12 Jun Consistency in design practice
Today’s question is a tough one, and it may not seem directly related to the title.
Why do reputable companies always work with the same designers?
Or, to put it differently, if you look around, you’ll notice that the most important projects are assigned to certain individuals. And I’m not just referring to furniture or lighting, but design in general.
Is it because they are famous? Yes and no.
Companies choose to invest in specific designers primarily for three reasons:
– Proven competence
The first two reasons are easy to understand, but have you ever considered consistency as a perceived value?
I recall an entrepreneur (I can’t remember who exactly) who stated some time ago that the main risk for a company investing in a designer’s product is that the designer tends to disappear.
Let me explain this point better.
Being an independent designer has never been as challenging as it is now. The golden era of the ’90s, when designers became stars and companies were flooded with ideas, came to an end around 2012 or so (due to the 2008 crisis and other factors). My generation was educated by those influential figures from the prosperous ’90s, and we naively believed that we could design things, people would buy them, we’d get rich, and buy fancy cars. The reality, however, is that the world has changed, but for a while, we failed to recognize it.
Consequently, there was a lack of understanding between designers and companies, leading to frustration. Fewer commissions, less money, and eventually giving up. Many talented designers faced this fate, perhaps needing to push a bit harder but giving up instead. Some famous editors ended up with the designs of vanished designers. It’s easy to see why this is not beneficial for someone who invested money in someone’s ideas, only to find out that the designer is no longer active.
It’s not solely the designer’s fault. I recall an interview with Hanna Emelie Ernsting (where is she now? Who knows) that shed light on the design industry’s significant shortcomings (search for it after reading this article). But that’s a different story.
Editors (such as Vitra, Magis, and other major brands) are akin to music labels. Independent musicians create demos, find a label, and get produced and distributed worldwide. Independent designers do the same, but with objects instead of music. Why should a label choose musicians and invest significant money in their ideas? Originality, personality, and consistency. Rising and falling stars are not sound investments, as you can imagine. Although not a perfectly accurate analogy, try connecting the dots.
I understand the frustration of not being understood, facing rejection, and finally, when you do find an editor, experiencing a flurry of press and conferences, being hailed as the “emerging designer of the year,” but with no sales and thus no income.
However, there are numerous success stories of individuals who persevered and achieved greatness. The first one that comes to mind is Sebastian Herkner (apologies for often using furniture and lighting examples, but it’s where I feel most connected). I remember him mentioning that he participated in several editions of Salone Satellite while working at the university to pay the bills, before finally catching the attention of a company. Then Classicon came along and produced one of the best-selling side tables to date. He didn’t give up; he kept trying, and in the end, he made it. Now he is one of the top players, involved in numerous projects, and beloved by critics, the public, and companies.
That quality has a name: consistency.
Today, it’s easier to gain recognition as a good designer than it was ten years ago, thanks to the advent of social networks that have changed the game. If you consistently deliver quality work and showcase it frequently, things start to happen.
I may not be the best example since I prefer writing blog posts instead of sharing images of my current work (although I will attempt to do so in the near future). However, there are designers out there who excel in that aspect and receive well-deserved recognition.
Take Nicholas Baker, for instance. By sharing his work as an independent designer, he has become one of the most renowned figures online. He is engaging and hardworking, constantly experimenting with new tools. Recently, he even managed to have an injection-molded chair in production in Italy. Achieving the creation of a plastic chair is no easy feat, especially in a field dominated by more experienced individuals.
So, don’t give up. Be one of those designers who maintain the standards of this profession at a high level and share what you do (including this article).