Donna Heiderstadt | November 19, 2012
President of One & Co., San Francisco
California College of the Arts, Industrial Design, 1997
Interior Design: How has the design field changed for grads since you began your career?
Jonah Becker: When I graduated I used my hands much more than young designers today. There is still a lot of sketching to develop ideas, but where I used to go from sketching to making physical models, most young designers today go to the computer. I still believe there is value in working in the physical world...working with your hands is as much a tool as a computer, and it provides a different perspective for solving problems. Opportunities in the design field have definitely changed in the past 10-15 years. Design in the digital realm has obviously exploded, and I see designers working across media and disciplines...the division between physical and digital is more fluid, as are the walls between products, environments, graphics and interaction.
ID: How do you think "design" is viewed in popular culture today - is it more significant in daily life than it was 10 or 20 years ago? If so, how?
JB: I don't know if design is necessarily more important to an individual now than it was 15 or 20 years ago, but awareness about design has certainly grown. I think a lot of the growth can be attributed to how the business value of design in major corporations (Nike, Apple, Target, Audi, etc.) became a key story for the media. Whereas design used to be reserved for trade magazines, you now see major publications and TV networks producing articles and shows about design. Because of this, I think the average person, especially in the U.S., is much more design savvy than in the past. Their opinions and decision-making are much more informed. And I think this is a great development for designers to live in a culture that understands, supports and challenges design. When I graduated most people didn't know what an industrial designer was. Now everyone I tell about my career immediately understands.
ID: What materials, techniques or fabrications are you most excited about?
JB: I'm most excited by materials that can be mass produced but still capture a sense of craft and individuality. With mass production we have mastered the idea of "perfection"-every piece that comes off the assembly line is identical. I'm interested in how we can use production techniques to mimic nature. Every animal or plant has the same genetic code and function as others in its species, but each also has unique features. What if you apply that principal to a chair or computer? From a material standpoint, unidirectional carbon fiber is something we've been looking into quite a bit in my studio lately. As carbon fiber it's advanced, but unlike the woven version it has a natural, marble-like quality to it that makes every part made with it unique.
ID: What personal career accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
JB: I'm most proud of my role in creating One & Co, a studio known for bringing a fresh perspective to every project and offering a really positive environment. The most rewarding part is having a studio where everyone has a voice, and every day designers are taking risks, sharing ideas, and debating design.
ID: What is the one thing you know now that you wish you'd known when you were starting your career?
JB: A few years into my career, a more seasoned designer told me that my partners and I should act like the studio we wanted to be in three years. What that meant to me was to pursue the types of projects that I really wanted to do, not just whatever came in the door, and to sell our ability to take on bigger projects. That same attitude can apply to an individual. And it's not about faking confidence or abilities you don't yet have. It's about looking into the future, beyond the immediate deadlines, to make sure you're following your passion.