Designers Do It Themselves: Part 1

In the fast-paced interiors industry there are a growing number of designers morphing into manufacturers: designing, producing and selling their own creations directly to retailers and consumers. Over the course of two articles I’ll look at key drivers behind this movement and canvas some leading furniture designers for their thoughts on royalties and ‘Furniture Design DIY’, as well as getting valuable advice and tips for young designers.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Inventor, Entrepreneur and Designer Alexander Lervik at the Swedish Furniture and Light Exhibition in Zürich. Alexander has trodden his own unique path in the design world, showing fantastic innovation, creativity and business acumen throughout his 20 year career and he gave an inspiring lecture at the event.

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Just over twenty years ago Lervik exploded onto the design scene with his Graduation Project: 10 Stools 10 decades; prompting Vitra owner Rolf Fehlbaum to send him a letter of congratulations. Not a bad start eh? This turned out to be his entry point to applied and industrial design and he has since worked with some leading brands including Moroso and Johanson Design – where he was creative Director for over a decade.

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Lervik took the bold decision to set up Tingest in 2013 to produce his own designs. The Tingest collection is inspired by Swedish design heritage. Aside from furniture, lighting and homeware items there is also a cool watch and jewellery collection.

“the knowledge I have gained producing on my own makes it the best thing I have ever done”

“The reason I started by myself was that I believe we need to keep production in Europe and make it more valuable with real handcraft” explains Lervik. “Tingest produce in Sweden using local craftsmen. For me, the knowledge I have gained producing on my own makes it the best thing I have ever done.”

Interesting points – the production process is a priceless education for designers and an opportunity to increase effectiveness as product creators, through trial and error. Lervik’s comments about European production introduce another commonly debated point: local handcraft versus cheaper overseas outsourcing, i.e. Quality versus Cost.

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Whilst discussing the traditional designer-manufacturer model, I asked if he felt the industry ‘standard’ 5% royalty payment was adequate. Lervik feels this is about right, “Of course it would be nice to receive a higher royalty” he added, “but I don’t see that the margin in the business would allow an increase unless you were to change the complete way in which items are sold.”

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Enter stage left innovative Swedish Architectural and Design Partnership Claesson Koivisto Rune (clad head to toe in black). They unveiled an alternative business concept for entrepreneurial designers at Stockholm Furniture Fair last month. An online store with a growing network of retailers, Smaller Objects‘ business model offers its designers a whopping 75% of the retail price of units sold. Whilst many designers already have links to capable sub-contractors capable of producing their designs, most don’t have the audience or capability to achieve high enough sales if they were to go to market directly. That’s precisely where Smaller Objects comes in.

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Smaller Objects

But designers using this platform do more than just design. They must prototype and refine their creations – and cover material and production costs in full. So there is an element of risk and self belief involved, but Smaller Objects acts as a halfway house for designers searching for autonomy. It provides a route of measured risk with an established brand backdrop, complete with sales, marketing and distribution. You need a big dollop of entrepreneurial skills, vision and cash to take a product to market on your own, so this model makes the ‘business end’ of the deal more palatable for many. Whilst Smaller Objects only sells decorative homewares (and not furniture) due to the more manageable cost of design and development involved, the rise of 3D printing, kickstarter and crowdfunding websites means it’s a matter of time before the trend spreads its tentacles.

“In recent years, we’ve seen disruptors appear across multiple industries under many guises…”

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TIDAL

Broadly speaking, the concept isn’t new. In recent years, we’ve seen disruptors appear across multiple industries under many guises. Uber revolutionised taxis, Airbnb changed the face of tourism and in perhaps the most comparable case; TIDAL saw a group of music artists including Madonna, Jay Z and Daft Punk join forces to challenge music streaming providers (yep that’s right I just snubbed Kanye). Artist dissatisfaction over earnings drives this change. Today, large audiences (or consumers) are more accessible than ever, so entrepreneurs bypass traditional methods. And creators strike back.

I contacted some other well known international designers on the subject of royalties and ‘furniture design DIY’ and had a very interesting response. Watch this space for my next article, featuring interviews with David Fox, Simon Pengelly and Jonathan Prestwich. Kanye West however, has so far been unavailable for comment. But then again who cares?

 

 

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