#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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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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Profiling the Masters: Achille Castiglioni

“If you aren’t curious, forget it!”

Achille Castiglioni’s work was marked by inventiveness, humor, and playful creativity. On this day, he would have been 100 years old, and his rich career in architecture and design still inspires and delights today.

Born on February 16, 1918 in Milan, Italy, he started working with his brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo on design projects from a young age. He graduated in architecture in 1944 from the Politecnico di Milano, and then followed a path based on his interest in shapes, techniques and materials. In 1956, he was one of the founding members of the ADI (Association for Industrial Design). After the death of his brother Pier Giacomo in 1968, he continued to work as an independent designer, architect, and urban planner.

Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

In fact, it was this background in architecture that made Achille such an inventive and imaginative designer, and he was one of the leading creative minds to define the postwar Italian design renaissance. His work was the product of artisan craftsmanship and a passion for expressive forms. He often used unexpected materials and to create something completely original, to give solutions to unmet or unknown actual needs – as seen in the Arco floor lamp, one of his most famous pieces, designed with his brother Pier Giacomo in 1962.

With the vision of an architect, he and his brother were able to combine three materials – marble, stainless steel, and aluminum – into a piece that seems to defy gravity. Using technical knowledge and awareness of space, they developed a floor lamp that stretches 7 feet from the base to the hanging shade, completely redefining the space around it. A heavy marble base was made mobile with two holes for transport by inserting a broom handle.

Arco, for Flos

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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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Profiling the Masters: Michael Graves

For while it is probably not possible to make a drawing without a conscious intention, the drawing does possess a life of its own, an insistence, a meaning, which is fundamental to its existence.  — Michael Graves

Few are credited with spearheading a single design movement; Michael Graves, well-known throughout the world for design excellence, led three.

A native of Indianapolis, Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. In 1960, he won the Rome Prize and soon after began a nearly forty-year career teaching architecture at Princeton.


In the 1980s, Michael redirected the architectural conversation away from abstract modernism toward a more humanistic approach to architecture and urban planning, bringing color and art back into the experience of architecture.

Portland Building, Portland, Oregon

Humana Building, Louisville, Kentucky

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels

Michael Graves also transformed expectations for the role of the architect in society, in part through his product design work, which began with companies such as Baldinger, Sunar and Alessi.

Whistling Bird Teakettle and other associated products for Alessi

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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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Original Design from a Student Perspective: A Day at RISD

“Our school does a great job at teaching us how to design a product, but…” is a common statement we hear from our fellows each year during the Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship. So when the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) invited us to participate in their Internship Connect fair, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak one-on-one with students looking to further their education in the world of design.

Table covering: Pixel by Designtex

Up-and-coming designers from all disciplines are looking to gain knowledge they can’t learn in school. The fellowship gives hands-on experiences that go beyond the curriculum and prepare them for the next steps in their careers. Professors do an impeccable job at teaching their students how to design, but budgeting, marketing, mass manufacturing, distribution, and promotion are often topics that can only be taught in “real-life” settings — it is this setting that students crave, and which Be Original Americas creates.

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