#BEOAFellowship Weeks 4 & 5: Learning from the Masters

Keep following along with the 2018 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship as Defne and Janell explore the world of design.

You visited Michael Graves Architecture & Design and experienced a full design team brainstorm. How did you find the process?

Defne: The experience we had in Michael Graves Architecture & Design was similar to the design process we follow at school which was reassuring to see. The brainstorming process was rapid with an all-welcoming approach towards all ideas. It really was fun working with professionals on a project and see how our college education helps us find a common ground and language in the real world.

Janell: Using a hypothetical project to help us understand the process of design. We started the day with a team brainstorm for a new housekeeping cart. Everyone was given a pen and a pad of sticky notes to write down anything and everything that came to mind, no matter how ridiculous. I was pretty unfamiliar with the process, but it started to feel like making spaghetti models in school — spaghetti is extremely affordable and easy to break and assemble with little to no tools. This approach of rapidly producing was initially overwhelming, but proved to be an efficient way to collect ideas.

Original kitchen designs by Michael Graves on display. 

You spent a couple of days touring various showrooms in New York: Artemide, Gandia Blasco, Tom Dixon, Moooi, Carl Hansen & Son, Marset, Alessi, and more. What did you learn about the importance of retail in the design industry?

Defne: Every company has a different style when it comes to design and the showrooms played an important role in reflecting their design principles in a very elaborate way. For instance, Moooi had a more playful and vibrant showroom with different wallpapers matching their rugs and furniture, whereas Carl Hansen & Son had different rooms to promote the “hygge” of Danish lifestyle which focused on coziness. Herman Miller used their space both as a place to cherish their history and a platform to connect with their customers through storytelling and user experience. These details showed us how furniture is a part of a bigger story and how the experience matters as much as the product itself.

Janell: After spending the first few weeks focusing on the design process, it was very insightful to switch gears and look at the retail aspect. Something that stood out to me was the thorough thought process behind Herman Miller’s showrooms. In their New York showroom, a hypothetical family of two parents and a little girl lives there, surrounded by trinkets from their travels and studies. The family and their story change every six months, with the goal of helping visitors understand the range of ways the pieces could furnish a home. While many of the pieces are beautiful in their own right, retail plays a large role in making design approachable and shows that the products are meant to be lived in.

Innovative lighting design at Tom Dixon

An exploration of showroom design at Blu Dot

From glassblowing to quality control, marketing and sales — what was the most surprising thing you learned at Niche Modern?

Defne: The creative director of Niche Modern, Jeremy Pyles, actually talked to us about the different departments of Niche Modern and how they operate and he also shared with us what he considers strengths and weaknesses of each department. Listening to him talk about his own company with a critical eye and seeing him striving for improvement in every aspect really made an impact on me. I was inspired to consider new ways to improve my own branding strategies as well as my marketing, photography and product development skills.

Janell: As a company that does everything in-house, I was surprised to learn that the team is so small. It seemed as though everyone did multiple jobs in order to accomplish what they do — sales also acted as customer service, public relations also acted as a digital team, and the CEO also acted as product development. Jeremy Pyles, the founder and CEO, even mentioned that, in a sense, you have to “fake it till you make it.” I’m incredibly impressed by how Niche Modern puts in the extra effort to operate as a larger, more developed company.

Finding inspiration in the glassblowing studio at Niche Modern

Both at Michael Graves A&D and Herman Miller you experienced design history, as both companies have long stories with masters of design. How do these design icons influence your process, and the processes of the companies you worked with?

Defne: I was truly mesmerized by the hand drawings of the masters and it made me reflect back on my own skills. We are in a very computer driven world and nowadays, and we tend to forget the value of sketching and crafting by hand. Being able to express yourself in such detail without an external tool is not only incredibly hard but it is also incredibly valuable. I have made a promise to myself to learn sketching better and push myself to include more of it in my design process in order to become the well-rounded designer I hope to be one day.

Janell: Led by masters of design, both companies have shown their experience through their current process and projects. Through the decades of progress and expansion, Michael Graves A&D and Herman Miller have gained an understanding of production beyond what is intuitive to the designer. Especially evident at Herman Miller, the reality of manufacturing goods requires design not apparent in the final product. A big takeaway for me was to consider those working in assembly when developing a product.

A peek inside the design archives at Herman Miller

Herman Miller is a great example of a large manufacturer that produces original design. What differences have you noticed in how original design is made and distributed on a wide scale?

Defne: Herman Miller had a lot more employers and clients than a lot of the companies we have visited. They had a whole new set of safety, testing and manufacturing rules to ensure the best quality possible on a wide scale. They had a whole testing lab in which extreme measures were applied to their products in terms of heat, weight and pressure for quality control. No matter how many products they produced, all the employees and operators were extremely cautious about upholding the highest possible standard for each and every detail, and they still continue to strive for perfection through product development. That really tells you a lot of about how and why Herman Miller survived for over a century with so many products.

Janell: Herman Miller is dramatically larger than most of the companies we’ve visited during this fellowship, and this has resulted in different considerations during the design process. While Herman Miller doesn’t do any in-house designs, their design team focuses on ensuring a new design’s ability to be manufactured. This includes understanding the tools available and how to most efficiently apply them. A lot more thought is put into simplifying or reworking, as engineers still work to improve the production process today.

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