Origin Stories: a selection of original artist prototypes, production artifacts, and archival materials that illustrate the design origins of our full 2015 Collection. Stop by our booth at ICFF and gain a fresh perspective on the creative process behind design at Areaware.
Featuring our 2015 designers: Harry Allen, Bower, Joe Doucet, Sam Falco, Susan Kare, Runa Klock, Daphna Laurens, Daniel Martinez, Alissia Melka-Teichroew, Object & Totem, Pete Oyler, Parsons & Charlesworth, James Paulius, Brendan Ravenhill, and Bryce Wilner.
ICFF Booth #2156
May 16-19, 2015
Origin Stories is produced by the Areaware Creative Team.
Creative Direction: Lisa Smith
Product Development and Sample Archive: Blair Prietz
Graphic Design and Website: Nika Simovich
Art Direction and Exhibition Design: Elsa Brown
Photography: Kendall Mills, Sergiy Barchuk, Michael Hunter
Editor: Michael Hunter
Areaware: Origin Stories
ICFF Booth #2156
May 16-19, 2015
"When my twin brother and I were babies our parents would paint my toenails red and my brother’s blue so our parents could tell us apart. These colors were eventually projected onto the way we were dressed, well into grade school. Independently of the puzzle idea, I'd been thinking about a red–blue gradient as a portrait of me and my brother because the viewer can't precisely tell where one color ends and and the other begins. I settled on this as the gradient for the original puzzle because it is simultaneously an archetypal gradient and a color combination that resonates with me.
This first puzzle was self-published as an edition of 100 under the name Color Gradient Puzzle with the intention of creating a closed object, or an object that would give off a vague sense of uselessness. The image used for this edition was a CMYK-printed blue–red gradient, a default image whose colors would become pixelated after being cut from a jigsaw die. I sold a handful at Printed Matter, Inc. in New York (and I still have quite a few in my closet in my apartment!).
When I began working with Areaware on the puzzle, we decided to produce it in three different color variations. We both thought that producing puzzles that gradate through all three primary colors (blue–red, red–yellow, and yellow–blue) would make an amazing set of objects. Early in the process, we decided that each gradation should occur from blending two spot colors so that one puzzle would always be composed of only two pure Pantone inks. Strangely, Pantone Blue posed an issue because it became very muddy when blended with yellow and red, and the proofs we ordered revealed browns where we expected to see purples and greens. I still find it funny that Pantone, the modern authority on color, produces primary colors that blend to create different results than what basic color theory would predict. With this in mind, we reappraised the scope of the pieces and decided that we would condense them to the two puzzles they are today: blue–green and red–yellow."
On display: Bryce Wilner’s original red-blue Color Gradient Puzzle
"Designing the Drink Rocks was my first experience working with soapstone. You expect stone to be very solid and hard, but soapstone can be shaped using a knife or a saw. Your hands turn super soft when working with it—no wonder it is called soapstone! I love how easy it is to shape, and I used the natural form of the raw stone to influence the end result. I like to believe that the final form was hidden inside all along.
I tried out several shapes, but liked the contrast of the sharp geometric look against the natural surface. For this project, I did not make any preliminary sketches like I normally do. I just jumped right in and started forming them into what they would eventually become."
On display: A sample of raw soapstone and shape studies by Runa Klock and Areaware
While walking through the Amish and Pennsylvania German collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, my friend pointed out a donut-shaped hip flask because of its simplicity. It looked rough and old, but the idea was something I knew I could reinterpret with a modern sensitivity. The circular shape stood out—it‘s easy to hold or tie a slipknot around to wear or carry.
When I set out to make my own version of the circle flask, I learned that it is a simple process that requires a lot of patience. To start, you center a ball of clay and gradually open up the middle until it looks something like a flat donut. After steadily applying pressure to the middle of the body, you join both walls together, trapping air as you put pressure on the top to seal the form.
I got so carried away on the first few attempts to refine the outside that I ended up with a few deflated donuts. The walls would be too thin on one side or the form would go off-center. It was probably the sound of air escaping from the donut, much like an abrupt sigh, that kept me practicing until I got it right. Looking back at the earlier prototypes, I notice small embarrassing details. There is always room for improvement and interpretation.
Although I take a lot of pride in handmaking things in small editions, I'm happy that this piece is now accessible to a wider audience. The more people it starts a dialogue with about the history of the flask, the better. I've also become familiar with other interpretations of the flask and love that a classic and ancient form can bring modern creators together.
On display: A hand-thrown Bracelet Flask prototype by Object and Totem
The Prism Magnifier was designed during my junior year in Product Design at Parsons for a class called “Small Things Matter,” co-sponsored by Areaware. I was asked to choose a nonprofit and incorporate the ideals of that organization into a final product design. If it went into production, Areaware would donate a portion of the profits to our chosen organization.
At the time, the NSA spying scandal was fresh on my mind. After doing some research into the PRISM surveillance program, I chose The Wikimedia Foundation, whose mission is to provide, “free, multilingual, educational content to the public free of charge.”
Once I began designing around this concept, I immediately thought of desk tools and accessories used around the computer. My first design was a set of cord organizers milled from clear acrylic. I noticed the optical properties of this material and pushed this concept further to better conceptually represent The Wikimedia Foundation.
I designed this triangle magnifying glass to be used as a paperweight, an optical prism or as a desk magnifier. The title Prism Magnifier becomes a play on words, inspired by current events and the idea of sharing knowledge. Now that it is in production, 2% of proceeds from sales are donated to The Wikimedia Foundation.
On display: Daniel Martinez’s hand polished acrylic prototype
The Bottle Axe was a happy accident. While coming up with ideas for the Small Things Matter team-up between Parsons and Areaware in 2014, I began by drawing some nerdy, medieval objects. Some were pretty weird—like a bird feeder that was molded to look like a head on a pike—and some were more accessible—like a set of coasters that looked like round shields called bucklers. I decided to explore the coasters, and when determining what might come in a set, I thought it would be neat if there were other medieval warfare-inspired items to match. I figured a bottle opener could make a lot of sense, and the axe was the first thing I came up with. The pun of Bottle Axe wrote itself.
I made a few mock up shield coasters, and, on a whim, sketched out an axe silhouette in Adobe Illustrator. I brought those sketches to the metal shop and had it plasma cut out of some scrap. Once I held it in my hand, I knew the Bottle Axe was going to be the focus of my direction for the rest of the class.
On display: Original plasma cut Bottle Axes from Sam Falco’s archive
My initial idea with the Minim Cards was to create a deck of playing cards with all decorative and superfluous information removed, while maintaining a “playable” deck. This led me to over 50 different designs ranging from mildly reductive to far too abstract. This process was not just dedicated to the numbers and suits, we tried many different ways of differentiating the front from back of the cards. We found that a blank back did not work as one would often accidentally show their cards during a game. This led to a solid color, then to an X and, finally, to a simple diagonal line that stays in the same position regardless of orientation.
We prototyped 6 full decks of cards and had people play poker games with no prodding about what the numbers and symbols represented. It became clear very soon how far you could stretch the rubber band without breaking.
On display: Rejected Minim Card designs by Joe Doucet
The idea for this project came from a shape study experiment. With the aim to create a large furniture piece or lighting project, we set out to find unexpected forms through imaginative exploration. However, we began to really enjoy crafting these shapes and decided to develop a much more straightforward concept. We ended up with this beautiful set of paper clips.
On display: Shape study drawings by Daphna Laurens
When we start working on a new design, we like to establish a framework in order to define parameters. The Grid Planks evolved over a long period of time in our studio, where we created many rudimentary patterns by overlapping grids. We allowed the patterns to determine the final shape of the plank, as opposed to applying a grid to a pre-cut plank.
On display: Grid pattern drawings by Daphna Laurens
When playing around with optical illusions with some of our other designs, we thought it would be interesting to explore shapes that tessellated, creating larger patterns. We were thinking about an object that could serve one function as a single shape and a new function when the single shapes tiled together. For our first experiment, we generated a few tabletop shapes to brainstorm and play with and had an "aha" moment when one of us put a glass on one of them. We realized the idea of single coasters coming together to create larger trivets was a perfect application.
On display: Original screen-printed and hand painted Table Tile prototypes
When producing our Pick-up Stools, we ended up with buckets of small cutoffs from our leg supports that are made from thin wooden painted dowels. These colorful little pieces reminded us of childhood objects; sidewalk chalk, Pick-Up Sticks, and rainbow sprinkles. We thought it would be cool to "bedazzle" a surface with them, so we put magnets in one end. We liked the idea of them looking sprinkled, coming out in different directions, so we cut the magnetic end at several different angles.
On display: The original set of Stick-Up Sticks by Bower
I designed the Bottle Opener at a time when I was thinking a lot about objects that get better through use and wear, like a pair of blue jeans or a cast iron pan. The idea was to create an opener of great simplicity and surprising function, whose wooden handle would take on a patina as it's used to open bottles over time.
At first, there was only one magnet to secure the opener to a refrigerator door, but when I was drilling out the hole in the prototype, my studio mate Quincy Ellis asked if I was fitting a magnet to catch the bottle cap. I turned the opener over and added the second magnet. For Quincy's suggestion, I gave him one of the eight prototypes (which was quickly stolen off the apartment fridge at his next party). Of the eight originals, the other seven are still accounted for and have a beautiful polish from 7+ years of popping bottles.
On display: Five original bottle openers from various stages of production
The design of these trays is part of a larger investigation of scale and proportion. I’ve always been interested in how shifts in scale impact our ideas about function and utility. Trays represent a class of object with versatile but ambiguous function, providing a surface that can be used in countless ways. The tray, with its very basic formal and functional requirements, lends itself well to a study of shifting scales.
The form of these shifted throughout the development process to accommodate material and production considerations posed by the constraints of mass production. The formal and structural simplicity of the trays draws from traditional woodworking techniques—specifically, the lap joint, which is as humble as it is elegant.
The project was renamed from Stacking Trays to Pedestals to reflect their versatile function throughout the home.
On display: Pete Oyler’s original tray designs
While researching the discredited pseudoscience of Phrenology, I discovered that phrenologists believed they were able to understand different aspects of our personality by reading the bumps on our head. I was interested in making an object or an “instrument” that would address each of those phenomena and enable the user to harness these personality traits. One of the traits I chose was sublimity.
Sublimity is about seeing the beauty in your surroundings. This made me question how we measure beauty now and what has been used in the past. I was familiar with the golden ratio as a measurement often appearing in nature and architecture. This led to the idea of the Golden Section Finder as an instrument or lens to seek beauty in our surroundings.
Early prototypes designs included a handle; other versions included a necklace chain and a ring. A range of colored translucent acrylic was chosen to highlight the golden section when used outdoors.
On display: A sample of clear acrylic used to make the Golden Section Finder alongside two original prototypes in their original packaging
The idea for this project originally came out of a design competition titled McMasterpieces, curated by Sight Unseen for the industrial parts supplier McMaster-Carr. Designers were asked to craft unique objects and furnishings made entirely out of parts and raw materials sourced from the McMaster-Carr catalog. I worked with part numbers: 8706K56, 9683K21, 97342A703, 8582K71. 8582K61, 8706K57, 87085K65, 9683K59 and 8825T11. In other words: leather, birch dowels, rivets, delrin.
For the competition we created a small collection of household objects including the Little Big Trivet, which consists of wooden dowels that can be moved in or out depending on the size of the pot or pan that you need to put on it. The trivet is meant as a simple functional object, but by coloring the dowels and playing with cord colors it becomes fun too.
On display: Leather and dowel rods sourced from McMaster-Carr and a McMaster-Carr catalog
I put the first pig bank into production myself. A friend who is an animal rights activist saw it and was appalled. She sent me all of these images of mutilated tortured pigs and it upset me. So I got the phone with the taxidermist whom I had commissioned to taxidermy the pig and relayed the story about my upset friend and he explained to me the story of the dead piglet.
He and his crew had gone to a pig farm and purchased a piglet, thinking they would kill and stuff it. But when they got it home it was so cute that they couldn't go through with it so they gave it to a small farm nearby.
Then, wondering how to satisfy my request for a stuffed piglet, they got a call back from the original pig farm. Apparently it's a common occurrence for the mother pig to roll over and suffocate one of its weaning offspring. The farmer said if we hadn't already killed the little pig, this one was theirs if they wanted it. So in the end I didn't kill the pig, its mother did!
I was delighted to relay this story to my friend.
On display: Raw resin pig without any surface treatment
During the RIT Metaproject03 student competition, I decided to design architecture-themed blocks. I began by looking at photos of buildings with features that fluidly translated to toy blocks. After various prototypes, the hexagonal nesting forms seemed to be the most promising since they broke away from a traditional grid and provided a unique challenge of counterbalancing to cantilever blocks. The final (and longest) phase of the design was a matter of refining the scale, selection of forms, and creating a window pattern and color palette.
On display: Models of Blockitecture created during the development process by James Paulius and Areaware
When I started thinking about the newest expansion of Blockitecture, Blockitecture Garden City, I wanted people to create and explore their own world through play. I especially wanted this world to be optimistic, hopeful, and uplifting. It's always refreshing for me to see buildings with greenery, especially in the mostly concrete New York City where I'm living. Integrating this element into Blockitecture was the most fun and challenging element of this design process. My first iterations were too angular and literal. After looking at architecture in NYC, I noticed the contrast between the contours of the trees with the geometry of the buildings. Taking this cue, I designed the trees to have an organic silhouetted effect.
On display: RModels of Blockitecture Garden City created during the development process by James Paulius and Areaware
I worked on the original pixel art for the on-screen Solitaire cards in 1990 using an IBM PC, Microsoft Paint, and the typical 16 VGA color palette of the time. A lot of those weren’t particularly attractive colors, but fortunately the card faces only required black, red, and yellow. I was inspired by classic card decks, and had the most fun trying to translate the complicated patterns of the Jacks, Queens, and Kings to a 72 dots-per-inch grid.
Nearly 25 years later, I got back in the 90s mindset to design matching Jokers for the Areaware deck, since Solitaire doesn’t use them.
Recently I was amused by a comment online that computer Solitaire was how people procrastinated before there was Twitter. : n )
On display: Solitaire Jokers created especially for Areaware
The very first Fauna pillows came about via a misunderstanding. I was doing a large one-person print show at a gallery in Tokyo in early 2004. Through various phone conversations with my Japanese counterpart, who was organizing the exhibition, I had mistaken an instruction regarding 3D animal T-shirts or some other object for doll-like pillows. I actually had pretty substantial reservations about the 'concept' (as there actually was no concept, only a misunderstanding of some other random suggestion). Regardless, I somehow ended up cutting out silhouette shapes of the animal prints and sewing them together with cotton filling to fulfill the 3D'ization “request,” and voila. They ended up being a big hit at that show in Tokyo, and by early 2005 we were in production with Areaware.
On display: An original Fauna Print by Ross Menuez