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Mason Currey

The Core77 Design Blog

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Posted by Mason Currey  |  28 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)

ToddStJohn-HunterGatherer-1.jpg

This is the latest installment of our Core77 Questionnaire. Previously, we talked to IKEA creative director Mia Lundström.

Name: Todd St. John

Occupation: Designer/illustrator/animator. Founder of HunterGatherer.

Location: Brooklyn

Current projects: We are doing some ongoing work with Pilgrim, which is a surf shop in Brooklyn run by a friend. We just finished up some animation for AM Labs, which is a cleaning-product company based in Denmark. And we're working on our own product designs.

Mission: Striving to make designs that seem inevitable

ToddStJohn-HunterGatherer-2a.jpgFrom Photo-Graphics, an ongoing series of cameras rendered in wood

ToddStJohn-HunterGatherer-3.jpgCover images for a Money Mark LP and the New York Times Magazine

When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? When I was younger I was interested in too many things. At some point in school, when I understood what design could encompass, it really appealed to me. Since it was so expansive, you could do quite a number of things and still call them "design."

Education: My degree is in graphic design, from the University of Arizona. Later I taught a design class for 10 years in Yale's graduate program, and I feel like I learned quite a bit from the faculty and students there. I also absorbed a lot about woodworking and engineering from my father.

First design job: In school, my first "design" internship was in Hawaii, where I grew up. I worked for a small agency, doing illustrations for a local ice cream shop and coffee packaging and things like that. Out of school, it was for a small firm in San Diego, doing identities and packaging.

Who is your design hero? The answer to that question changes. But I recently read a Jim Henson biography, and I've always thought really highly of him and how he combined communication and fun and visual innovation in ways that do great things for the world.

ToddStJohn-HunterGatherer-4.jpgInside HunterGatherer's studio in Brooklyn

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Posted by Mason Currey  |  27 May 2014  |  Comments (0)

AQQ-ROLU-Conversation-1.jpgLeft: Seven Stacked Benches (After Shelves) by ROLU. Right: Temple by AQQ Design

This article was originally published in the C77 Design Daily, Vol. 1, Issue 3, on Sunday, May 18.

Last month, with ICFF and New York Design Week looming, I arranged for Matt Olson and Matthew Sullivan to get on the phone with me for what I was describing as "a long conversation about furniture design." Olson is one third of ROLU, a Minneapolis studio whose products include furniture, landscape design, urban planning and collaborative public art, among other work. And Sullivan runs AQQ Design in Los Angeles, where he produces furniture and objects that show a keen interest in the experimental spirit of postmodernist design (although he might cringe at that oversimplification); he also writes a twice-monthly column about lesser-known design figures for Core77.

I chose these two because I admire their work, and also because I thought that they could provide a sort of outsider's perspective on the industry—both make furniture, but their work is more about engaging with design history than producing and selling chairs for people's homes and businesses. Indeed, as I found out during our conversation, neither one considers himself "a furniture designer" exactly, and getting them to talk about just furniture design was impossible. Over the course of two wide-ranging telephone calls, they touched on everything from the nature of capitalism to their youthful punk-rock days and Robert Filliou's theory of the poetic economy. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.

Maybe we can start by talking about blogging—you're both active bloggers, and it seems to inform your design work.

Matt Olson: I'm an avid blogger, and have been for many years. I started in 2005 as a kind of marketing attempt for the studio, and it was an utter failure. But I got into the habit of waking up in the morning and posting something. At some point, I asked the rest of the studio if it would be cool if I just did it for myself. And then I started writing about what I was actually interested in. It's led us to a wild community of like-minded designers and artists—both on the blog and now, increasingly, on Instagram too.

Matthew Sullivan: Yeah, I was a detractor of blogging at first. But now I really feel that it is an amazing thing, and that it's only going to get more interesting. I also think it's problematic, though, just because it's so image-based. There are lots of images of things that really require your physical presence. Like, Matt, I just saw some Donald Judd stuff on your blog. He would say, I think, that a photograph of my work is meaningless.

MO: Judd would say that. I wouldn't.

MS: But this proliferation of images—like, you can have entire histories that you can scroll through in 30 seconds. Literally, if someone posted the whole history of art, the main pieces, you could be done in less than three minutes.

MO: See, that's what I want. That's absolutely what I want. Because of the Internet, we live in a time when history is free of institutional or academic constraints. And I think it allows the images and the objects in them to live their own life in some way.

MS: Yeah, I think that it does democratize and deinstitutionalize a lot of things. And I like that it makes things less precious. Because that's the most annoying aspect of art—and why furniture in particular is interesting to me, because it's not as precious.

MO: I was actually just reading an interview last night, where one of the Memphis designers was talking about the conflict of trying to make something that was acceptable to her, and all of the sudden it gets so expensive, because it's so rare and difficult to produce, that it becomes completely out of reach to most people. And I was thinking to myself: Well, with online imagery, now you can get the spirit of something without possessing it. That's why I don't really think of what we're doing as furniture design. I think it has as much to do with photography and conceptual ideas as functional furniture.

MS: That's nice to hear you say, because that's exactly how I feel. I always think that that's one of the silliest things about design—the idea that design is solving, like, an engineering problem. I don't think that's what we do. We're cultural; Memphis is cultural. It's not about ergonomics or anything like that. Everyone wants to think that design is a problem-solving thing primarily, when it's really not, or that's not the main thing.

MO: Yeah. I'm good at making problems, not solving them.

AQQ-ROLU-Conversation-2.jpgROLU's Box Chair Square (After Scott Burton)

AQQ-ROLU-Conversation-3.jpgAQQ's Pinget (left) and Sarraute

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Posted by Mason Currey  |   6 Jan 2014  |  Comments (1)

GoogleX-Smith-Heinrich-2.jpgPhotos by Talia Herman

If you're an industrial designer looking to work in the tech sector, Google is probably pretty low on your list of prospective employers—if it's on there at all. The company employs plenty of UX designers, interaction designers, motion designers, and others who shape how Google users interface with its many digital tools. But Google doesn't really make stuff, and ambitious designer-makers are much more likely to set their sights on Apple, IDEO, frog, or any number of other high-profile companies that do.

That may be about to change. Recently, Google invited Core77 to visit its Mountain View, California, campus and meet some of the design talent behind Google X, the semi-secret "moonshot factory" that has in recent years been designing quite a bit of actual stuff, some of which you've no doubt heard about by now. X was founded in January 2010 to continue work on Google's self-driving car initiative, and to start developing other similarly futuristic projects. The next to be unveiled was Google Glass, the much-publicized wearable computer that is expected to reach consumers sometime this year. After that, X launched (quite literally) Project Loon, an attempt to provide Internet service to rural and remote areas via balloons floating in the stratosphere; it conducted a pilot test in New Zealand last June. X also recently acquired Makani Power, which develops airborne wind turbines that could be used to harvest high-altitude wind energy, bringing its total number of public projects to four.

But what's interesting for the design community is not just that Google X is doing some traditional industrial design in the service of realizing outrageously big ideas, but that it's integrating I.D. with a variety of other disciplines in a particularly rigorous fashion, creating an ideal-sounding nexus of design thinking, user research and fabrication. And it is actively seeking new talent who can help flesh out its multidisciplinary approach.

"We're looking for unicorns," says Mitchell Heinrich, one of the four X-ers I met in Mountain View about a month ago. Heinrich founded and runs his own group within X called the Design Kitchen, which acts as X's in-house fabrication department but is also deeply involved in generating (and killing) new ideas. And what he means by "unicorns" is designers who have the rare ability to excel in both of those roles—as he puts it, "people who have the ability to have the inspiration, the thought, the design, and then are able to carry that out to something that actually works and looks like what they want it to look like."

That may not sound like such a fantastically rare combination of skills, but Heinrich insists that finding people who can do this kind of soup-to-nuts design—come up with brilliant ideas and then actually make them, while also working extremely fast—has been difficult. In other words, the Kitchen has high standards. "I like to think of it as more like a Chez Panisse than an Applebee's," he says.

GoogleX-campus.jpgThe Googleplex in early December

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Posted by Mason Currey  |  30 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)

C77YiR.jpgPietHeinEek-QA-1a.jpgPiet Hein Eek even enjoys doing administrative chores.

Core77 2013 Year in Review: Top Ten Posts · Furniture, Pt. 1 · Furniture, Pt. 2
Digital Fabrication, Pt. 1 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 2 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 3 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 4
Insights from the Core77 Questionnaire · Maker Culture: The Good, the Bad and the Future · Food & Drink
Materials, Pt. 1: Wood · Materials, Pt. 2: Creative Repurposing · Materials, Pt. 3: The New Stuff
True I.D. Stories · High-Tech Headlines · The Year in Photos

Over the last seven months, I called up 15 successful, respected designers from around the world and asked them each a set of 22 questions about their backgrounds, their current projects, their working habits and their thoughts on design. In the course of conducting these interviews—which we dubbed the Core77 Questionnaire—I noticed a handful of themes begin to emerge. Even though I talked to designers with a wide range of backgrounds and work experience, many of them had remarkably similar answers to several of our questions. So as part of Core77's year-end review, I wanted to highlight these outstanding themes in the form of the following six insights into the design mind.

Designers Don't Procrastinate

One of our 22 questions is "How Do You Procrastinate?"—and I was truly surprised by how many designers were incapable of coming up with an answer. As a writer, procrastination is an integral part of my daily routine; successful designers, by contrast, seem to actually want to do their work. Either that, or they just have a lot more self-discipline. As Paul Loebach said: "If I'm going to work, I'm going to work. And if I'm not going to work, I will take a vacation." Marcel Wanders can't bear to have work hanging over his head: "For me, procrastinating equals suffering," he said. Sandy Chilewich said the same thing: "Procrastinating, for me, is extremely painful. I'm really not having a good time if I feel like, 'Shit, I should really be doing this other thing.'" Ditto Paul Cocksedge, Piet Hein Eek and Sam Hecht. Even those designers who did come up with an answer really had to think about it first—none of my interviewees could imagine indulging in frequent bouts of work avoidance.

Designers Think Most People Don't Understand What They Do

This was another common theme, and it came up mostly in response to the question "What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers?" Over and over, our interviewees said that the general public basically has no idea what industrial designers do. Here's Ayse Birsel: "No one knows what we do. Fashion designers they get, but with product design it's like, 'What's that?' And then people say, 'Oh, so you style stuff? Or you engineer stuff?' And I'm like, 'Neither.' There's no easy answer."

Sam Hecht answered similarly, noting that because "design means so many different things now," the term designer has become almost useless. (When asked what he does, Hecht prefers to say, "I make things.") Fellow Londoner Paul Cocksedge agreed, saying, "It would be wonderful if there were another word besides designer, but I don't know what it would be." And Adidas's James Carnes suspected that "people would be absolutely amazed by the depth and breadth of a designer's daily work."

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Posted by Mason Currey  |  12 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)

GG2013-Header-880x115.jpgGG2013-Mason.jpg

The Core77 Ultimate Gift Guide is one of the more popular pieces of content that we put together every year, both for our readers and those of us who have the privilege—and eye—for making the selections. In the interest of capturing the communal spirit of this year's Gift Guide, the contributors will be selecting a few of their favorite picks from their cohorts' lists alongside one of their own.


I know , I know—no one really wants to think about work over the holidays. But let's face it: most of us spend most of our time at work, and most of us also work in less-than-ideal environments, be it a windowless cubicle or a mercilessly exposed open-plan office. So anything you can do to improve that situation for a loved one (or for yourself) is certainly worthy of your gift-giving dollar.

Here, I have tried to suggest products that will improve one's workday in four key areas: caffeination, organization, isolation, and decoration. These critera satisfy my own personal vision of an ideal workplace: one with good coffee, a minimum of clutter, a modicum of privacy, and a few pops of colorful and/or quirky ornamentation. These gifts won't necessarily make for better or faster work, but they should at least make for more contented workers.

Mason Currey, Senior Editor

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Socks by Henrik Vibskov - I usually prefer to dress in solid, neutral colors—so I need socks like these to save me from being a total sartorial bore. $30 from Henrik Vibskov

LAX Minimalist Poster - I recently moved to Los Angeles, and this neon-colored homage to my local airport would make an excellent addition to my new apartment's decor. $159 at Zinc Details

5-Year Diary - I've never managed to keep a diary for more than a few days, but the idea of having five years' worth of notes in one volume—and in such a handsomely designed one -- makes me want to give it another go. $25 at MoMA Store

Zojirushi Tuff Mug - I don't actually have much use for a thermos, but, hey, I really like the way this guy looks. $32 on Amazon

See the full 2013 Gift Guide for more ideas →