Newcity asked Chicago designers to choose one object they’d created and discuss it.
What does this object say about your practice?
The product is deceptively simple. It meets a brief to develop a concept using flexible light-sheet technology and it’s a very pure expression of the light source, with no visible fixings to detract from the form. It is easy to install and maintain and suits a wide variety of applications. The result is as elegant as it is effective and is more than the sum of its parts. In this respect I think it sums up our approach.
Lead us through your process. Do you start with trying to answer a specific problem or simply work off of a creative impulse?
Our process is rigorous rather than impulsive. At the outset we test the brief we have been given from a strategic perspective—in this case, what were the strongest market opportunities for a luminaire based on the flexible sheet. Because of our unique position as industrial designers bridging manufacturing and construction, we have a precise understanding of what industry can deliver on one hand and what the market requires on the other. This means we can be as informed as possible in defining the need to be met before developing solutions.
Is materiality a foremost concern or do you first conceive of the idea and then marry its form to material?
Material selection, using appropriate technologies and production techniques and understanding the end user are all critically important in developing a solution—whether it’s a lighting fixture, a medical implant or a transit environment. Function always comes first and the great thing is if you design with integrity the form tends to be pleasing as a result.
How much iteration precedes the final result?
If the starting point for a product is a brief that has been challenged robustly to ensure it is fit for purpose, then the concept design stage is smoother and simpler as a result. This is because so many of the parameters have been set that there is little opportunity for arbitrary aesthetic decisions to be made. We consider ourselves to be practical problem-solvers rather than superficial designers. As a result design iterations tend to involve refining rather than reinventing the initial concept.
Are you ever satisfied by the outcome?
Of course! There would be no point in doing it otherwise. But we are always learning too. There is always a new challenge to rise to!
How do you gauge the success of a project?
The commercial success of the project and repeat business are important. We have won plenty of design awards, which are lovely, but not as satisfying as delivering a truly effective design solution to market.
Duncan Jackson, an engineer and a furniture designer by training, is a founding partner of Billings Jackson Design.
Ben Schulman is the editor of the design section of Newcity and co-host of “A Lot You Got to Holler,” the Newcity podcast on design, architecture and urbanism. His work with Newcity is one of many ventures he engages in to communicate the value of design and cities. Ben serves as the communications director for Small Change, a real estate crowdfunding platform that works to catalyze the development of transformative real estate projects. Previously, he was the communications director for the Chicago chapter of The American Institute of Architects, editor of Chicago Architect magazine and communications director for the urban think-tank, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). His writing has appeared and been noted in outlets such as ARCHITECT Magazine, Belt Magazine, ICON, New Geography, Streetsblog, The National Review, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pop City Media and as a contributor to The Urbanophile, among others. When not writing about cities, Ben serves as an editorial assistant for the journal New Media + Society, and helps head the Contraphonic Sound Series, an attempt to document cities through sound.
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