This is the latest installment of our Core77 Questionnaire. Previously, we talked to Sebastian Wrong.
Name: Tanya Aguiñiga
Occupation: Designer and artist—although I think I'm different things to different people. Sometimes I'm a furniture designer, sometimes a textile designer or an accessories designer. Some people consider me a community activist or a teacher. Different disciplines claim me at different times.
Location: Los Angeles
Current projects: At the moment I'm working on a solo show for Volume Gallery in Chicago. It's all new work involving, like, weird notes on mothering and nurturing. So it's all about caring for beings and having a hand in the development of a person—and using craft as a really specific metaphor for doing so.
Mission: It's constantly evolving, but a lot of it is about making community and being a responsible human being—using craft and art as a way to diversify conversations in society, and to bring attention to social issues that are in need of attention.
Left: Aguiñiga being wrapped in raw wool for the 2012 project Felt Me (video here). Right: her Paper Clip chair Above and top images: One of Aguiñiga's newest pieces, called Support, was inspired by the experience of being a first-time mother.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? I started furniture design in 1997, at the beginning of my undergraduate career. At the same time I was also doing installation art and human rights projects through art. So from the very beginning I had this two-pronged approach.
Education: I took classes at three different community colleges, and then I did furniture design at San Diego State University for my undergrad, followed by furniture design at RISD for graduate school.
First design job: Working on a DIY Network furniture-design show called Freeform Furniture. I wasn't on camera; I was a designer and builder off-camera, making stuff for the show. It was weird—it was super Hollywood.
Who is your design hero? I really look up to Yves Béhar. Obviously, the stuff that Fuseproject does is a little more industrial than what I do, but I like thinking about getting to the point where I could design things that can make a larger difference in the developing world.
Above and below: Tierra, another of Aguiñiga's recent motherhood-inspired pieces for Volume Gallery in Chicago
Describe your workspace: It's a small studio, about 650 square feet, and it has a lot of things that are set up to be portable. There's a portable metalworking station and a portable woodworking station. There's an upholstery station for sewing and all of that. And we also have a bunch of camping stoves on a red cart—it's the same kind of cart the ladies use to make hot dogs outside of nightclubs. That's where we do all of our dyeing. We roll it out into the hallway since I don't have very good ventilation in here, and then we dye a bunch of stuff outside.
Other than the computer, what is your most important tool? I love my mechanical pencil. I draw really, really tiny, and I get totally OCD about drawing in pen. I also love bailing wire—we're constantly straightening it out so that I can make models with it.
What is the best part of your job? Getting to work with really amazing people. Everybody in the studio is like family. I'm lucky that most of the people I work with are old students of mine, so I know their work and I know what they're about. I love coming to work every day because I get to have a part in their design development while we're learning stuff together.
What is the worst part of your job? Having to be on the computer. It's a killer. Having to constantly check e-mail and answer e-mails and all of that. I'd much rather be designing stuff and getting my hands dirty.
These stools were one of the products of a 2010 residency Aguiñiga spent working with artisans in Chiapas, Mexico. A 2009 installation for the Goodwood Design Gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan
What time do you get up and go to bed? I get up at 7:30 a.m. and I go to bed around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. I have a one-year-old, so I don't get to stay up very late.
How do you procrastinate? I guess I procrastinate by ignoring the computer. Because I know there's a lot of pending stuff that I have to get back to, and I procrastinate by making more stuff so that I don't have to go on the computer and be responsible and take care of e-mails and things like that.
What is your favorite productivity tip or trick? We haven't been doing this as much lately, but we used to keep multiple stopwatches in the studio, for tracking the time spent on different projects. So whenever anybody worked on anything, you would grab a stopwatch and hit start, and record the time spent on a notecard kept next to that project. I also like to track how much money is spent on each thing, so that if I have to replicate something, I can quickly pull up the figures and know how much time and money it will take.
What is the most important quality in a designer? The ability to empathize. I think that to be a good designer you have to design outside of your own reality, and think about the different situations that the object might be in, or the different circumstances that the user has. You have to be able to really put yourself in another's shoes, and know how to operate responsibly within specific parameters.
What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? That it's a fancy, high-paying job. I think people tend to romanticize this world. They think, "Oh, you're getting this press and you're work is so ubiquitous," and they automatically think you're making money and it's very fancy, when it's not really.
For the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Aguiñiga created a textile wall-hanging from the blankets handed out to homeless people on nearby Skid Row.
What is your most prized design possession? We have an Afghan war rug at my house. My husband found it in Singapore while he was doing a job. It's such an amazing, weird object in how it brings together design, craftsmanship and social aspects in one object.
What is exciting you in design right now? Even with all of the emphasis on technology these days, it also feels like there's a bit of a backlash against technology, and that people are really yearning to work with their hands again. Which means that now there's a lot more competition for making money working with your hands—but at least people are thinking more about the hand and respecting the maker and giving a voice to makers, and also perhaps moving away from stuff that's made in unfair ways.
If you could redesign anything, what would you choose? I've always had this super-weird and lame obsession with the tortilla, and what that means as an object. When I was little, someone in my family told me that the tortilla is the perfect design, because it was meant to be five different things: a spoon, a fork, a knife, a napkin and a plate—and the fact that it feeds you is just an extra thing. I don't think I could redesign the tortilla to be any better. But if I could emulate that in design more—if I could strive to have that type of humbleness and effectiveness in design—I would be really happy. I don't know what specific thing I would want to redesign, but I would like to try to bring that spirit into the redesign of things.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years? Still running a functional studio that employs really wonderful people, and still being able to be self-employed. I don't think in very large or grandiose terms. I just take it day by day.
Lastly, who's more fun to have a drink with: architects, industrial designers or graphic designers? Hands down, industrial designers. I may be biased, but in my experience industrial designers are really hands-on people that have small studios. Most of us aren't just designing on the computer and sending stuff out; we experiment a lot with materials on a daily basis. And it's nice to have discussions with people who can engineer their way through problems, design-related or not. I think industrial designers are really fun MacGyvers.