Valuing Original Design: From Inception to Installation

Guest blog by Original BTC

Investment in original design means investing in the designers and the process that creates it, acknowledging that creative and cultural innovation is not always straightforward, and that developing a coherent concept can sometimes take months or even years. This may be particularly draining on time and resources, requiring complex problem-solving and acute attention to detail.

Commitment to original design is needed from those outside the generative and manufacturing processes, too. When consumers choose to buy original pieces, they give designers credit where it is due. Their investment provides financial remuneration not just to the company producing the designs, but enables that company to support artists and sustain time-honored traditions. Of course, a buyer should also enjoy and cherish the products that they purchase, and by investing in authentic designs they get a sense of pride and satisfaction every time the piece is seen or used. This meaningful relationship helps to build a positive environment, whether in the home or in a public space where a designer crafts an experience of place for other inhabitants. For trade professionals, this uncompromising approach can set your work apart.

Handblown glass at Original BTC

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#BEOAFellowship Week 8: From Design Students to Designers

In brief, tell us your main takeaways from this summer. What stayed with you? What will you take into your last year of school, and into your future as a designer?

Defne: After visiting so many companies, I was surprised to see how expansive the design industry is. There are companies that specialize in a design field, there are companies that specialize in a design element, there are companies that sell design, promote design, manufacture design or even assemble design! I found it incredible to see how everyone worked with each other and how most products on the market are a collective effort of many different companies and industries. That realization inspired me to combine different industries together in my studies as well. During my last year in college, I would like to specialize in lighting fixtures with a focus on flexible materials. However, I don’t want to just produce a series of products; I would like to consider my project on a holistic level from its manufacturing to its marketing and brand identity. I believe that’s the step I need to take to in order to switch from a design student into a designer.

Janell: Through this fellowship, we got the opportunity to see firsthand the ins and outs of running a business in the design industry. As the fellowship spans over a dozen companies, ranging from a small to large scale and from graphic design to architecture, it was very insightful to compare the challenges between them. One of the biggest takeaways for me was the prevalence of sustainability becoming an industry standard. A common theme throughout the companies was an effort to reduce waste through a made-to-order business model and to ensure durability to eliminate the constant need to replace products. However, Emeco took it a step further by using largely recycled materials — something I hope to explore during my last year of school. Using Emeco’s 80% recycled aluminum and products made of industrial waste as precedents, I will spend my thesis researching accessible ways to turn disposable plastic into a building material.

Congratulations to our fellows on a productive, educational, and inspiring summer with our members! Keep up with Defne and Janell‘s design paths on Instagram and take a closer look at their experiences this summer on our blog

#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.

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#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

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Design in the Time of Tariffs

Guest blog written by Ted Boerner, Founder of Ted Boerner Furniture.

A large part of what makes an original design successful is the alchemy of makers, materials and process. I trust our makers to craft our pieces with care, using the best materials and finishes available.  When the materials become scarce or the quality changes, the design is affected and we have to adjust.  From the perspective of a designer and business owner it feels like I am constantly attending to these fluctuations like a circus plate spinner.

We are all affected differently by the current administration’s imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.  Usually the effects are felt later, but we felt them in advance when the uncertainty and chaos started even before the tariffs were imposed.  As the steel industry tried to figure out what it would mean in the future, their customers began buying up material to avoid the impeding tariffs.  This meant that the supply of steel was reduced drastically, leaving only lesser quality stock at higher prices.  We weren’t even sourcing our metal from the countries that would have had tariffs, yet everyone reacted.

Handcrafted production at Ted Boerner Furniture

Our company is small and the artisans we engage with have small spaces so they buy stock material as needed. We cannot compete with the huge companies that fueled this panic, so we are left paying higher costs for lesser materials.

But the effects go well beyond cost.

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#BEOAFellowship Week 3: Diving into design in San Francisco

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

After visiting Laura Guido-Clark Design and learning about their approach to color, how has your view of color changed?

Defne: The visit to LGC made me realize that colors can be used in various ways to connect people together and create a sense of community, as well as convey a certain design language. Also there is so much to color than what meets the eye. Unlike what is usually being taught, red does not necessarily have to be a color that is passionate and aggressive. With different hues red can be warm, red can be inviting or friendly. Talking to Laura Guido-Clark made me realize that we have a rather narrow-minded way of looking at color and as designers, we should explore it more.

 Laura Guido-Clark Design teaches the fellows a bright & fresh outlook on color.

Janell: Visiting Laura Guido Clark was very inspiring because her outlook on color was extremely emotional. She emphasized that you don’t have to see color, you feel color — and through research, she actually found that humans were given the ability to see color in order to recognize human emotions. It really stuck with me when she phrased it as “color reminds us that we’re human.” Learning this made me understand why she is so passionate about empowering other communities through color. By transforming educational spaces, her nonprofit Project Color Corps has given students a sense of pride and ownership in their school, making them eager to learn and engage.

Designing a product is only part of the process, what have you learned this week about getting your product out there?

Defne: I learned that how you brand yourself, reach out to clients and sell your products has just as much importance as the design itself. There are so many products out there that you really have to stand out with your design outlook to show why you are different and why your design matters. Product packaging, logo and brand identity have to be compatible with the vision you have as a company but also answer to the client’s expectations. For example, if your designs are minimalist and modern, you really have to find that middle ground between keeping your packaging and branding simple while providing enough information to the customer. Easier said than done!

Hands-on with the designers at AJK Design actively pitching their products.  

Janell: From our company visits this week, I was definitely surprised by how the process differs based on company size. With a one and two-person team respectively, AJK Design and Council are very active in getting their products out there. We actually got to tag along to AJK Design’s pitch to an architecture firm during our time with her. Not only did this show the difficulty in playing all of the roles in a company, but also the possibility of gaining exposure despite all of her hard work. Derek Chan from Council mentioned that they usually hire representatives to get the products out there. In comparison, Fuseproject has a studio of 100 people and mainly focuses on the designs themselves, with the idea that the design will market itself.

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#BEOAFellowship Weeks 1 & 2: From the factory to the floor

Follow along for a look inside the 2018 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship as Defne and Janell explore the world of design.

You visited two wallpaper companies, Sarkos and Flavor Paper. What differences did you notice between the two companies – in production, creative approach, products & target market?

Defne: Although they both have a similar handmade approach in creating wallpapers, Flavor Paper and Sarkos both have a very distinct style. Flavor Paper’s style was funky and vibrant whereas Sarkos’s was classic and chic. Flavor Paper and Sarkos were both equally unique with their use of different mediums and techniques. Flavor Paper produced wallpaper with scents and screen-printed some designs on mylar whereas Sarkos used gold leaf and various brushes and rollers to execute their style. Flavor Paper also works with independent designers and has multiple branches whereas Sarkos is a one-person company so their production timelines and number of collections were different. Their target market also differs depending on the personal preferences of the customer.

Creating through hand-painting, one of the unconventional techniques utilized by Sarkos.

Janell: While both companies share a design field, the opportunity to spend a day shadowing Flavor Paper and Sarkos highlighted the differences between the two. It is immediately apparent that they each have a distinct and contrasting style from the other, but their approach to design and production also differs. With its beginnings as an effort to save hand screening equipment, Flavor Paper’s technique was established by the tools given. But through experimenting with a variety of materials and even applying scratch and sniff ink, they have continuously found ways to be innovative despite using a more traditional technique. In comparison, Sarkos utilizes unconventional ways of hand painting to create a more minimal yet experiential wallpaper. Ranging from layering iridescent paint to gilding, the variation in techniques throughout the collections is Sarkos’ biggest strength.

After learning about marketing at Design Within Reach, what is your impression about the business side of the industry and how it fits in with manufacturing & designing?

Defne: There were so many steps to consider while marketing a product. From store layout to advertising to the right people at the right time, the marketing strategies had to be planned meticulously for the product launch to be successful. Finding the balance of interest between the client, the designer and the company was a main focus of Design Within Reach that made me appreciate the marketing side of design. It made me realize that designing a product is just the beginning of the whole design journey.

Design Within Reach CEO & Be Original Americas President John Edelman gives the fellows insight into the business side of design. 

Janell: With little to no marketing experience beforehand, I found it very insightful to see what comes after the design process. John Edelman mentioned to us that you can’t just design something, you have to sell it — and that really stuck with me. While I initially thought marketing was limited to analog and digital advertisements, Design Within Reach proves otherwise by going above and beyond for their clients. This was particularly evident through their studio or showroom, where the layout is thoroughly designed for ease of use and understanding. The staging definitely sets the tone for each product and allows the customer to live in the furniture, not just look at it.  

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Introducing the 2018 Summer Design Fellows

The Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship begins on June 11th, and two students have been selected from an outstanding pool of over 75 qualified applicants. The 7-week immersive program provides hands-on experience in making, distributing, and selling authentic design. Here’s what the 2018 fellows Defne Kansu of Virginia Tech and Janell Leung of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are most excited about, what brought them to the fellowship, and what they are doing outside of design.

The Fellows:

Defne Kansu & Janell Leung

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Defne Kansu: I am Defne Kansu. Originally, I am from Turkey and have wanted to study Industrial Design in the U.S. since I was in middle school. I received a bilingual IB education in high school with a second language education in German. I have always been an artistic person, but I found design to be more suitable for my interests as I enjoy being well-rounded and find Industrial Design to be a field for jack-of-all-trades designers. I love how my degree allows me to have the flexibility to jump into other fields to explore myself as a designer.

Janell Leung: My name is Janell Leung and I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I am currently in my fourth year studying Architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a minor in Sustainable Environments. Although I’m receiving a degree in architecture, my passion lies in smaller scale design and the potential for environmental applications. Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with this through my study abroad program in Copenhagen, as well as through my travels around Europe in between learning.

What are you excited to learn from this experience?

DK: I am excited about the opportunity of the hands-on, in-the-field work that this fellowship will provide. I am a tactile learner and this fellowship offers something much more unique than what a classroom can offer. I also love the idea of being exposed to so many amazing companies and learning insights on how a company operates, what the real industry looks like, and what clients expect due to my entrepreneurial mindset.

JL: I am excited to understand the process and thinking behind successful designs. This fellowship will introduce components and factors often overlooked in an educational setting — it’ll be realistic. In particular, I have never had any experience with marketing and am eager to learn about the business side of design.

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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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