As a kid, the highlight of my week was having the Sunday edition of The Boston Globe arrive on the doorstep of our family home. It was not the headlines that excited me, however. Instead, it was the big-box store catalogs that came with the newspaper each week. I spent hours flipping through everything from Circuit City to Sears.
I was interested in hilariously mundane household objects, and very likely, the only 12-year-old kid on the block who could name every blender for sale at Macy’s. Long before I was a professional designer, I had a natural inclination toward consumer products.
With time, this innate interest in the retail landscape became deeper, giving me a more conscious understanding of why certain products look, feel, and function in the way that they do. But what intrigued me more was how that look, feel, and function could create desire, and make a person feel true emotion toward an inanimate, manmade object.
I became interested in products that existed for a more specific purpose, with some kind of heritage or story. Or perhaps they were made from an interesting material, or with a unique manufacturing method, or built by a brand that has been doing it for centuries.
This interest in the contextual element of a product led me to design for brands in the fashion/luxury space. Pragmatically speaking, designing for high-end brands allows for greater possibilities with fewer financial constraints. It offers the ability to use more cutting-edge technologies and finer materials. It also feels good knowing that a person is likely buying a high-end product because they want to, not because they need to. But most intriguingly to me, luxury brands operate as a narrative; a luxury product is merely one aspect of an entire, created world.
As the Accessories Designer at Kith, the New York City-based lifestyle brand, I get a firsthand look at how these types of holistic, aspirational narratives are built. It’s a unique role: I design all of the bags and leather goods, which taps into the softgoods skills that I learned in my previous roles designing at Tumi and Kate Spade. But, I also design all of the brand’s various hardgoods products: skateboard decks, table games, dinnerware, toys, collectibles, and so on. Kith products are expensive when they hit the shelves, and their values often take on a life of their own on the secondary market. People clearly respond to the narrative.
On any given day, I can touch 10 different product categories, and all must tell a cohesive story. Many times, the products are in categories that I have never designed before. In a lot of ways, this is similar to studying Product Design at ArtCenter. There is the constant creative rush of research and discovery, and a willingness to be flexible and solve problems on the fly is essential. My role at Kith satisfies an innate need to constantly learn and grow. That craving to learn something new was also the approach that I took to my journey through ArtCenter. My degree is in Product Design, and although the program itself was invaluable, the experiences outside of the curriculum were arguably the most memorable. These experiences include taking classes in Transportation Design and Environmental Design, engaging in off-campus extracurriculars Pensole and CompostModern, and studying a semester abroad at INSEAD in Singapore.
INSEAD, in particular, afforded me the opportunity to see how businesses utilize design to strengthen their core foundations. Just like at ArtCenter, students at INSEAD are brought together by a sense of being the best at what they do, and they approach their craft with an exacting passion. Each student brings their own unique expertise to achieve a shared objective.
This is where the holistic nature of the stories told by luxury brands comes back into play. The brand becomes a vehicle for beautiful photography, art, packaging, advertising, interior architecture, creative direction, and so on. In a way, the product itself is almost the least important part – a strange thing for a product designer to say.
Understanding the context of the product is arguably the most important thing that a product designer can do, especially in the luxury space. Which is why it’s the slice of the incredibly rich and diverse field of design that most appeals to me, and one of the many aspects of my craft that I will always push myself to understand even more deeply.
BS 14 Product Design
Accessories Designer, Kith
Former Associate Designer, TUMI
Former Associate Designer, Jack Spade (Kate Spade and Company)