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How do you find your ideal balance between designing a utilitarian object and formal exploration or discovery?
That is something that I am always working to find some equilibrium with. Like in daily life itself, I am not certain balance is possible. I think this about prioritizing and making space for what is important to me or what I feel needs some attention and care both in my life and in my design practice. When I get an idea for a new object or product, I find that there is a part of my brain that has an ideal of what that object or product is and then there is the part that needs to allow for play and experimentation so that idea can grow and possibly change. I try to eliminate the word “should” from my vocabulary. As in it should look like this or it should feel like that. Play is where the most discovery happens for me and it is integral to my process and integral to making honest objects. It is essential to carve out time for it.
How do you concern yourself with commercial issues related to market research and retail placement?
I founded Studio Herron in 2011 and I have created a really clear vision plan for my studio and company over the years. Everything about my business has been slow to grow because I am choosy about what I align myself and my work with. I have pretty strong core values which have become the foundation of my studio. If something comes in that is outside of my values or standards, it’s always worth reviewing, but it may not be worth moving forward with. In terms of market research, I see the value in that, and in trend forecasting but I find that as a designer, that clouds my creativity and I prefer to work outside of those analytics. I don’t follow trends, I like to work intuitively and find my own source of inspiration. I have made things that were total failures and things that were super-successful and I have learned from those experiences far more than I could with traditional market research. Experiences have been my great teacher. As for retail placement, because Studio Herron has a product line and also is a studio that makes collectible design pieces, the bulk of the studio is able to run and grow from our product line that we wholesale. In that, striking a balance between meeting the numbers we need each month and aligning with retail placement is a constant work in progress.
Is there something else about your practice?
I founded Studio Herron nine years ago—I could not find work as a textile designer that supported my values, so I decided to create it. Last year I decided to go back to school for my masters degree in 3D Design which I am pursuing at Cranbrook Academy of Art. I wanted to pivot my work in a new direction, expand it in a new way and I felt like—being a woman in design, which is a very male-dominated industry—I owed it to myself to aim for being the best I could be. I am now about six months away from graduating and I have been running my studio in Chicago while I am in school in Michigan, travelling back and forth about twice a month. It has been a very rigorous and humbling experience to go back to school and become a beginner again in some ways after having already established a full-time studio practice and business. I have learned so much about myself and my work from school, most notably that being uncomfortable tends to be where the growth happens. School also forced me to hire help and learn how to delegate work, which is not something that comes naturally to me. I have a wonderful staff that work at Studio Herron, most notably Aubrey Pittman-Heglund who is a wonderful textile artist and my studio manager. Literally nothing right now would run without her, I’m very grateful for the work she does and her ideas. Having people work for the studio who are skilled at things that I am not skilled at creates better work and such a dynamic environment. The range of skills and backgrounds come together to create a diverse team, which is something I learned firsthand as a student at Cranbrook. I am so excited about what we will be up to in the next year which includes moving into a new Chicago studio space and participating in Chicago’s first design objects and furniture show, Central Standard at Morgan Manufacturing in the West Loop next spring.
Designed Objects feature page design by Anna Mort at Thirst
Designed Objects editor Rick Valicenti at Thirst
Rick Valicenti has led the Thirst design studio since its founding in 1989 and has established himself as one of the most visionary designers in the country, winning the 2011 National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.