When you design a product, you never really know how it's going to be perceived. The second it hits someone else's eyeballs, your design goes through the filters of that person's experiences.
So let's talk about looking at a design critically. Not "critically" in the manner of a troll, but as in analyzing a design's merits and perceived faults. First we'll look at this piece with fresh eyes, the way a "civilian" might. Then we'll examine it from the perspective of someone with a bit of a design background.
This is the Luno EGB2 Record Console. The Mid-Century-Modern-inspired piece contains a built-in sound system including a turntable, amplifier, subwoofer and two-way speakers. It also features a minibar with gold-rimmed glasses and storage for 150 LPs.
I love that this vintage-looking piece recalls a time when moments in our lives could center around interacting with a piece of furniture. You can imagine coming home from a hard day, flipping the lid open, selecting a record, placing in on the platter, pouring yourself a whiskey. If you're a record owner, the EGB2 is something you'd save up for and keep in the family. This would be the centerpiece of a room.
Now let's take a closer look. The description states:
The beautiful Mid Century inspired design…effectively evoke[s] the luxurious style and modernist design of the Mad Men era. Each EGB2 is crafted by finely skilled artisans in the USA using American Walnut and would undoubtedly be a conversation piece based on it's [sic] stylish design alone.
Even if you don't have a design background, chances are high that you know walnut is considered a premium wood. The piece is described as being made of walnut and mentions no other materials, so your perception of this piece is that it's made of a premium material.
But if we look closer, we see this:
As we mentioned in the post on edge-banding, there is a grain disconnect here. These pieces have been edge-banded, indicating that they are probably walnut-veneered plywood or particle board. That's hardly illegal—there is no FDA for furniture demanding that you disclose the "ingredients" of all furniture pieces—though it does bug us when this admittedly common practice is not disclosed in the product's description.
Anyways, here is the part I'd like to ask those of you with design backgrounds about. It concerns these arches:
To a layperson, they merely seem a decorative element. But to a Mid-Century Modern aficionado (which I am not) or to anyone forced to sit through a History of Furniture Design course (which I was), they represent something else. Please look at the photographs below, which are of pieces created by furniture manufacturer Broyhill in the 1960s:
That's Broyhill's Brasilia line. It hit the market in 1962, with furniture inspired by the (then-new) architecture style of Brasília, Brazil's capital.
The parabolic arc was already a visual staple of the time—heck, Herman Miller had had it as part of their logo (left) since the '40s—but Broyhill really ran with it here, incorporating two opposing arcs as a motif across a wide variety of furniture.
That the Luno piece was inspired specifically by the Brasilia line is not in question, nor is it illegal. My question to you is, ought the designer of the EGB2 have said "Broyhill-Brasilia-inspired" rather than "Mid-Century-inspired?" Or are the arches, as distinctive as they are, completely fair game?
Perhaps Luno can't be faulted at all. The Brasilia line first appeared in 1962. In 1963, Broyhill competitor Kent Coffey, also based in North Carolina, released their Perspecta line:
I think this is why issues of design copyright can be so tricky. I can imagine the absurdity of lawyers trying to discuss these arches in a court of law. Yet if I were the Broyhill designer and later spotted the Luno piece or the Perspecta line, I'd surely do a double-take.
1) If you were the Broyhill designer, what would you think after seeing the Kent Coffey and Luno pieces?
2) If you were the Luno or Kent Coffey designers, what would you say to the Broyhill designer if pressed on the similarities?
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If I were the Broyhill designer, my concern would be less about the oposing design itself, and more of what can be done about the fact that the KC product is superior in more than one nuanced facets. Say what you want about Coffey's tongue in cheek version of the Brasilia line, but at least they saw fit to step up in that way.
And on the "perspective" of a KC designer being put to the coals over the insinuation of "extreme borrowing" from the Brasilia line...... I'd defer to the Robin Day/Eero Saarinen/Charles Eames tug of war as an example of how there was so much line stepping and borrowing and envelope pushing going on during that time. It just was what it was.
I have commented on other threads about copying designs before, and am still baffled at the amount of designers that would argue blatant copying of designs is okay.
Copying things isn't necessarily a crime, or even a creative deficiency; is a statue of a horse just a knock-off of a real horse? Ethically (and in many cases legally), you're doing something wrong if you claim credit or financial reward for someone else's work. But ideas come from other ideas, and if the pedigree of your design is obvious, or trivially easy to discover, then it doesn't take anything away from its creative ancestors or the people who made them.
Well the Broyhill design does look essentially the same so it's clear where the Luno design inspiration came from and it's clearly better looking than the Kent version. Maybe Mid-Century inspired is a bit vague considering how obvious the design source actually is to anyone with a Mid-Century leaning. It's a nice design either way though.
Regarding the edge banding and whether the use of mdf, particleboard or plywood needs to be specified in the description I don't recall ever seeing a description written that way and wouldn't describe something I built as made of mdf or plywood and yet most of my work is veneered on a core of plywood and mdf. If they had described it as solid Walnut when it was made of veneer that would be different but it's clear looking at the design that it needs to be veneer and not solid. Veneer doesn't necessarily equate Home Depot plywood or lower value and cost in the finished product, quite the opposite when it comes to custom furniture actually.
To me the question is very simple. Did you add (or remove) something that pushes things forward? Is your design better in some way than the original?
Did Broyhill cite Oscar Niemeyer? I guess they sort of did by calling the collection Brazillia. As for the solid wood construction, veneer pieces are better, less likely to warp with temperature and humidity fluctuation.
I would call this the myth of authenticity. its a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of creativity. just because you've seen something similar before doesn't mean its inauthentic. you also have to ask according when? , according to who? . look a little deeper and you will find a continuous line of innovation . with no clear beginning .
Sadly, now more than 50 years on, I think the arches are fair game to anyone wishing to recycle their design. The Kent Coffey - Perspecta pieces at least attempt to do something slightly different with the opposing pair of arches. Probably because they were launched only a year after the original.
I'd say at best that design element could be claimed as a trademark, maybe. If Broyhill is still producing items with that look, including turntables with LP storage, then it could be very defensible. If it was just one line of items that ended a long time ago, and they were just storage cabinets, and they never registered the trademark with the US Patent Office, then they'd had a weaker case.
Also, it reminds me of Bibbins Hall on the Oberlin College campus, which was designed/built in 1963.