legacy companies like Herman Miller where George Nelson changed the DNA of the company. The work created through his contacts and work with designers are what they still rely on for the vision of their brand as the leader of the mid-century modern style, even though most of their money comes through office furniture. I couldn't tell you exactly why the subject of a company moving from one center of power to another (or completely different style of governing) interests me, but it just seems like a moment in which so much can go wrong. I think it is also because there aren't really many other industries in the world which still work in this way—fashion for instance rotate heavily on design directors to avoid the type of fall which could come from a center of gravity for the company leaving. Take for example the most obvious recent example of Steve Jobs at Apple—I assume we will back on this moment in 70 years with less emphasis, but right now his death seemed to leave Apple stalling in the world of innovation in which they led the field for so long...
This ties pretty well into another example, where companies seem to work in one of two ways—family owned and publicly owned. I'm not sure what draws me to being interested in these two situations, but the differences seem pretty strong, and maybe its because I might end up working in one of these two environments so understanding them is helpful?As a heads up, I'm not focusing on any specific company here, in fact I'm going to make very broad statements which probably don't line up to any company at all. It is also worth noting that everyone who I have met whom work for these companies love them, regardless of what type of company they are, and their engagement with the products and designers is amazing. All of these people are proud of their companies, and proud of the design they produce.
It seems, working in a family-owned business you really have to be invested in the families ideals. I guess this is true of any leadership anywhere really, but with family leadership it feels like those are based on more emotional and individual traits. From what I have seen, there is also only so much room to grow into new roles or to move into leadership positions as they seem to have less ability to grow or adapt quickly, maybe due to capital. In a publicly owned company, it seems the design is led more by a business case, rather than being led specifically by expression and experimentation.
I guess all-in-all this is just something you get to understand once you see the other side of the industry and it is well more than likely that all of these thoughts and observations are seen through a pinhole of a tiny experience within companies in general, but it is something which we never talk about at school which probably has a huge effect on our careers.
Right, so I'm going to write about something a little weird and maybe a little personal, but I feel like most people go through it and that it makes sense to talk about it mostly. There's a bunch of people out there to speak to about professional development in the design industry, and I have done, but I'll admit that I'm still pretty lost as to what I want to do or even how successful I should be aiming to be.
I've always been fairly driven to be "successful", coming from a well-off middle-class background in England, and I'll be honest I'm no different now. In an incredibly naive way, I experience the desire in myself to be some kind of big deal designer but realize that that isn't likely. Being older and a student, the more time I spend in school, and experience the design world the more I find myself doubting the need for any kind of success as I might have defined it previously. By this I mean success as far as recognition through awards, or by other people. I find myself being drawn more to wanting to ensure that I am (and my family are) happy. Unfortunately this is a hugely vacillating feeling which goes from one end of the spectrum to the other, and I have yet to really understand what it is that I want or need.
I'm sure I'm not the only student (and definitely not the only mature student) to feel this way, but it is interesting to me, as the more designers I have encountered in the real world are working in jobs that I wouldn't want to be in. I discover many graduates in UX design (which is totally great, but it seems people are only there because of the number of jobs not the burning desire) or in those totally glamorous which are totally hidden.
Although I attend a state school, UIC, I would say that the class as a whole has been fairly successful, with students and faculty winning multiple awards. Maybe this is part of it—being in a fairly competitive environment which seems to reward certain types of achievement rather than the more artsy style of self-exploration... I'll never forget this huge stark contrast which happened this summer—speaking to two people who I hold in high regard at a conference, feeling some kind of strange fire in my belly‚ I told them I would be huge, that I would be more successful than them. Insert embarrassed emoji here. Looking back on it, it seems so dreadfully pompous and arrogant, but also so way off the mark. I want to do well and enjoy what I do everyday, but do I need to aim to make those around me covet my success? I definitely think not.
This was a piece of writing that my fellow Fellowship fellow and I were asked to contribute to Curbed magazine, exploring our experience and what advice it would lead us to offer students and young professionals. Below are the five points I wanted to write about, but they definitely aren't exhaustive when I look back at the experience.
Always be making
Like every profession, one has to work hard to succeed in design, but it is also true that most people catch a break in their career, too—and when that comes along, you can only take full advantage if you have enough projects to show. Spending time with Odile Hainaut and Claire Pijoulat from WantedDesign allowed me to recognize the competitive nature of the industry, but also that the work that I produce represents me alone and that I can use my catalog of ideas and projects to make myself stand out. Your personality shows through the work that you create: use your unique voice and personality to produce projects which represent you, that make you proud, and demonstrate what you care about. Using this impetus to create more will improve core skills like designing with confidence, streamlining the process of production and iteration, understanding who you’re constructing ideas for and most importantly—will increase the amount of work you have, which demonstrates your ability to yourself and others.
Have real big ideas
One of the hardest things to do is to learn to balance dreaming big and weighing the practical concerns of a project—it’s a matter of perspective which can be difficult to keep when you become emotionally attached to an idea. To help you do this, you can think about what it is that you are designing, and ask whether it could actually be realized, or whether you could ever honestly make it? Answering this can be challenging when you’re designing something solely on paper or onscreen, so try to make prototypes early and often that move you closer and closer to the final objective. This thought is a reflection on the entire fellowship, in which we interacted almost exclusively with physical objects and the realities of manufacturing. Consider the truth that sometimes a simple non-electronic object, a small environmental change, or initiating an activity can substitute for a complex electronic device designed to solve a problem—and how as a student, a lo-fi solution may be more within your grasp. Focusing on designing things that are within your capacity to produce, allows you to take them closer to production and move them out into the real world to interact with people.
Using pride to your advantage
Since I completed the fellowship, I have tried to utilize my pride by measuring my work against professionals, and continuing to work on it until I feel comfortable placing it next to them. I encountered this while working on a Emeco 1006 Navy chair: feeling both honored to be working on a piece which would be sent to a customer, and afraid of ruining an iconic piece of furniture, I realized I should feel this way about my own pieces. Although working to this standard will take a lot more effort to get a project to this point, in the end the work will be better for it and I will believe in the piece that much more. Pride can be one of your greatest tools—it can help you to understand when you honestly believe you have completed projects and help drive you to take them further than you thought you could.
Be deliberate in your passion
At the end of the day, design comes down to business—whether it is the cost of development, sourcing of materials, location of manufacturing, method of sales, or promotion—money is always a factor. One of the most important things to learn about design is understanding how to look at your work rationally as well as emotionally. Alex, Charles and Theo at Rich Brilliant Willing really opened my eyes to this idea, and how for example, at the start of a project one should try and ballpark costs and rewards: how much time and effort is involved, and is the potential product competitive in the market through cost, and/or unique selling points, to make the project worth your investment? This thinking allowed them to move away from the furniture that they made, but realized was uncompetitive, and focus on the lighting with which they have become so successful. Learning to treat yourself as a business allows you to recognize what you get out of your invested time and effort, and it can help you understand how important a project actually is to you—whether it drives income as a product you sell, or whether it is a portfolio piece which helps you self-promote.
Experiment, test and play—have fun
It’s extremely important to never feel confined by what you’ve seen, experienced, or by what others around you are doing, design is an iterative process which is based on exploration and inquisition—its important never to be afraid of being playful in your process. Don’t feel too worried about “failing” its inevitable regardless of your anxiety; try to focus more on learning and adapting as you experience things, and use tools like notebooks and process diaries to retain as much of this learning as possible. As a young designer or small studio, one way to get yourself recognized is to work with new or emerging technologies or experiences—this levels the playing field between you and other companies somewhat, and can give you the chance to define new typologies. Flavor Paper typify this point, a company built on the far-out concept of scratch-and-sniff and more recently conductive wallpaper—they have never been afraid of chasing ideas which make them stand out. Our time with them helped me cement the idea that if you are working as a designer, hopefully you love it—what you do should be exciting and fun, what ever that means to you.
So back to school (for me) means back to rendering and working with some software which I haven't had the chance to touch a whole lot over the Summer. The good thing is, I have been watching a bunch of awesome videos which I'd love to share because they are so awesome and helpful. Over the Summer I tried to focus on improving my ability with Autodesk Fusion 360 and also Keyshot, so hopefully I can share some of the most helpful videos below and that can help some others out there.
Seriously—if you have time, just watch all of the Keyshot webinars, they all have something amazing in them and you learn so much so quickly!
So, post the Be Original Americas fellowship, I'll admit I was a bit like this...
But with nearly a month having passed, I feel totally ready to jump back into school and super excited to start using this space as a working journal of experiences, questions, and resources. I'm going to try over the next few days to continue to post in here, a mix of some things that I had as drafts from my summer experience—they'll be loose thoughts, and then some more solid things that I have been working on also.
So this is another thing which started out as a post I wanted to write a little while ago, and builds in ways off of yesterdays post. I've always been really interested in obsolescence as a feature of design, and the different ways that it plays with our products or interactions. There is of course the most obvious obsolescence, which is the object which ceases to function after an event—like a software update (or even a wrapper which is disposed once it is removed). The other type of obsolescence which I have come into contact more recently is cultural obsolescence.
So we could probably see this in object, like furniture or something, but it presented itself most starkly in textiles to me, where the industry is more closely aligned to the fashion industry. The interesting thing here is that all of the companies I visited work incredibly hard on being as environment positive as possible. Not only that, they also design textiles which should be able to last 20 year in space. Here's the funny thing though, most of the spaces these are going in are hospitality or corporate environments, and most of those hospitality spaces will be redeveloped every 5-10 years. We can design textiles which are better for the environment and could last extremely well, but fashion and a need to "refresh" an environment drives this work out.
This is obviously pretty interesting when contrasted with the world of "heritage" products. I have no idea how much longer the whole mid-century modern thing is going to be around for, but it's still going strong right now. The fabric designs, motifs and typologies of the furniture continue to stick around and it's really interesting how companies have been able to produce a prestige and revere for the history surrounding these products when we are so repulsed by the old in so many other situations.
I guess my question is, how do we codify long-term products nowadays, and what can we do to apply a broad set of cultural standards which might help redefine the need for the shortened life-span which so many of them have currently?
Ok, so I note ideas down when I have them, and scribble something of what I might want to talk explore. Sometimes I come back to those and think—what the hell was I thinking when I wrote that? This is one of those, but I want to try and publish the good and the bad, and to push myself to explore those weirder thoughts too.
So the note started with this little gem (who knows what I had been reading/listening to/thinking about):
Modernism was born of reaction to Victorianism and the First World War. What do I see when I look at design today and what is it responding to?
I think the general idea revolved around the fact that, having been exposed to the interiors industry, I was trying to think more critically about the world around myself. One thing which I have noticed about the interiors world is that it pays attention a lot to trend, and this may well be true of most design studios, but I think there is definitely a stronger emphasis in interiors. Textiles for example are very close to fashion, in the sense of being very much tied to the trends in material and color which are in vogue.
One thing I wanted to take from this experience, was the ability to recognize a little more what design might be reacting to, and trying to pay more attention to social and political changes and values which might drive aesthetic and functional needs and desires. One example is the movement from economy to gaudiness which we seem to be currently in the throws of, or the resurgence of color in products and the move away from minimalist color palettes. What I really want is to not accept style for what it looks like, but instead to seek the intent in it.
Ok—it's been a couple of days since I have written on here... its the end of this super awesome experience that I have been going through, but I have needed a couple of days off from everything to be honest to prepare for heading back to real life. The good news is that I still have the itch for writing, and I'm going to try and keep this up as long as I can.
I remember asking my professor in a history of design class what the big deal with chairs was.., We were studying the history of design from the early 1800s through to the early 2000s over two semesters, and chairs were artifacts that came up so consistently I just wasn't sure if it was his biases or something that designers do. My memory got jogged about this when I visited the Schaudepot. A collection of "400 of the most iconic pieces of furniture", and 95% of them are chairs. I asked the curator who was giving us a tour, and she responded that there may well be two reasons (these echoed my professors views also), that chairs are a basic article which people desire and need, and that because of the governing principles behind them the core components of them haven't changed over time.
That was one of the most awesome things about going to the Schaudepot, seeing the evolution of chairs—somewhat mimicking the evolution of human industry and culture. As new materials and processes are discovered, they are fairly quickly represented in chairs to either drive function or cost. At the same time, as cultural tastes adapt form and composition of chairs change and even the fundamentals of design (like form vs. function) are questioned through movements like post-modernism.
I guess I'm not 100% why they are so important to us—I mean, honestly, not every chair out there is a statement or an exploration of the tenants of design—but they definitely act as an interesting way for us to view designs relationship with society and culture.
Huzzah, back to Studio Dror in the sunny morning that Monday should have been. This won't be a long one, as it was more of a conversation over a coffee with Dror, but it was definitely refreshing and interesting to spend some time with someone who spoke of a more metaphysical approach to design. I'm going to be honest and say that I didn't agree with everything that he said (I'm sure he won't mind), but it was fun to see a really honest and personal view on the industry. Dror also had some consistent advice which has come from throughout the experience, but was able to articulate it in an interesting way when speaking from a spacial view point, discussing the needs for both a macro/micro view on a project or exploration, for it to really meet the root cause or problem of a need.
This is a great video which you can find on Dror's website, and really gives you a sense of his style.
It's the last day of this thing (kind of, tomorrow I get a do over with Studio Dror), and a chance to spend sometime with the super hot NY based lighting brand Rich Brilliant Willing, starting off in their brand spanking new SoHo showroom.
So the background, it's a fairy tale of right place right time, foresight and commitment. They started in the East Village producing their first 100 of the Excel floor lamp in a part earth floor artists basement. It's really interesting how they are somewhat a product of the 2008 recession which saw them lose their jobs, but emerge in a climate in which people were willing to buy from furniture from the internet and trust in smaller brands. They're also really pioneers in the sense that they were one of the first studio brands which emerged onto the market and acted as both the design studio and the manufacturer.
The next few years saw them moving around SoHo, working in buildings with other designers and architects (helping them build relationships with their clients early). Working in both furniture and lighting, (and this part of the insight into the company came later, but I'll stick it in the narrative here) they didn't see a huge future in the furnishing market. The opportunity was actually in the lighting industry, where LEDs were emerging as a technology which RBW jumped on. This allowed them to explore new forms and typologies and due to the size of the company and the interest in them, they were perfectly placed to be nimble and quick to respond, but to still carry clout in the industry.
These days, RBW has built its brand around listening to customers, ensuring they continue in their own specific aesthetic, but also ensuring that their offerings fit with needs of the people they are designing for. Pieces like hoist which allows for pendants in hospitality, which features a 12 ft cable and two wall clamps, but can also be sconce and comes in multiple configurations (it is even rated for exterior usage). The flexibility of this, and the thought which has gone into it allows for maximum return on investment for RBW and great engagement with the A&D community. Multi finishes, custom finishes available. RBW also divides their product up quite simply into decorative and staples, one of the most interesting staples being a new ceiling light which has just been launched, but interestingly has an integrated backup battery—eliminating the need for those awful emergency lighting boxes.
This idea of listening to customers extends to working in partner ship with other companies. Recently RBW has built a new model in the industry, working with another company (COMPANY 1 and COMPANY 2) in an consultant/client relationship to develop products for certain situations. The work which has come out of this is really interesting, but also delivers a good model for other explorations RBW might want to make into areas of the industry of which they have less expertise (light acoustical fabrics or IoT).
One of the great parts of today was the opportunity to talk to the three guys who started the company—the chance to speak about the development of the company and the path RBW have taken, how they have been able to work collaboratively as a studio of three in a democratic manner with mutual input to designs but also act as support and checks on each other. During lunch with Theo and Charles, I was able to ask some questions which I have been wondering for a while, around the topic of being successful as a designer, and how that change from being a designer to being a brand feels. Many of their thoughts revolved around the though that you have to make your own opportunities. However much circumstance might play into your hand, you have to have something to use in that moment—so make things, get them out into the world, and produce. It's also important to aim for long goals, and have an idea where you are headed, but have the flexibility to make faster short-term decisions while allow you to head towards (but not always necessarily directly towards) your goal. In terms of looking at projects, learning to use "ball park math" which can allow you to study the feasibility of a project and really see if you want or can commit to it. This can also help predict or define whether certain relationships and methods of producing work (like licensing) are actually viable for you. As far as owning your own business—individual control is hard, but gives you more control over your environment and relationships. All of this stuff is kind of obvious to some people, but sitting there, listening to someone who has made it work really lets it hit home a bit more.
Upstairs in the Brooklyn space, I was able to experience the back-end of the product. From the design process (process orientated—where the team return to process and manufacturing to improve efficiency and design constantly) to assembly and shipping. The assembly was a great experience because it really hit home something which I'm not sure I had experienced anywhere else, which was the notion of design for assembly and design for installation. The assembly process was being carried out by professionals, but the design was so well refined that the process was broken into a smaller number of steps and allowed for a totally rationalization of the order. Another interesting sidebar was the packaging used for one of the products, which utilized a cornhusk and fungus component to protect it, which I hadn't seen before.
Looking at product development allowed me some time to speak to Theo about the design and iterative approach to their process, and how they look at lighting as an addition to the collage which an interior designer is trying to construct in a space—using a rich palette of materials. RBW approaches design by creating and testing many versions of a design (so this is easy to confuse with a regular iterative style—rather than making iterations as a product develops (working with just "A") they will study multiples (looking at "A", "B" and "C"). I think the most important thing I'll take away from this is to make sure to consider design for manufacturing, design for assembly, and design for installation as part of a holistic approach to design in future.
Well—it's the last week of this journey (the final presentation will be next Tuesday), and its hard to believe that it is somewhat coming to a close. The good thing is: the last week is not a light one, today I got to visit some of the places I have been looking forward to since the beginning of the fellowship. Starting with Studio Dror... that was until the weather scuppered out plans. Thankfully that is rescheduled and so it can have a whole piece of writing dedicated to it alone!
Plenty more to see and do, and I was more than happy to brave the weather to get the chance to see Suzanne Tick's studio. Suzanne is a pretty big deal—I saw some of the work she has done in the glass field at Skyline in Chicago. Anyway, shes a powerhouse in the interiors area, specifically in fabrics and textiles. The aesthetic of the studio is more architectural than most other textile companies which makes them stand out as less decorative and more sculptural. The development of product is incredibly technical and process driven, which allows them to focus on exploring new fibers and manufacturing techniques. They also make sure that they spend their time staying in touch with and studying culture, society and politics and look at how these influence their products and what trends may emerge because of them. It was awesome to step down stairs and get a look at a real life, human operated loom, which was my first, and to hear the operations which allow for the investigative process which allows the designers to construct contextual color blends which lead to spectacular colors and textures in weaves. I have to say, it was also really great to spend some time with Suzanne herself—I haven't had many opportunities to spend time with designers who these companies are named after much, and so I had a few questions to ask her which were really enlightening. One of the most insightful moments from this conversation was in response to the question "do you have to be cut-throat or aggressive as young designer to get ahead and get noticed". Suzannes answer was that you do, but that it was way more than that—its about guts, its about instinct and detail, success means you have to have a head for business as well as design. There was also a really great thought which was that her success was in part due to her desire to disrupt, but you can't expect to purely disrupt—you have to also be inclusive, good disruption is about making sure that the disruption itself is understood, that the vision behind the disruption is understood. Tha'ts the quote for the day right there.
From there, it was on to Fritz Hansen to be surrounded by wonderful danish furnishings. This was a great opportunity to catch up on the history of Fritz Hansen and Arne Jacobsen.
Right next door on Wooster is Luceplan, which I'll admit I hadn't come across before, but which showcases some more Italian innovation in lighting. Founded by 3 architects (and later, one engineer), the focus is very much on materiality and technology. There are some real gems of design in here—the Costanza, (not only because it shares a name with that Costanza, but the adjustment mechanism is beautiful) and the Cappuccina (because of that simple functionality) for example. Everything is still manufactured in Milan, and their aquisition by Philips in 2010 looks like it could only make them stronger as integration with IoT becomes bigger in the lighting industry the future... if it does.
This is more of a quick diary entry than an observation, but sometimes things like this feel like they are worth saying to help keep everything in perspective. After (what will be) seven weeks "on the road" out of my city and state, I cannot wait to get back to design as I know it. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and for the opportunity to visit all of these wonderful companies, but I think it has definitely shown me that I don't want to be someone who constantly traveling unless it is for pleasure or a specific project. All I want to do right now is get my hands dirty in some good old investigative and iterative design. YUM.
In terms of productivity, with writing, sketching and ideation, I heard a good piece of advice yesterday on a podcast: create one thing a day, whether you choose to share it or not is totally up to you (this was in the context of blig writing). That seems like a decent mantra to live by, and will hopefully help me keep things in perspective, especially in those difficult times.
I wanted to spend some time thinking about how my conception of originality might have changed throughout this experience. It occurred to me a good way to do this might be to look at part of the essay I submitted to get the Be Original Americas Fellowship, and compare that to how I currently feel—just so you know, how I currently feel is in flux and a little jumbled, so it's a whole less coherent.
What is your favorite design and why? What does original design mean to you? What do you see as the future of original design?
As a favorite design, the Mezzadro Stool by the Castiglioni brothers always springs to my mind, precisely because it is so original. It evokes the moment in which it was conceived—it seems so incredibly spontaneous. This is an object that could sit comfortably amongst great furniture designs of the decades following right up until contemporary design. It is imbibed with the culture and period of experimentation and form-driven design it comes from, and represents a perfect freeze-frame of that moment in design history, but importantly, is not wedded to the style of that era. The simplicity of the form lays bare the essentials of the stool: its construction is so well considered, it is almost sculptural, and its stark materiality allows it to stand out as something purely industrial. Although originally constructed from found objects and forms—and against the contemporary trend at the time of exploring plastics and new materials—the inspiration of the composition, lightness, and joy it creates is truly inspirational, and even in its mass production form, it still retains its honesty.
With the Mezzadro Stool in mind, original design means many different things to me, but at my core I experience two things: observing original design and creating original design. Seeing another designer’s original design is incredibly exciting. It's a complex feeling because it involves so many emotions—a desire to understand and explore, and an immediate emotional connection with the designer. I cannot help but try to feel the moment of conception or understanding from the designer’s point of view; the path to originality is long, but the moment is a beautiful and bright spark. I have felt moments of originality in my design career already, and I can only explain them as some of the most exciting and rewarding moments, in which the combination of form, material and insight can produce something personal and universal at the same time.
Original design demands intense study. It requires the patience and curiosity that it takes to observe and define a problem or area of opportunity. This insight is influenced by an individual designer’s personality and experience, and is spurred by a desire to explore and solve it. Through this “solution” and exploration, the designer is able to express his or her craft and identity. Original design is the only true form of design, and it is the only form that allows designers to reveal themselves to others. It’s the craft of process and experience, but most importantly, the need to create and communicate in one’s own voice. That is why truly original design can transcend cultures and times; it’s like a great poem, in that it is able to evoke an emotional connection with everyone while being honestly representative of its author.
Instead of attempting to predict the future, I find it easier to explain what I think, feel, and hope. I think that the increased access to information provides us in the design community with the great ability (and responsibility) to continue the mission of educating each other, manufacturers, and consumers in the benefits of quality and original design. Never before have we had access to more people, and had the ability to demonstrate the value in the core ideals of a craft that relies on honesty and ingenuity. We have the tools available to truly inform everyone about their purchases and the effect that their decisions have on cultural development. I feel that consumers’ belief and trust in the notion of quality when it comes to design is shifting, and that by continuing to strongly advocate for these values and ensure they are upheld, consumers will come to hold these ideas more dearly as they are ingrained in the mainstream. The rise of crowd-funding and craftsperson e-commerce is symptomatic of communities searching for originality. I hope that as a community of humankind, everyone involved with the product lifecycle continues to react to looming environmental concerns, and that this continues to attract people to quality products designed to last and not to destroy our environment. It is my final hope that these concerns continue to drive innovation, creativity, and originality in design aimed at bettering our world.
Original design exists in many forms, it is not confined to the sculpting of a body into "new" architecture, it can be the fruit of many labors: material study, manufacturing study, process study.
This leads me to think that original design isn't dependent on shattering typologies, but instead rests on an intent or desire to investigate a relationship between a study and an outcome.
Although this places a strong emphasis on the designers relationship to the outcome, I believe that original design isn't about ego (in fact those designs which break and create typologies often eclipse brands and individuals and become a part of collective consciousness); therefore it is the job of the designer to use their ability to ensure that they edit pure expression of material and form, to create something which is accessible. These artifacts must walk the tightrope between personal (emotional) and accessible (passive).
Original design strikes a balance between extravagance and rationality, holistic nature and details, tradition and deviation.
Authenticity and originality are symbiotic, and cannot exist without each other.
I don't believe that original design has to equate with profitability. An article designed to be sold in high quantity is likely to be more palatable to a higher percentage of people. Outstanding and original design may well be so insightful that it is rejected by society.
Original design will always be original, but will not always be in fashion.
Most importantly, originality is in the eye of the beholder. This is why one of the most important things we can do is continue to discuss it, in the hope that this can lead to a heightened awareness of its financial, ethical, environmental, economical and cultural importance.
This is going to sound incredibly student-y, and incredibly 2012—but the iPhone does a really good job. It's something which is designed top-to-bottom, is hugely desirable and fashionable but most importantly, not elitist. It's a cultural icon that people are willing to pay extraordinary amounts for—but it only lasts for, say, four years. This is pretty much how the furniture industry would like to be, but they're not. Maybe it has something to do with the payment plan you can get for an iPhone? Maybe it's because it does pretty much everything for us? Just think though, if I took the $800 I spent on a phone every 2 years, within 10 years I would have a chair which would last 60 years... It's obviously a pretty difficult think to conceptualize, and to stick to, but an interesting thought nonetheless.
To put the problem in the most plane manner, you have these companies which sell fairly expensive pieces of furniture, but the furniture is incredibly high quality and will last you a long time, if not forever. Cost generally aligns itself with an idea of quality, but also does have the potential to align itself with fashion and desirability. Luxury is not a word that any of these companies want associated with their product, because luxury implies exclusivity, if you asked them they would rather you used quality.
The funny thing is, I think if you spoke to most people, they would say luxury was closer to the mark. The fact is that it is a luxury for most people to have multiple pieces (or even a single piece) of high-quality furniture. Most people don't conceive of furniture in terms of out living them in today's society, which is ruled by seasonal changes in fashion and high turnover of product. IKEA rules the world—and there isn't anything wrong with IKEA per-say, its just lower quality product which is made to be replaced every 3-5 years. I think it would be fair to say that IKEA doesn't make heritage products.
So I guess I have two questions here—how do we walk the line between high-design and high-brow, bringing people into the fold and not being exclusive, and how do we create desire for original or authentic designed products by having a conversation with a consumer and not preaching to them? Come to think of it, one more quick question: its worth considering the market—most customers of these companies are 40+, but tomorrows market are the younger people today who aspire—so how do we push the attainability of these products while keeping them desirable?
It's the last day at Bernhardt, and time to head over to plant 4. Plant 4 is an interesting one—only opened a few years ago, it operates under plant 3 (wood) and 7 (seating and upholstery), doing some of the pre-manufactured pieces for both, some of the larger pieces, like conference and task chair assembly.
The first thing to notice is that its a much larger and much more modern environemnt than the other plants. Its more of a classic warehouse, which allows for lots of verticle space. Everything that comes into the plant is greeted by the QC department, which inventory everything from vendor, who are spread all over the world. This usually starts with a 10% check, followed by another 10% if it fails—meaning 1 in every 10 boxes pulled. Certain things require a little more observations, so all glass and corian is 100% inspected, to make sure that it meets Bernhardts standards. Regarding tracking quality, it starts with a photo inside the receiving truck, to look for damage to pallets from shipping and transport or packing. Once boxes are opened and inspected, the inspectors take photographs of damage and imperfections and record them to allow them to track problems, zeroing in on where the problem lies (with packing or with manufacturing process), and to work on developing processes to improve. Here they are inspecting pretty much every material Bernhardt deals with: corian, glass, veneers, wood, foam, chromed metal parts, all which carry their own characteristics.
On one side of plant 4 is the plant 3 side (wood), where a large inventory of stock of furniture which is produced/assembled elsewhere is held. Once ordered, this is then finished (and if it is a conference table, it is uv treated) and either sent through to further assembly, where conference and modular pieces are fitted with brackets and grommets, or straight through to shipping. At this point for conference tables, the hand cut metal extrusions are added, and if customer requests staging to check they will. On the other side of plant 4 is the plant 7 side (seating), where all the task chairs are assembled by hand. This includes foam, upholstery, and assembly, with sewn parts coming from plant 7. This is all followed by standard QC and one in every large order is pulled for testing at the test facility. The packing section was pretty interesting in the sense that, as mentioned before these large surfaces and pieces of wood can get damaged fairly easily as they are pretty heavy. Shipping them can be a pretty big deal and to stop them being dropped in transit but the blame landing at the plant they use these nifty little things called shockdots, which show rough handling.
And that was pretty much it, so maybe its time for some final thoughts on Bernhardt design? Well, the obvious things first—they're a huge company, and whilst they seem less corporate, the divisions make things seem pretty red-tapy and confusing from the outside, and they obviously care intensely about design and quality. The weirder things I've caught myself thinking about—a conversation about a more "Southern" design aesthetic in which pieces are part of an environmental aesthetic-pieces combined to greater aesthetic (rather than more loud, individual pieces which scream for attention). Spending longer on the manufacturing floor has also made me think about anther really interesting problem which is larger than one specific company or area and is something which manufacturing as a whole faces, which is to do with skill, experience and age in respect to the available workforce. This is due to many issues: a rising level of education, a reduction in the desire to work in manufacturing, the lowering of the conception of manual labor as a respectable career, through to things like engagement with younger generations at younger ages, drug addiction, draining of communities from rural environments, and even the effect of large stores like Walmart on local communities and economies.