This is the latest installment of our Core77 Questionnaire. Previously, we talked to Peter Marigold.
Name: Zoë Mowat
Occupation: Designer and maker
Location: Montreal, Canada
Current projects: Recently I've been in my workshop a lot. I've been prototyping a new product and I'm finishing up an edition of my Arbor Jewelry Stand—I've been doing a limited version all in brass. And then I'm balancing that with custom orders and client work.
Mission: To challenge myself, and ultimately to make things that people want to keep around.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? Actually, my plan was always to be a sculptor, like my mother. When I was growing up, we would spend afternoons in her studio building things and assembling materials together. So that's where it started. And then it was in high school that I discovered design. In art class for a while I was really into drawing modernist buildings, sort of breaking down the geometry—I don't know why I was doing that, but one day I was drawing Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion, and from there I discovered the Barcelona Chair, and I think that was it. Seeing a real vision, and how it can apply to many things—that everyday items can be designed by a governing philosophy. Also, I wanted to make objects that can be touched and used, unlike sculpture in most cases; I guess I'm really drawn to that intimacy. So at the end of the school year I ended up applying for industrial design instead of sculpture.
Education: I studied industrial design and graphic design at the University of Alberta.
First design job: While I was in university, I designed window displays for a design store. It was equal parts concept, working with your hands and planning. And when it came to working with my hands, it usually involved a lot of glitter, electrical tape, spray paint and the need to attach a hundred of one thing to another thing. I loved it.
Who is your design hero? I'm not sure about the word "hero," but there are many designers whose work I really admire. I especially admire many of the women from the early 20th century, like Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand, Eva Zeisel, Ray Eames . . . the list goes on.
Mowat's recent Tablescape series (Tablescape I pictured) was inspired by Charles and Ray Eames's philosophy of "select and arrange."
Tablescape II detail
Describe your workspace: I have two, and I alternate or oscillate between them depending on what I'm working on. I have an office-like space where I draw, make models, write e-mails and develop ideas. I'm a fairly tidy person but I'd say that I make a lot of creative messes there. The other space is a dusty workshop where I prototype new designs, work on orders, spray-paint things and negotiate with the table saw.
Other than the computer, what is your most important tool? Large rolls of paper. I draw a lot at full scale when I'm developing ideas, and I usually pin them on the wall in my studio and contemplate their proportions and make changes.
What is the best part of your job? I love seeing concepts begin to materialize into a form, especially after I've been working on them two-dimensionally and in my head for a long while. It's always a nice feeling to see something emerge into reality for the first time.
What is the worst part of your job? Trying to find the time and the right balance between the parts I enjoy and the less alluring parts, like administration.
Tall Cache cabinet detail
What time do you get up and go to bed? It changes depending on what my week is like, but generally I'm in bed at 1:00 a.m. and up at 8:30 a.m. My studio is not far away—it's a short commute on my bicycle, which is nice.
How do you procrastinate? I try not to, but I sometimes used the word "errand" a bit too liberally.
What is your favorite productivity tip or trick? I basically just do what I call a sweep, which is when I organize my thoughts, what I need to accomplish, all the details, into lists. Those lists are still pen and paper; I don't use an app or anything. And then I tend to work in big concentrated spurts during the day, which I think helps my productivity.
I also have to make sure that I take a break—go for a walk, get some air—because it's so easy to forget to take breaks when you work for yourself. Breaks can be productive, too. Sometimes that's when ideas start flowing, after a big concentrated work period. If there's a concept I've been wrestling with, a lot of times I just need a little space, a little quiet, and then it comes together from there.
What is the most important quality in a designer? I would say it's the confidence to trust—and the sensitivity to interpret—your intuition or your gut when you're making big or little design decisions.
What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? I don't know if this is a widespread misunderstanding, but I think it's really easy to overlook just how much thought, time, research, drawing, testing, money and effort can go into one ostensibly simple product.
What is your most prized design possession? My dad's old Bang & Olufsen record player, designed by Jacob Jensen. The deck is hypnotic; it's a beautiful design.
What is exciting you in design right now? A lot of things, but if I have to choose one it would be materials. I think a lot of designers are really pushing this, exploring new possibilities and combinations, and as a result they're producing a lot of strong material-driven work.
If you could redesign anything, what would you choose? This one is hard. I know I'm a designer, but it's really hard to choose something out of thin air. The best I can do is say that I think it would be a system or a way of doing things, instead of an object.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years? I hope to still be designing and challenging myself creatively. I really can't imagine myself doing anything else.
Lastly, who's more fun to have a drink with: architects, industrial designers or graphic designers? I'm content to sip a cocktail—or a few—and talk shop with all varieties of designers.