Our friends at Urban Outfitters stopped by the Areaware office in Brooklyn in late summer to check out our new office space and preview what's new for Fall 2017. Take a peek behind the scenes in an interview below - see more photos on the UO Blog.
photos by Anna Ottum
Urban Outfitters: For readers new to your brand, can you share a bit more about your background and what led you to begin Areaware?
Areaware: Areaware is a brand that’s about 13 years old. It was started by Lisa Yashon and Noel Wiggins in 2004, when they started meeting designers around New York City with unique design ideas but no means to make them available to the wider public. They started the brand with the Fauna line of animal cushions and the Bank in the Form of a Pig. Since then, we have worked with many independent designers to produce hundreds of products. Like a record label or publisher, we work with designers on a royalty basis. They retain all intellectual property rights to their designs and we pay them in a royalty in exchange for their partnership. We are very pro-designer and try to stay true the original intent of each idea in every product we make. I joined the company in 2014 as Creative Director and now serve as Chief Design Officer at the company, overseeing product, marketing, and sales.
UO: How has this project changed the way you regard the objects you bring into your space or interact with regularly?
AW: Working at Areaware has made me appreciate the role of the manufacturer much more. Behind every great object is a good manufacturer or brand. Though the design may come from solely from the mind of the designer, without a partner to source, manufacture, market, sell, and distribute the object, many objects we are all familiar with would have never made it through our world or permeated our culture. I’ve come to appreciate the human adventure of product design and manufacturing – it’s not all supply chains and logistics.
UO: Are there any everyday objects you think deserve an upgrade (or that you’d love to redesign) either from an aesthetic or functionality perspective?
AW: Anything and everything! In What is a Designer, Norman Potter wrote that every material available to us in the present day should be considered contemporary. I think the same is true about everyday objects – anything we use or interact with, from primitive objects to higher tech gadgets, is game for a redesign. To me, design is about authorship, as well as functionality. Each practitioner brings their own sensibility and poetry to the projects they take on. These combine to create rich material cultures. While I’m not supporting flooding the world with useless products, I think that everything we encounter can use more thought and consideration, as our everyday context is continually evolving. Whether we manufacture it or not is a different story.
UO: What were some of the earliest Areaware collaborations / products? How has the brand evolved since the early days?
AW: In addition to Bank in the Form of a Pig and the Fauna Series, we have also been defined by Cubebot, a little wood and elastic toy, since the early days. The brand has always cast a wide net—we’ve made toys, home accessories, textiles, and even bikes (!). We continue to be interested in a wide array of ideas, but are also taking the time to deepen our existing categories. We started with stand-alone icons, but we are now working in ranges. For example, we are planning to expand our candle collection over the coming years, so consumers have many options. As I mentioned, I believe design is often about authorship, and in our brand, there is room for many authors even within the same function. I would love to offer ten designers’ takes on the candle, as each studio would take this challenge on completely differently.
UO: Can you share more about how you discover and work with the artists/designs you collaborate with? What does the collaboration process look like for one of your pieces?
AW: The partnerships evolve organically –mostly through in person introductions or encountering work in a public setting or exhibition. They rarely sprout from email interactions only. Our collaboration process is different, depending on each designer’s process. Some designers love to make prototypes themselves, others need us to assist with this. In general, we start our work after an initial round of design is done. First, we do feasibility studies to determine if a design is manufacturable, and if so, how much it might cost. Then we go back and forth with the designer to balance their intentions with the constraints of product development until we’ve created something both parties can agree on. After that, we order the product and start marketing it to the public via photo shoots, video, exhibitions, and trade shows.
UO: What have been some of your favorite Areaware pieces to date? What projects are next for you?
AW: I don’t have a favorite product, but I do think our most recent collection (launched yesterday) is one of our best. It’s the culmination of so much hard work and several years of experience in the design marketplace. It includes Textiles by Susan Kare (who designed much of the interface of the first Macintosh computer), a hand-carved wooden clip in the shape of a hand, new glassware, and some really interesting and versatile desk objects. We put together a publication about called Design Stories Volume 1 that shares each product and the story behind it.