Design in the Era of Trump

What is the future of design in the era of Trump? Watch our panel discussion with industry experts to learn how recent tariffs have been affecting the design industry.

Moderated by Suzanne LaBarre, Design Editor, Fast Company, and hosted at Fuseproject in San Francisco, our panel of experts included:

Collin Burry, Design Director & Principal, Gensler
Laura Guido-Clark, Creative Director & Founder, LGC Design
Ted Boerner, Founder, Ted Boerner Furniture Design
Primo Orpilla, Principal, Studio O+A
Derek Chen, Founder, Council Design

What are your thoughts about how the recent tariffs are affecting the design industry? Let us know in the comments.

Originality, Authenticity, and the Maker Community

Guest blog by Greg Benson, Founder, Loll Designs

As a Maker, I have always had a strong urge to be original. And I know I’m not alone.

It’s really fantastic to be part of the Makers Movement happening right now, and heading up a small design and manufacturing company in Minnesota has been very rewarding. I started making furniture in 2003 as a way to repurpose unused material from our TrueRide skate park ramps, featured in more than 450 municipal parks all over the country. I wasn’t really a skate park designer, but the drive to innovate helped me achieve that success, and gave me the confidence to figure out how to make outdoor furniture, too. My goal was to create a piece unique enough to become known as the “Duluth Chair.” Why do the Adirondack Mountains get to have all the geographical glory? It was, and is, a bold venture – and I meant it to be.

Continue reading “Originality, Authenticity, and the Maker Community” »

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

Continue reading “Valuing Original Design: From Inception to Installation” »

#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 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

Continue reading “#BEOAFellowship Weeks 4 & 5: Learning from the Masters” »

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.

Continue reading “Design in the Time of Tariffs” »

#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.  

Continue reading “#BEOAFellowship Weeks 1 & 2: From the factory to the floor” »

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 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


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 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.



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 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.

Breaking News: U.S. Customs & Border Protection

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Be Original Americas Meets with U.S. Customs & Border Protection and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Protecting Original Design

On June 15, 2016, two representatives from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office and a special agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave a 60 minute in-depth presentation to Be Original Americas board members in Chicago, during NeoCon, one of the most recognized trade shows for commercial design and business trends.

Highlights from the presentation include:

  • Designs may be legally protected through U.S. federally registered trademarks, copyrights, and/or patents.
  • Trademarks and copyrights registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or U.S. Copyright Office can be recorded with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to maximize their protection at the border.
  • CBP is authorized to detain and/or seize imported merchandise that infringes recorded rights.
  • Recordation is effective for the term of registration or remaining period up to ten years. Right holders may electronically file IPR recordation applications at

Since the meeting, U.S. Customs has been in contact with many Be Original Americas members.  This August, U.S. Customs officers in the New York metro area will meet with 7 member companies to learn more about their original designs and help stem the stream of counterfeit furnishings into the United States.

“This marks an important step in Be Original Americas’ short history. Meeting with U.S. Customs and Border Protection recognizes the strength of our organization and gives our members the tools for legally protecting their authentic designs and brand integrity,” said Sam Grawe, President of Be Original Americas and Global Brand Director for Herman Miller. “We encourage our members to register their trademarks and copyrights so that their designs can be protected.”

Stay tuned for more news on this in the future.


Pictured: Be Original Americas board members Federico Materazzi (Poltrona Frau Group), Antoine Roset (Ligne Roset), Cliff Goldman (Carnegie Fabrics), and John Edelman (Design Within Reach)