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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How to Protect Yourself as a Small Company: Lessons learned from a designer/entrepreneur

Guest blog by Matthew McCormick, Principal & Owner, Matthew McCormick Studio

As a young designer starting out and building my company, I’d say that I ventured into manufacturing without a great deal of knowledge. In hindsight, it was perhaps with a very naive approach that has since turned into one of the most valuable learning experiences in my career to date.

From knockoffs to patents, from manufacturing to marketing, there is a lot that young designers have to learn. So how to successfully navigate these industry challenges? Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

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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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Reflections from Design Week Mexico

After a lively, thought-provoking experience at Design Week Mexico, moderator Beth Dickstein reflects on her experience. 

Don’t do it in 26 hours! That was the mistake I made. There is so much to see and it’s really well organized. I missed so much. But I was there on a mission.


The Mission: to present a Be Original Americas talk about how creativity means originality in crisis situations. Luckily, I had a truly impressive panel – who had the experience, both locally and internationally with natural disasters and the response.

I first made a presentation about the Be Original Americas organization to Gensler Mexico City. This office was incredibly active with both local and international companies and sees how Mexico City is gaining prominence as a truly cosmopolitan city.

The team was welcoming and interested. The consensus was that it truly takes educating the client and all involved on the value of original design…for their own brand, for environmental concerns and true economics.

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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.