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.