I learned a lot about the relationship between designers and manufacturers before I even entered the field. My father worked as an architect, and I was often by his side as he went to visit job sites and collaborate with contractors. Even though my father designed the houses, he respected and invited questions, criticisms, and feedback from the builders he relied on. As a result, each finished project was more successful for everyone involved.
At the top level, product design works much the same way. The relationship between the designer and the manufacturer is paramount when you are producing a consumer product. And when we talk about designing and manufacturing truly innovative products where there’s no previous knowledge to fall back upon, that relationship becomes even more important.
Florence Knoll Bassett, a pioneering designer and entrepreneur who created the modern look and feel of America’s postwar corporate office with sleek furniture, artistic textiles and an uncluttered, free-flowing workplace environment, died on Friday in Coral Cables, Fla. She was 101.
Her death was announced by David E. Bright, a spokesman for Knoll Inc., the company she and her husband Hans Knoll ran for many years.
To connoisseurs of Modernism, the mid-20th-century designs of Florence Knoll, as she was known, were — and still are — the essence of the genre’s clean, functional forms. Transcending design fads, they are still influential, still contemporary, still common in offices, homes and public spaces, still found in dealers’ showrooms and represented in museum collections.
Ms. Knoll learned her art at the side of Modernist masters. She was a protégé of the German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Eliel Saarinen, the Finnish architect and teacher and the father of the architect Eero Saarinen. And she worked with the renowned Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Throughout her career, influenced by the German Bauhaus school of design, she promoted the Modernist merger of architecture, art and utility in her furnishings and interiors, especially — although not exclusively — for offices.
In the past, when someone asked me what my profession was, I would usually say Product Designer. They would immediately ask me what kind of product. Furniture, airplanes, radios, headphones, sex toys? Embarrassed, I would clarify that I meant digital products—“you know, like websites and apps.” To which I would receive a look of confusion.
“I like to call those things products because they make me feel important. But usually, I just work with pixels and make-believe stuff,” I would further explain.
Now I just say I’m a designer.
This hasn’t avoided questions, though. I still have to clarify that no, I don’t design interiors, clothes, or lamps (but I would love to!)
I often wonder what would happen if I got to design physical products coming as a screen product designer. Would I follow the same human-centered process or would I try to design pixel-perfect chairs?
Here are some comics exploring this idea.
Note: After each image, there’s a text version of the comic. This is so that they’re a bit more accessible, in case you wonder why the redundancy.
I first met Stephen Key in 2001. Two months later, I used a few recommendations of his — shared over the customary gin tonic — to help a friend double overseas sales in less than two weeks in New Zealand and Australia.
How? Licensing. It can be a beautifully elegant model.
Stephen is somewhat famous in inventing circles for two reasons. First, he consistently earns millions of dollars licensing his ideas to companies like Disney, Nestle, and Coca-Cola. Second, he is fast. It seldom takes him more than three weeks to go from idea to a signed deal. Continue reading →