Joseph Joseph is no stranger to the pages of Core77, blogged a couple of times in the past year or so. We ran into Richard Joseph, one of the twins behind the company, at the Home and Housewares Show in Chicago earlier this week and had a little chat about the rapidly growing business, a success story sure to be interesting to any aspiring design business owner.
(Oh, and watch above as Richard demos their newest product: the Quicksnap Ice Cube tray, designed by Graeme Davies. This was launched at the Gift Fair earlier this year, but it's nice to see it in action!)
A brand new addition to Joseph Joseph: the Orb Mortar and Pestle
On the history of the company:
Though the company was founded in 2003, the story actually starts three generations ago, with a grandfather who owned a glass manufacturing business in Birmingham. The twins' father still owned that business when they were at university, making "glass worktop savers" for cutting, preparing and serving food. Though these were popular for a long time, sales began to decline alongside the product's heyday. That's when Dad called Richard, formerly a design engineer at Dyson and a Cambridge Business grad, and Antony, a designer from Central St. Martins, in for a revival. The updated worktop savers (see below) took off, Dad sold the business, and the twins started Joseph Joseph with a customer base of 10. To this day, they still make the savers, manufactured in their own glass factory.
Joseph Joseph's take on the traditional glass worktop saver
On growing pains:
When asked if starting a new company was at all scary, Richard said that "they were naive, up for it, and with nothing to lose." After hiring a friend to handle sales, the team set about developing new products. At first, they tackled anything they found interesting, all over the domestic spectrum—clocks, for example. But they soon realized that with such a small customer base, it was better for business that they focus: "Our buyers loved the clocks, but it didn't make sense for them to buy them, as they were mostly in the business of kitchenware." For Joseph Joseph, focusing on kitchens made sense beyond appealing to their buyers; it was a time when foodie culture and celebrity chefs were popular, and the brothers thought that the industry could use a bit of a kick in the pants as well.Though they do miss designing in other categories from time to time, Richard explained that they are trying to be "fairly calculated" in how they grow their business. Kitchenware first and then, once they're ready, the'll take the next step. The ultimate goal? A lifestyle brand, but this is far down the road.
Joseph and Joseph's new kitchen scale, with turtleshell balance.
On Joseph Joseph's design values:
For Antony and Richard, the most important thing about their products is "constant innovation" and a total lack of "gimmickiness." When asked to clarify the "gimmick," Richard said that it's "something to reel you in, but doesn't actually work." Their products on the other hand, must have "credible function." This shows: everything that snaps together, snaps together well. Things that are supposed to nestle, nestle without effort. Nothing feels cheap or dinky.
The aesthetic and ideas for the products come more out of instinct and "gut feeling" than scientific research into kitchen tools or habits. We think this works because they are essentially designing for themselves, for the world right in front of them. A "casual cook" himself, Richard described their customers as people who don't have a lot of time, but still like to cook at home, often in small spaces. So, the colander doubles as a chopping board, the rolling pin adjusts for several different uses, and the spoon rest is built into the utensil.
On the design climate in the UK:
We wondered what it was like to start a design business in London, having heard wonderful stories about the design climate there. Sounds about right: the company offices are located in the Oxo Tower in Southwark London, down the hall from four of five companies just like Joseph Joseph: Suck UK, Black and Blum, and Innermost among them. Together, they go to trade shows like the New York Gift Fair, take lunches, and find solidarity in discussing problems and issues within their individual businesses, which only helps all of them grow. On the competitiveness of the situation, Richard commented that the companies are all doing such different things, and there isn't much overlap to speak of. Also, and maybe more importantly, they are all designers at heart and are interested in discussing how to solve problems and see things through to production. Sounds a lot like the tech scene in California to us.
A selection of products from the Joseph Joseph booth at the Home and Housewares Show
On design influences:
Being immersed in all aspects of design is an important part of Joseph Joseph's business. Currently, they look to several iconic brands as influences, including Dyson, for their success in both innovation and the market, Paul Smith, for his "quirky" look and international appeal, and Alessi, for their ability to push forwards without caring too much about what anyone thinks.
Though Joseph Joseph do produce their worktop savers in the UK, for several products they work with manufacturers in the Far East. When asked why large, overseas manufacturing firms would work with a business producing relatively small runs, Richard mentioned that working with the little guys has many benefits for large manufacturers. They may not feel secure with only one or two massive customers, or, frequently, they benefit from learning new techniques by experimenting with small, forward-thinking companies, which they then bring to their bigger clients.
Many thanks to Richard for taking the time out to chat. If you're in London, be sure to stop by their studio and retail space in the Oxo tower and keep tabs on them here.
Lisa is dedicated to promoting the American contemporary design scene. She keeps herself busy as the co-founder of the Object Design League, an association of independent designers in Chicago, and design practice Smith&Linder, both co-founded with Caroline Linder. She also teaches foundation research studios at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.