Left to Right: Sandy Chilewich, Fellow Karina Campos and Fellow Sarah Ahart at Chilewich in NYC.
We caught up with the Be Original Americas Fellows to hear about their experiences and discoveries halfway through the inaugural Summer Fellowship Program. Below, they share what it’s like to go behind the scenes at our member companies and dive into hands-on learning that can’t be reproduced in the classroom.
What has been the most surprising thing about your experience so far?
Sarah: The most surprising thing to me so far is how much human touch goes into the manufacturing and assembly of furniture. I had always assumed that machines are doing a majority of the work, but after viewing some manufacturing facilities, I have learned that is not the case.
Karina: The most surprising thing so far has been the number of times my career path has changed. I’ve started keeping count and I think I am up to 32. Touring these incredible companies has fluctuated my design thinking and opened up design career possibilities I never knew existed!
What have you learned by being on site that you couldn’t have in the classroom?
Sarah: Being on site has showed me how many different people actually work on one product in order to bring it to market. In school there is not usually more than three people working on a team, where in the office each product goes through a bunch of different teams before it is ready to go to production.
Karina: At school, our projects have an end date, once we turn in that PDF or a final mock of a product – that’s it, you’re done! And seeing real world design professionals working on projects and the communicating between departments shows that it goes beyond just designing, you have to work and collaborate with people who don’t necessarily speak the same “design” language. Projects are ongoing and there is a lot of push and pull among different people.
Has your perception of the day-to-day at a design company changed? If so, how?
Sarah: My perception of design companies has been solidified rather than changed. I had always assumed that design companies were collaborative, but it was awesome to see first-hand how collaborative they really are. Throughout the entire design process, multiple teams are working hand-in-hand to make sure that the product is successful.
Karina: Yes! Definitely! After seeing the environments of differently sized companies, there is an overarching theme that there is no theme, not every workspace is the same. Each company outlines its work in a different way that caters to their specific needs and tasks. Some are more rigid and some are loose but what I have observed is that everyone loves their job regardless of the structure because it’s what works best for them.
Fellow Sarah Ahart looks through textile samples at Carnegie.
Based on your experiences so far, how do you think original products stand out from the rest?
Sarah: Original products stand out from replicas in the way that they are manufactured. There is such a high level of craft and care that goes in to creating every aspect of the original product that is definitely not seen in a fake. This ensures outstanding quality as well as a product that will last longer and serve its purpose better.
Karina: As one of my design idols, Charles Eames, stated, “The details are not the details. They make the design.” Original designs stand out with their details. An overall silhouette may present itself with the same visual language, but the details are what set original designs apart. These companies design with integrity, passion and have the goal of the user in mind to deliver satisfying experiences. All things are considered, from joinery techniques to material choices, all to produce a product that is long lasting, beautiful and comfortable.
What are you most excited for next?
Sarah: I am looking forward to continuing to broaden my knowledge of the design world. Every new place I visit, I am exposed to new areas of design that I didn’t even know existed. I am excited to have a larger understanding of all of the directions that this career path can take me.
Karina: A few more weeks of traveling! I’m excited to see new places and design companies that will continue to change my design philosophy. I thought I had a pretty good definition of what it means to be a designer, but every moment on this trip has challenged that pre-established definition–and I like it. There is more room for a re-definition and reconstruction of my design process and goals.
Keep up with the Be Original Americas Fellows week by week on Interior Design to learn more about their experiences at some of the design industry’s most innovative, esteemed, and original companies. You can also follow along @beoriginalusa for updates behind the scenes!