In Good Company, By Design

Guest blog by Brad Ascalon, founder/CEO Brad Ascalon Studio NYC

If you are reading this, you are likely familiar with the mission of Be Original Americas. Furthermore, you likely already agree with what it stands for. Be Original Americas was founded to promote authenticity in design and to fight the multi-billion dollar knock-off underbelly of our industry. It is a group of like-minded individuals and businesses who invest in educating, informing, and influencing on original design, as well as cultivating future generations who will one day take part in our industry. I believe, however, that there is an unspoken camaraderie in this organization, that goes beyond the day-to-day duties.

Sketches of the Atlas table for Design Within Reach

We tend not to talk about the consequences of our individual decisions and responsibilities in our work as designers and makers. We don’t talk about the absolute desire at the end of the day to feel good about our own contributions and the mark we leave behind. We choose to put products into the world, yet we have all heard and entertained the age-old question – do we really need more furniture?

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Why every designer needs to care about design integrity

Guest blog by Kenneth P. Baker IIDA, SBID, Assoc. AIA, Assoc. ASID, Assoc. RIBA – Gensler Co-Managing Principal, Southeast Region

The architecture and design industry is fueled by creative, imaginative and innovative people with a deep sense of passion for our work. We get emotionally attached to our projects, and take immense pride when that work is recognized by our clients and our peers in the industry. Gensler decided to become a board member of Be Original Americas because we believe that these elements of our industry’s culture need to be protected, and we need to ensure that every designer is practicing with the highest level of design integrity to ensure a prosperous future for everyone.

PNC Tower, Pittsburgh. Photo: Connie Zhou

Our firm has its own product design practice area, and since we’re putting the time, resources and energy into designing new and innovative products for our clients, we don’t want our products to be reproduced by other manufacturers looking to profit off our hard work. Because we are invested in protecting the power of our own brand, we only use products sourced from their original developer in our projects. We practice what we preach, and we’re trying to elevate the conversation in the industry so other firms can see the value in following suit.

We all love and are inspired by great design, and when we see a product that would be perfect for a client that simply won’t find the budget for it, the temptation to find a cheaper alternative can be overwhelming. The problem is, by failing to respect the work of our peers in the industry we are making it difficult for talented people to invest in the next round of design innovation. That’s not the kind of industry that we want to be, and it’s not the kind of professional that anyone ever aspires to be. So what’s the answer?

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Ask a Retailer: Soft Square

In the movement to support original design, retailers hold a key role: they are the bridge between manufacturers and consumers, bringing designs from the production floor to people’s homes. To find out more, we asked our member Soft Square to tell us about being a retailer that supports original design. 

Tell us a bit about how you got started in the design world.

We first started selling furniture out of a small warehouse. We gradually took steps into expanding the ever-evolving Soft Square. To be in the design business, you have to have a passion for what you do along with tenacity and grit. Modern furniture & timeless design is something we have always loved.

How do you choose which designs you want to represent in your store?

When we go to Milan, Paris or Cologne for trade shows, we must always consider our clients & what makes sense for our market. We are very meticulous with the brands we bring into our store and they have to be original designs. The quality of the product is one of the most important aspects. At the end of the day, we only choose what we love. When clients come in the store they can see the passion behind each carefully selected item.

In your experience, what are some common misconceptions consumers have about authentic design?

One of the misconceptions is that people think they can get a similar item for a lesser price. When you buy a knock-off, for instance, it is not going to be the same quality as the original and won’t last as long. It’s worth paying a bit more and having the original piece, which will wear better and longer.

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Knockoffs, Because “The client can’t afford the real thing”

Guest blog by Ross Taylor, Owner of Gabriel Ross

Take a minute to think about this: what is the best project you’ve ever made or seen? That restaurant or bar, that amazing home, workspace or retail store. The one project that you are most proud of and is featured all over your website, or the one you saved on Instagram for inspiration.

Now imagine you’re relaxing one Sunday morning, coffee in hand, browsing your favorite design magazine and there it is. Yup, there’s a bar being featured that is exactly the same as the one that you designed for your client, or exactly the same as the project by your favorite designer. The exact same floor plan, the same flooring, the paint, the seating, the tables, every single light fixture as far as the eye can see. It is an exact replica of what you created and it is already the most popular bar in the country. A raving success.

“Wow! How dare they! Those were my ideas. I spent weeks working on that concept. What kind of a person would do that?” thinks the original designer.

And so it goes. The client can’t afford to pay an interior designer, so they hired someone to copy the ideas in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost.

Now, imagine you are a designer working with a client and they can’t afford that real Eames shell chair, Noguchi table, Saarinen table. They like the look of a Tom Dixon Beat Light and the Moooi Random light fixture, but it just isn’t in the budget. What do you do? I’m going to suggest that you steer them towards something that is both unique and affordable, but not a blatant knockoff of something that they are not authorized to reproduce. There is an endless selection of amazing products that are affordable, well-made and designed by talented people who would love to have your business.

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Debunking the Myth: Original Design Is Too Expensive

Guest blog by Mark Daniel, Creative Director, m.a.d. Furniture Design

Up until recently, modern design had been perceived as both a luxury and an elitist endeavor — it wasn’t widely available or accessibly priced. The irony of this longstanding stigma is that modern design began as a movement to make original design more democratic and affordable. The discrepancy between the initial leveling intention and actual practice is partly the reason why m.a.d. Furniture Design was founded. We want to return to those roots and remedy the gap, as we believe original design should be attainable for all.

To bring authentic designs to the wider public, we’ve streamlined the process of manufacturing and design, combining the two so that they complement each other. It’s about managing the design, development, and manufacturing of each design component to ensure they all come together harmoniously on the assembly line. Balancing each part of the process is like conducting an orchestra at times.

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Guest Blog: Inspiration Vs. Copy by Bend Goods

In any creative field, pulling inspiration from those before you is a part of creating new and original designs. Being inspired by the greats of your industry can allow you to create something that is updated and fully unique. But, you must remember, there is a thin line between inspiration and duplication. Copying past designs is a dangerous path to take that can lead to detrimental effects on your company’s sales, development, and most importantly, reputation.

We have all seen them: fakes of the great Mid-century modern furniture designs sprinkled all over the internet. These rip-offs are exact replicas of classic designs made of cheaper materials and made using even cheaper production practices. Even more often you will see pieces that aren’t exact copies, but rather partial copies. This kind of replication is where many begin to excuse the practice of duplicating others’ designs. Is it a copy of an Eames Chair if it doesn’t have the exact same legs? Let me answer that for you: it is.

This is where inspiration and duplication begin to blend together. The rule of thumb is that if one part of a design is identical to a part of a past design, you are no longer using the piece as inspiration but rather as a model. Stepping over this line leads you into dangerous territory that drains the originality from your design. Finding inspiration from past pieces is a different story all together.

A perfect example of inspired design: Bend Goods Black Lucy Chair embraces the Bertoia Chair’s use of wire, but with a contemporary twist.

When a designer pulls ‘inspiration’ they are not copying a piece, rather they are implementing the principles of a past design to their own. Observing the shapes, styling, and lines allows you to create a variation of the original that then produces a fully unique new product. Applying this tactic avoids creating a carbon copy and instead produces a piece that references the past while looking forward to the future. Overall, when looking for inspiration always remember one thing: your design must evolve past what the original was and must not steal from its predecessor.


Bend Goods is a Los Angeles based design and manufacturing company that designs functional products for the home and public spaces. The company makes furniture, lighting, and other goods, with a commitment to being innovative and playful. Founded in 2010 by Gaurav Nanda, a sculptor and designer from Michigan, Bend is based on Nanda’s passion for making functional yet sculptural objects. 

The quality of their products is in the details: the inviting shapes, the sparks of color, the ease of assembly and the packaging. Each element embodies Bend’s drive for making iconic, sustainable, and authentic products.

Focus On: Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship is what makes innovative ideas for authentic designs a reality. The skill of an artisan or a meticulously refined mechanical process incorporate the attention to detail and standard of excellence necessary to create objects that become a part of our lives and deepen our relationship with our environments. Fraudulent products, with their shoddy make and low-grade materials, fail to capture our imaginations with their rough approximation of the aesthetics and functions that make authentic products a success. Craftsmanship is the difference between objects that inspire, and ones that just take up space.

Designers of integrity know that their intended concepts for a new product or solution can only be articulated through the highest standards of materials and manufacture.  This month, we’re featuring some of our members who shared with us their stories of unique manufacturing techniques, material uses, and design practices that showcase the lasting value of authentic design.

 

Skram

SKRAM Collage

Skram Furniture Company emphasizes sustainable practices, authentic materials, and extraordinary workmanship. Their craftsmen utilize a mix of traditional techniques and cutting-edge fabrication processes to meet the highest standards of precision and durability.

 

Flavor Paper

FLAVOR PAPER Collage

Brooklyn-based wallpaper company Flavor Paper has mastered the art of large-format hand silk screening. Their diverse portfolio of expertly silk screened and digitally printed designs offer unparalleled customization and creativity to designers.

 

Cerno

CERNO collage

Vertically-integrated Cerno makes all of their lighting designs at their own facility in Southern California.Founders Nick Sheridan and Daniel Wacholder are involded in each step of production, which includes both handiwork and modern technology.

 

nanimarquina

NANI Colalge

nanimarquina brings manual production and contemporary design together by researching tools, looms, and craft heritage to achieve harmony between the design concept and finished product. In addition, nanimarquina produces their designs in developing countries to boost local economies and help build a brighter future for those involved in the rug-making process.

 

Emeco

EMECO Collage

 

The iconic Emeco Navy Chair is crafted through a detailed, 77-step process. Recently, the Be Original Americas Summer Fellows visited their facilities in Pennsylvania to get a hands-on look at the famous production – read more at Interior Design.

 

As our members show, when objects are created with the intention of improving the lives of the end user – and not just cashing in on stolen profit – the manufacturing process features a commitment to sustainable, responsible practices and a high standard for quality control and materials that create true value. Follow us @beoriginalusa for more stories of craftsmanship and inspiration.