How do you come up with a new design?
I get asked this question quite a lot, and it always reminds me that I am lucky enough that my job allows the opportunity to create and design almost every day. I am constantly trying to solve problems, whether it is how I can forge a specific process more effectively, how to make a jig or template so I can work more efficiently, or refine existing products. The need to work in this way; constantly trying to improve, has informed my designs since I began making products.
Functional objects need to be functional, they need to do the job. The less fuss and headache they cause whilst fulfilling their task, the more successful it is as an object, and ultimately, the happier the customer will be. That’s the starting point: a shelf bracket needs to be square, a kitchen cabinet handle needs to have it’s fixing holes in the right place.
What comes next is the part that distinguishes us from each other: what does it look like? To my mind, it’s easy and the secret is that it tends to work itself out as you are solving the starting point of functionality. Blacksmithing has it’s own inherent style and feel. It has certain methods and processes that are unique to it’s craft and will ultimately lend its flavour to what you make. These processes are what you learn when you start blacksmithing and over time, with practice, you get to learn them and become fluent. Very much like learning a language, once you practice the basics, you become able to play with it’s structures and eventually you start to think in that language.
There is a blacksmith in Canada called Matt Jenkins of Cloverdale Forge who recently undertook a project where he forged a hook a day for a whole year. The results are impressive, and a testament to one person’s ability to solve the same problem in 365 ways (366 actually) and show the freedom and broad scope that design allows when you are able to fluently speak the language of your craft. You can see the project here (https://flic.kr/s/aHskRU4rn7) and I urge you to check it out.
People say there is no such thing as an original idea, and to some extent, I think that’s true. Our ideas are a result of many influences, big and small, over many years of learning and observing. Also, to some extent, borrowing solutions or re-appropriating features of one thing on to another. The truth is, most of the time the design comes from solving the problem, and when the functionality is so important, it’s often good to allow it to lead.
Once again, less is so much more.