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This is the latest installment of our Core77 Questionnaire. Previously, we talked to Zoë Mowat.
Name: Brad Ascalon
Occupation: Industrial designer
Location: New York City
Current projects: We recently launched a contract seating collection with the American brand Stylex, which was the start of a very heavy shift into the contract furniture market for us. We are working on some exciting new contract furniture projects with a couple of Scandinavian brands, one of which is a reinvention of traditional airport/lobby seating. We're developing large outdoor furniture collections with a couple of American hospitality and residential brands, and a new seating and occasional table collection for a very large, prominent North American contract furniture brand. Lastly, we're doing a lot of experimentation with, and helping bring to market, an amazing new boutique 3D-printing company managed by Curtis Schmitt called Art In The Age Of, which you'll be hearing a lot more of in the future.
Mission: To build off every success and to learn from every mistake no matter what point I'm at in my career.
Nestle contract seating for Stylex
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? I was born into a family of artists and designers. So, early on, I had the bug for creating. But it wasn't until after working in both advertising and the music industry that I decided that creating was what I needed out of life. My past life in other industries helped me to create a well-rounded approach that balances the business and the creativity of design.
Education: First I did a Bachelor of Science in communication from Rutgers, with a minor in music. Then, later, I received a master's in industrial design from Pratt Institute.
First design job: I had a handful of freelance gigs as I was wrapping up with graduate school, but my first real job in design came with the launch of my studio in 2006. After working for other people for a number of years in the corporate world during my pre-design days, I knew I had to work for myself as a designer right out of grad school. That was what the investment in a master's degree was all about.
Who is your design hero? I have two . . . well, three. First, Russel Wright. I believe he was one of the most influential designers in modern history. Whether people realize it or not, he brought the notion of "less is more" to the masses in America, and I think he helped pave the way for my own reductive approach to design. The others are Charles and Ray Eames. Everything they created was impossibly perfect, and their concern for the quality of their furniture and the attention to every last detail is something by which we should all be motivated.
From left: Nestle contract seating for Stylex; the Atlas Glass occasional table for Design Within Reach; the Peasant Wood table for Juniper Rely occasional table for The NEWBLK
Describe your workspace: Organized chaos. It is covered in prototypes, experiments, sketch models, 3D prints and found objects. There are chair samples and tables hanging from the walls and ceilings, and scattered sketches all around—yet it is simultaneously and inexplicably neat and organized.
Other than the computer, what is your most important tool? The idea is always the most important aspect of a design. The value isn't in a rendering, a sketch or a 3D print. Any tool is just a method by which you extract and record what your brain conceives.
What is the best part of your job? Not knowing what is on the horizon
What is the worst part of your job? Not knowing what is on the horizon
Turntable, a 2012 collaboration between Ascalon and Frederick McSwain for Neal Feay Studio
What time do you get up and go to bed? I'm up at 8:30 a.m. unless I have a call overseas that forces me to start my day earlier. Sometimes I'm in bed by midnight. Other times, I'm working until 3 a.m. or later if I am in a creative zone and I don't want it to end.
How do you procrastinate? By organizing my office or playing my guitar.
What is your favorite productivity tip or trick? It's very difficult to "go be creative." Sometimes it is a disservice to even try to be productive. When I really have to be productive or have to think differently about a problem, I stop trying altogether. I do something completely unrelated—walk my dog, go to a cafe and grab a coffee, etc. When I get back to the studio, it's a bit of a refresh and I can more easily find the solutions I'm hoping for.
What is the most important quality in a designer? There are a few: listening, relating to the client and having thick skin.
What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? Most people think that we are stylists; that our job is to make things more beautiful. While surely that is a role of ours, I think that is of less consequence than many other aspects of our job, such as understanding our clients' needs, addressing opportunities in the market and reacting to the demands of technology, manufacturing or the economies of the particular regions you're working in. Form giving should be a result of everything else you solve for.
De-Evolution, created with Dedar Milano and presented at Moscow Design Week 2013, is a series of upholstered chairs that appear to melt before the viewer's eyes. The Dream installation for New York's Gallery R'Pure in 2012
What is your most prized design possession? I'm not very sentimental in that sense. I have many objects and pieces of furniture that I absolutely love, such as Starck's AK-47 gun lamp for Flos, my original Thonet No.14 cafe chairs from 1929, and my Navy barstools from Emeco, but I don't think there is one particular object that stands out as most prized. I have an ugly green coffee mug that is by my side every day and has been for the past decade.
What is exciting you in design right now? The rejuvenation of design and manufacturing in America is very exciting. I think that consumers and manufacturers alike are starting to come around to the fact that China is not, nor should it be, the answer to everything. Domestic manufacturing and consumer support for it will prove to be an even greater way toward a strong economy than by simply getting things cheap. This movement will continue to be driven in large part by the symbiotic relationship between designers and manufacturers.
If you could redesign anything, what would you choose? I've always wanted to design a bridge that spans a major river somewhere in the world.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years? What I'm doing now. Perhaps my studio will be a little bigger, and of course I always want to spread out into other industries, but I enjoy keeping it boutique, with my hands in every project.
Lastly, who's more fun to have a drink with: architects, industrial designers or graphic designers? Whoever is buying the next round.