#BEOAFellowship Weeks 6 & 7: Exploring Lights, Textiles & Digital Media

As the 2018 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship continues, Defne and Janell explore woodworking, textiles lighting and digital media. 

You spent a week in North Carolina at Bernhardt Design and Skram Furniture company. What differences did you see between the design industry in North Carolina versus in New York, Michigan, or California?

Defne: They have different values and priorities. In San Francisco, due to the vast amount of tech companies in the area, designers look for ways to combine emerging technologies with their products such as remote lighting solutions, wireless technologies etc. In New York, due to limited space available, most designers find it easier to have their creative studios or showrooms in the city while outsourcing design parts to outside manufacturing plants. In North Carolina, however, the relationship between craftsmen and the designer seems to be more personal because the space availability allows companies to have in-house manufacturing facilities, workshops, and equipment where designers can actively participate in the manufacturing process. The designs and crafting techniques are also more traditional compared to tech focused designs.

Bernhardt Design capitalizes on their abundance of space, opting to utilize in-house manufacturing.

Janell: While it was expected that the physical footprint of each company would vary greatly based on location, I was surprised by how this affected different aspects of the business. Those in more rural neighborhoods had opportunities to expand and, especially in the case of Bernhardt Design, opt to do most of the manufacturing. By having some services in-house, these businesses are able to offer easy customization and alterations. In contrast, companies located in more dense areas like New York and San Francisco appeared to be more specialized. In addition to the influence of the industries in their surrounding communities, the freedom to explore different manufacturers resulted in more adventurous designs.

Bernhardt Design and Skram Furniture Company both work extensively with wood. What did you learn about working with and manufacturing an original design with this raw material?

Defne: I have always found wood to be a fascinating material to work with because it has so much personality to it that it can be unpredictable. I have seen that both in Bernhardt Design and Skram, those disadvantages were used as unique design elements that further enhanced the authenticity of their products. The veneering process was also something that I have never seen before and seeing two different techniques of veneering wood was definitely a remarkable experience for me.

Working with wood, the fellows explore the many ways the material can be used in design at Skram Furniture. 

Janell: Even though I have worked with wood before, there were a handful of applications and techniques I was introduced to during this fellowship. From making veneer to learning new kinds of joinery, seeing a common material throughout a range of companies shows its versatility and reliability. In addition, our visit to Skram Furniture Company emphasized the intimate nature of it. Not only is every piece of wood unique, but the material requires a personal touch throughout the whole process due to its variability. Although this hinders uniformity, the mindset of embracing imperfection ensures that each product is thoughtfully made.

Your visit to Carnegie introduced you to the world of textiles. What was the biggest take-away you got from your day exploring fabric design in the studio?

Defne: When people say fabric, the first thing that comes to mind is garments. At Carnegie, I have realized that not only there are so many different fabrics with different properties, there are so many different products you can create with them. We had the chance to go to Eric Bruce’s fabrication studio to see how Carnegie fabrics can be used to make draperies and what kind of considerations are made when they are assembled to make curtains. There was a discussion about fabric acoustics, fire-proofing and transparency and that conversation made me realize that there are many industries that textiles can be used in to make unique products that have yet to be explored.


Taking time to appreciate textiles at Carneige Fabrics. 

Janell: In addition to learning the terminology for warps and wefts, I was introduced to the sustainable potential of textiles. Carnegie has always had environmentally friendly intentions with their PVC-free origins, but the development of Xorel has taken their green practice a step further. Carnegie has really proven that there are no limits to this emerging industry standard with their innovative eco-friendly material. By using a rapidly renewable resource like the sugarcane plant, they effectively offer an elegant and durable product that is easily accessible. As textiles have many applications — ranging from draperies to upholstery — this is an inspiring way to permeate the design industry with a responsible solution.

Rich Brilliant Willing is a great example of an independent lighting design company in New York. What did you learn about how a young company stays independent and agile while still producing top quality designs? How does the size of the company seem to affect the design process?

Defne: Rich Brilliant Willing struck me as a company that seeks innovation and growth at every step of their design journey. They are taking risks as a company by going after technologies that are still at the development stage and are constantly looking for areas of growth by questioning the “traditional” methods of manufacturing, assembling and installing of lighting fixtures. I think it is the shared “let’s keep moving” mindset rather than the size of the company that truly affects their rapid design process.

“Lets keep moving” — the fellows learn about the innovative manufacturing mentality at Rich Brilliant Willing.

Janell: As a growing company, Rich Brilliant Willing has learned through trial and error how to best operate as a business. Despite a bumpy start, the founders realized early on that establishing a reputation for reliability and care encourages clients to stick with you through the mishaps. This has enabled them to get their bearings as a company and has encouraged them to explore new technologies in their designs. Over the past few years, the company has grown to twenty-five people, maintaining a relatively small design team. Although this results in the designers doing their own research, this also allows them to have a more thorough grasp of the industry.

You finished out your seventh week at bde where you learned about the PR, social media, and digital marketing for the design industry. What surprised you the most about this side of the business?

Defne: It was so much harder than what I imagined it would be like. Representing another company, writing on behalf of them, finding their voice on social media and helping them stand out in such a saturated platform are very difficult tasks that require incredible storytelling, communication and persuasion skills. It also seemed like the process was a lot about being aware of timing, situations and clients. Understanding how people behave is essential in order to manage the press, the events and the social media platforms successfully. It is almost like you need to understand human psychology to be able to reach the right audience at the right time. I found that to be a very challenging task.

Beth Dickstien and her team at bde display the power of PR, social media and digital marketing in the design industry. 

Janell: Growing up in the age of social networking, I initially thought PR, social media, and digital marketing would be fairly easy and straightforward, especially because social media is such a commonly used outlet. However, the ability to grab and retain a reader’s attention proved to be an increasingly difficult challenge in this hyperactive world. With a knack for writing headlines, the founder Beth Dickstein proved that the slightest difference in wording can dictate its success. In addition to capturing an audience, a PR and social media firm can also reach out to publicists or plan events; I was surprised to learn the limits or lack thereof for what services are offered.

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