Generation Collaboration: The Next Wave of Design Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship usually evokes individuality and self-motivation, but community building was a big theme at Metropolis' “Design Entrepreneurs” conference.

Entrepreneurship generally evokes qualities of individuality and determined self-motivation, so it seemed odd to find community building such a consistent topic at the Metropolis Conference, “Design Entrepreneurs,” presented at ICFF on Monday, May 19.

As the emergent theme, however, it underlined the fact that design is, by nature, a collective enterprise. Or as Jennifer Carpenter of Truck put it more succinctly, “Start out in a garage and you may stay there. One of the most important things is to find a supportive environment.”

Her words resonated throughout the day. Angela Adams whose studio rug collection has grown to include all manner of accessories told designers to “find people who are better at things than you are.” Of her sixteen employees, she added “It’s such a group effort, I often don’t feel like the boss. It’s an organic set-up. And I know if I didn’t do this, if I didn’t have this business, I’d probably be working for some of my employees.”

John Christakos of Blue Dot puts a high value on the community of family. “My partners and I all have small children,” he said, which is how they came to the common conclusion that the dining table in many families also functions as a work table for kids at work with crayons and Play-dough.

He designed a flip-top table with a plastic laminate surface on one side, wood veneer on the other. And when he had trouble figuring out the flip mechanism, Christakos listened to his wife who asked “What about the way those Wheel-of-Fortune letters spin?” Subsequently, he found a way to use metal pins.

Throughout the afternoon, it was a panel of critics that made for the supportive environment. Designers, a manufacturer, two marketers, a retailer, and an editor reviewed the work of emerging young designers, weighing in with comments on everything from lamps to lounge chairs.

Common sense seemed the common denominator. “One chair doesn’t need to do all those things,” said Mike Keilhauer of a chair designed to accommodate four different positions and storage as well. “Take the simplicity of the solution and design something simple.”

Niels Diffrient reminded everyone concerned with prototypes that, “No matter how successfully you test it, the average person is going to destroy it.”

And when Lauren Crahan said, “Some pieces have value even if they don’t go into production,” she was surely speaking for all the pieces shown that afternoon.

In the end, though, it may have been the young designer Tung Chiang who brought the greatest eloquence to the day when he suggested designers also look to the community within the self: “I am Galileo,” he said of the moment when he realized that a desk was not a flat place; “I am a five-year-old child” of designing a sofa with a rounded bottom that can become a see-saw; and “I am Sir Isaac Newton” when designing a teacup that defies gravity. “What,” he asked finally, “if I am not Tung Chiang?”

Categories: Design