WJGDS is Featured in the Frederick News Post

I’m so happy to have been featured in the Frederick News Post’s Slice of Life column.  I hope you enjoy it too!


Here is a link to the article at the Frederick News Post

Frederick furniture designer crafts for durability

By Kelsi Loos News-Post Staff | Posted: Friday, May 30, 2014 2:00 am

Bill Gardner of William John Gardner Design StudioBill Gardner likes things built to last.

The Frederick resident is the owner of William John Gardner Design Studio, a shop specializing in custom furniture for interior designers and architects.

“I am building what I call heirloom-quality, sustainable furniture for people with design-conscious minds,” he said.

One of Gardner’s favorite pieces is a round side table he designed on a napkin while he was out having a beer with a friend. Its size and shape lend to a variety of uses, he said, and he enjoyed seeing the product develop from a rough sketch to a functional piece.

“It’s just well-scaled, well-proportioned durable furniture,” he said.

He has also worked on challenging pieces for clients such as a huge 54-by-54-inch coffee table and a porch swing.

Gardner’s interest in furniture has a long history. His father and uncles were carpenters, which inspired him and gave him an opportunity to get comfortable with tools.

“I’ve always built things,” he said. “I’ve definitely had a hammer in my hand from an early age.”

Because of that background, he was well-acquainted with tools before college, which is when his passion for furniture design developed.

Gardner studied architecture at Virginia Tech but switched his major to industrial design because he found designing furniture better suited him.

“I developed this love of it. It was always kind of a passion and a dream of mine,” he said.

The 37-year-old designer didn’t open his own shop until well after college.

He opened the studio about a year and a half ago, he said.

For a while, he designed door systems for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and worked for a Frederick architect.

His business partner, Sandra Steele, said the two started the company partly because they noticed a lack of high-quality furniture in the design market.

“I think one of the overarching reasons for a custom furniture house,” she said, “(is that) you can’t find good-quality furnishings in the marketplace. … We knew there was great growth within the interior design community.”

Going into business for himself was good, Gardner said, because it offered more control over his work. However, it was also nerve-wracking because of the added responsibility and the need to handle aspects of the company himself.

“You can’t afford to build (furniture) twice, so you have to build it right the first time,” he said.

He has the support of a team of artisans to help complete his projects. When he needs a woodworker or finisher, for example, he will hire one from the group of specialists with whom he has developed relationships.

Working with a team allows him to turn around projects more quickly and efficiently, he said, adding that doing the work himself can be limiting sometimes.

Steele handles sales, marketing and project management aspects of the company. The two have learned quite a bit from each other, she said.

“I think Bill has taught me a lot about partnering and facilitating growth,” she said.

Future plans for the company include working on his own line of furniture, Gardner said, to expand into the retail market.

“I could be very happy being the head of a 20-person company,” he said, “banging out good furniture and lighting left and right.”

Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.

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WJGDS to Exhibit at Case[werks] Gallery in Station North, Baltimore.

Hi all, I’m so excited to be able to exhibit two pieces of my 2013 collection at the Case[werks] Gallery in Station North Baltimore.   I will be exhibiting my Rho Side Tables as well as a brand new design that is so new that I can’t even show you yet!  The Miu Coffee Table is included in the show, and is part of my 2013 furniture collection.  If you come to visit me at the opening reception, you can be among the very first people to catch a glimpse of this new design

The exhibit begins this Friday, October 18th with an opening reception from 5-8pm and runs until December 21.  Read up on Case[werks] here.  As for the exhibit, here comes the press release:

GALLERY@Case[werks] October Exhibition Press Release

Product Lines: Art & Function Delineated 


The Gallery@ Case[werks] October Exhibition, Product Lines: Art & Function Delineated, features eleven artists and designers product lines. The exhibition opens on October 16 and closes on December 21, 2013. Please join us for the opening reception, free and open to the public, at Case[werks] on Friday October 18 from 5:00-8:00P.M.


Ceramics, furniture, glass, prints, textiles, and design samples will be displayed in tableaus. Designers featured in the exhibit include William John Gardner, Majer Metalworks, Emmanuel Nicolaidis, Andrea Pippins, Sarah Templin/Radica Textiles, and Whitney Sherman. Sculptural works by David Hess, Brian Kain, Lyle Kissak, Erwin Trimmers, and John Wise will also be featured.


The Society for History and Graphics November event will take place at the Gallery on November 15 from 5:00-8:00P.M. Beginning at 7:00 P.M. curator Lori Rubeling will lead an art and design historical sources discussion with the artist and designers featured in Product Lines: Art & Function Delineated.

An Incomplete Mainfesto for Growth, by Bruce Mau.

Alright, I realize that this is two posts in a row that are lists of things.  I’ll not make lists a habit, it’s just that I’ve had both in my files for a long time and have been looking for a place to use them.  I promise my next blog will be different.  Or not.  Maybe.

Bruce Mau is amazing.  He’s a man who truly understands what it is that he does and how it is that he does it, and is able to turn that knowledge in to a pedagogical system that he can teach to others.  This list, his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth (I also love his hyperbole and grandeur), was published in ID Magazine years ago and I always thought that I was worth holding on to and returning to from time to time.

Do yourselves a favor and read the whole list.  It’s worth it.  Today, I’m happy that I’ve re-read number 3, Process is More Important Than Outcome.  It’s a lesson that needs reminding from time to time.  Enjoy.

Original Article Here

1. Allow events to change you.

You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

2. Forget about good.

Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.

3. Process is more important than outcome.

When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).

Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

5. Go deep.

The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.

6. Capture accidents.

The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

7. Study.

A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.

8. Drift.

Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.

9. Begin anywhere.

John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

10. Everyone is a leader.

Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.

11. Harvest ideas.

Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

12. Keep moving.

The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.

13. Slow down.

Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.

14. Don’t be cool.

Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.

15. Ask stupid questions.

Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.

16. Collaborate.

The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.

17. ____________________.

Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.

18. Stay up late.

Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.

19. Work the metaphor.

Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.

20. Be careful to take risks.

Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.

21. Repeat yourself.

If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.

22. Make your own tools.

Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.

23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.

You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.

24. Avoid software.

The problem with software is that everyone has it.

25. Don’t clean your desk.

You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.

26. Don’t enter awards competitions.

Just don’t. It’s not good for you.

27. Read only left-hand pages.

Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”

28. Make new words.

Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.

29. Think with your mind.

Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.

30. Organization = Liberty.

Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’

31. Don’t borrow money.

Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.

32. Listen carefully.

Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.

33. Take field trips.

The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.

34. Make mistakes faster.

This isn’t my idea — I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.

35. Imitate.

Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.

36. Scat.

When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else … but not words.

37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.

38. Explore the other edge.

Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.

39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.

Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces — what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.” Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference — the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.

40. Avoid fields.

Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

41. Laugh.

People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.

42. Remember.

Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.

43. Power to the people.

Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.

“10 Things I Have Learned” – Design Advice From Milton Glaser


If you don’t know who Milton Glaser is, do yourself a favor and watch this movie: Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight.  Mr. Glaser is, without a doubt one of the most influential living graphic designers and the lessons that he imparts on us here are not to be taken lightly.  For me especially, number one is a lesson that I’ve carried with me since I first read, and number two is the one to which I currently aspire the most.  There is nothing that I can add to this post other than to offer a discussion for any who read and are moved.

Originally posted by Swiss Miss, I stumbled across this gem a couple of years ago:


This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realised that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.


One night I was sitting in my car outside Columbia University where my wife Shirley was studying Anthropology. While I was waiting I was listening to the radio and heard an interviewer ask ‘Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?’ An irritated voice said ‘Why is everyone asking me about old age these days?’ I recognised the voice as John Cage. I am sure that many of you know who he was – the composer and philosopher who influenced people like Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham as well as the music world in general. I knew him slightly and admired his contribution to our times. ‘You know, I do know how to prepare for old age’ he said. ‘Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same every since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceedingly well prepared for my old age’ he said.


This is a subtext of number one. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.


Early in my career I wanted to be professional, that was my complete aspiration in my early life because professionals seemed to know everything – not to mention they got paid for it. Later I discovered after working for a while that professionalism itself was a limitation. After all, what professionalism means in most cases is diminishing risks. So if you want to get your car fixed you go to a mechanic who knows how to deal with transmission problems in the same way each time. I suppose if you needed brain surgery you wouldn’t want the doctor to fool around and invent a new way of connecting your nerve endings. Please do it in the way that has worked in the past.
Unfortunately in our field, in the so-called creative – I hate that word because it is misused so often. I also hate the fact that it is used as a noun. Can you imagine calling someone a creative? Anyhow, when you are doing something in a recurring way to diminish risk or doing it in the same way as you have done it before, it is clear why professionalism is not enough. After all, what is required in our field, more than anything else, is the continuous transgression. Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. So professionalism as a lifetime aspiration is a limited goal.


Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world. If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realise that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’


I think this idea first occurred to me when I was looking at a marvelous etching of a bull by Picasso. It was an illustration for a story by Balzac called The Hidden Masterpiece. I am sure that you all know it. It is a bull that is expressed in 12 different styles going from very naturalistic version of a bull to an absolutely reductive single line abstraction and everything else along the way. What is clear just from looking at this single print is that style is irrelevant. In every one of these cases, from extreme abstraction to acute naturalism they are extraordinary regardless of the style. It’s absurd to be loyal to a style. It does not deserve your loyalty. I must say that for old design professionals it is a problem because the field is driven by economic consideration more than anything else. Style change is usually linked to economic factors, as all of you know who have read Marx. Also fatigue occurs when people see too much of the same thing too often. So every ten years or so there is a stylistic shift and things are made to look different. Typefaces go in and out of style and the visual system shifts a little bit. If you are around for a long time as a designer, you have an essential problem of what to do. I mean, after all, you have developed a vocabulary, a form that is your own. It is one of the ways that you distinguish yourself from your peers, and establish your identity in the field. How you maintain your own belief system and preferences becomes a real balancing act. The question of whether you pursue change or whether you maintain your own distinct form becomes difficult. We have all seen the work of illustrious practitioners that suddenly look old-fashioned or, more precisely, belonging to another moment in time. And there are sad stories such as the one about Cassandre, arguably the greatest graphic designer of the twentieth century, who couldn’t make a living at the end of his life and committed suicide.
But the point is that anybody who is in this for the long haul has to decide how to respond to change in the zeitgeist. What is it that people now expect that they formerly didn’t want? And how to respond to that desire in a way that doesn’t change your sense of integrity and purpose.


The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.


Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a class in yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between scepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins. And then in a very real way, solving any problem is more important than being right. There is a significant sense of self-righteousness in both the art and design world. Perhaps it begins at school. Art school often begins with the Ayn Rand model of the single personality resisting the ideas of the surrounding culture. The theory of the avant garde is that as an individual you can transform the world, which is true up to a point. One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty.
Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise. You just have to know what to compromise. Blind pursuit of your own ends which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact that in design we are always dealing with a triad – the client, the audience and you.
Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable. But self-righteousness is often the enemy. Self-righteousness and narcissism generally come out of some sort of childhood trauma, which we do not have to go into. It is a consistently difficult thing in human affairs. Some years ago I read a most remarkable thing about love, that also applies to the nature of co-existing with others. It was a quotation from Iris Murdoch in her obituary. It read ‘ Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.’ Isn’t that fantastic! The best insight on the subject of love that one can imagine.


Last year someone gave me a charming book by Roger Rosenblatt called ‘Ageing Gracefully’ I got it on my birthday. I did not appreciate the title at the time but it contains a series of rules for ageing gracefully. The first rule is the best. Rule number one is that ‘it doesn’t matter.’ ‘It doesn’t matter that what you think. Follow this rule and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late or early, if you are here or there, if you said it or didn’t say it, if you are clever or if you were stupid. If you were having a bad hair day or a no hair day or if your boss looks at you cockeyed or your boyfriend or girlfriend looks at you cockeyed, if you are cockeyed. If you don’t get that promotion or prize or house or if you do – it doesn’t matter.’ Wisdom at last. Then I heard a marvellous joke that seemed related to rule number 10. A butcher was opening his market one morning and as he did a rabbit popped his head through the door. The butcher was surprised when the rabbit inquired ‘Got any cabbage?’ The butcher said ‘This is a meat market – we sell meat, not vegetables.’ The rabbit hopped off. The next day the butcher is opening the shop and sure enough the rabbit pops his head round and says ‘You got any cabbage?’ The butcher now irritated says ‘Listen you little rodent I told you yesterday we sell meat, we do not sell vegetables and the next time you come here I am going to grab you by the throat and nail those floppy ears to the floor.’ The rabbit disappeared hastily and nothing happened for a week. Then one morning the rabbit popped his head around the corner and said ‘Got any nails?’ The butcher said ‘No.’ The rabbit said ‘Ok. Got any cabbage?’


The rabbit joke is relevant because it occurred to me that looking for a cabbage in a butcher’s shop might be like looking for ethics in the design field. It may not be the most obvious place to find either. It’s interesting to observe that in the new AIGA’s code of ethics there is a significant amount of useful information about appropriate behaviour towards clients and other designers, but not a word about a designer’s relationship to the public. We expect a butcher to sell us eatable meat and that he doesn’t misrepresent his wares. I remember reading that during the Stalin years in Russia that everything labelled veal was actually chicken. I can’t imagine what everything labelled chicken was. We can accept certain kinds of misrepresentation, such as fudging about the amount of fat in his hamburger but once a butcher knowingly sells us spoiled meat we go elsewhere. As a designer, do we have less responsibility to our public than a butcher? Everyone interested in licensing our field might note that the reason licensing has been invented is to protect the public not designers or clients. ‘Do no harm’ is an admonition to doctors concerning their relationship to their patients, not to their fellow practitioners or the drug companies. If we were licensed, telling the truth might become more central to what we do.

Is Your Intellectual Property Protected? Maybe Not As Well As You’d Like.

Copyrights, holding them, and defending them is a sort of sticky wicket, especially in the decorative home furnishings industry.  Initially enacted by Congress to protect printing, copyright protection has evolved to become something of which most are aware, but also something that offers very little actual protection to the copyright holder.  The Constitution of the United States defines copyright protection as so:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Pay particular attention to the “useful arts” part, as that’s is where the stickiness comes into play for designers like myself.  While I’m going to save my epistle on the ins and outs of US Copyright Law for a later post, what I want you to take away from this short lesson is the notion of what constitutes a “useful art”.  All artistic endeavors fall under copyright law in one fashion or another, but I promise you that it’s not in the way that you think.  A general rule of thumb for determining what is copyrighted and what is not, is that only the EXPRESSION of the art is what is protected by copyright law.  Remember where I mentioned that Congress enacted copyrights to protect printing?  Well that’s still the case today.

I can write a song and write it down on sheet music, record it on a CD, and play it on the radio and make money from that venture.  So how is it that a cover band can then learn my song and play it in a Market Street bar on a Friday night and make money for themselves?  It is because the expression of my art covered by copyright is limited to the sheet music and the CD (I’m ignoring things like ASCAP for the purpose of my argument here), and not to someone hearing my song and copying it.  The same applies to my designs.  The artistic expression of my design is all that is protected by copyright law, since technically, I am not making useful art.  The catch here is that I’m not reinventing a lamp, or a table, or a chair.  My lamp works the same as your lamp, the same as their lamp, and the same as a lamp designed 20 year ago.  What we’re protecting here is the expression, or the styling of the lamp, what makes it unique.

Some of you may now be thinking “What if I’ve created a completely new way of lighting, or a seating system that the world has never before seen?  Don’t my designs get protected from copy?”  The answer is of course a resounding yes, but that introduces our friend the patent, and that’s not what we’re discussing today.  Which might then have the intelligent reader asking “But what if I’ve created a form that has never been created before?  Don’t I get protection from copy?”  Again, you’d be given a resounding yes, but now we’re talking about design patents, and they’re another beast all together.  The takeaway is this:  patents are expensive and time consuming, copyrights are not.  If you’ve created something, you basically  have a copyright (with limitations, but we’re ballparking it here)

Now getting back to the notion of the expression of a design and why it’s so tricky with furniture design.

If a pictorial, graphic or sculptural work is a useful article, it is copyrighted only if its aesthetic features are separable from its utilitarian features. A useful article is an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information. They must be separable from the functional aspect to be copyrighted.

Notice the clause about the aesthetic features being separable from the utilitarian features.  You can imagine how this might cause an issue for a designer with a minimal aesthetic, such as myself?  Basically, the law is telling you that a carved lion’s head on a chair back is copyrightable, but the chair is not.  It’s telling me that a porcelain cherub on a lamp is copyrightable, but the lamp is not.  It’s an important distinction to recognize, that non-sculptural designs are largely not protected under United States Copyright Law.

So then, I’ve told you that story to tell you this one.  Here is a prime example of the lack of protection provided to designers such as myself on protecting our works that happened to me at a job I used to have:

Lamp Coincidence? Seems a Tad Shady.

Washington Post
May 7, 2009

J.C. Penney knows a good thing when it sees it.

Last month the national chain introduced the Dipak floor lamp as part of its new Artesia home furnishings and accessories line. The Dipak looks almost identical to the Montaigne floor lamp from Niermann Weeks, a Maryland-based company that sells high-end furniture and accessories exclusively to the design trade.

The Montaigne lamp, priced at $2,910, is constructed of steel and has a distressed gold-leaf finish. It comes with a custom silk drum shade. The design was inspired by a fragment of a wrought-iron garden border found at a Paris flea market, according to Bill Gardner, design development manager for Niermann Weeks. The Montaigne was introduced in 2005 and ever since has been the company’s most popular lamp.

J.C. Penney’s Dipak lamp is a little taller and a little chunkier, and much less expensive. The list price is $240 (though it’s now on sale for $120). It has a steel base and an antique silver-leaf finish and comes with an off-white drum shade. Assembly is required.

J.C. Penney denies that the inspiration for its lamp came from the Niermann design. Debra Schweiss, trend director at J.C. Penney, said in an e-mail: “Through a collaborative effort between J.C. Penney’s internal trend, design and product development teams, the Artesia collection was created and introduced in April as a home decor choice for customers desiring a global design aesthetic.”

We’re not buying it.

Terri Sapienza

Link to the original article here

Niermann Weeks's Montaigne Floor Lamp

Montaigne Floor Lamp, by Niermann Weeks

Niermann Week's Montaigne Table Lamp

Montaigne Table Lamp, by Niermann Weeks











J.C. Penny's Dipak Floor Lamp

Here is the Dipak Floor lamp from J.C. Penny’s













Here is the amazing part, not only is this legal and we had no recourse against JCP, but we didn’t even know it had transpired until the Washington Post called me one afternoon for comment.  Of course my only response was “Huh?”  These lamps were for sale in JCP and had been for months.

Being that this is a topic near and dear to my heart, I plan to follow up with a longer discussion of Intellectual Property protection in general.  In the meantime, my fellow designers, watch your work closely and don’t be too free with whom you share it until you’ve at minimum, spoken to a lawyer.

It Didn’t Exist, So I Had to Make it.

“It didn’t exist, so I had to make it.”, I said in response to a pointed question from a colleague. Until then, until after she pointed out its importance, that statement was little more than a flip answer that only my wife and I understood between sighs every time we discuss having to do things the hard way, having to start from the beginning every time because we always seem to be treading some kind of new ground.

But I suppose this is the burden of creative pursuit: willing something into existence through (at times) sheer spite, creating something from nothing, order from chaos. But I digress…

Existentialism aside, it’s simply the way that I’ve always operated without even necessarily understanding that not everybody else does the same. My Rho Side Table began from a conversation about the need for a small, lightweight, versatile table, that I didn’t think currently existed as I thought it should. So I had to make it.

I founded my studio from the same principal. The longer I worked, the clearer it became that I was never going to be able to do what I wanted and needed to do while in the employ of others. So I had to make it.

It’s an interesting place to be when an off the cuff statement to a colleague brings you to the realization that you’ve been operating with a principled disposition all along. And to a great degree, it’s incredibly comforting. Design and designing things for the built environment is about bringing form to thought with a healthy dose of creative self delusion thrown into the mix. So, to say the least, having an ordered and established approach to that is probably a good thing.

So then I put the question to you, gentle readers. What is something that didn’t exist that you had to make? We’ve all done it, and I’d venture that the simple act has brought each of us a little comfort and a little order.

Innovation and Cultural Point of View, the Future of American Industrial Design

Industrial Design is problem solving. Let’s just get that out there right from the start. Without the search for the solution to the problem, we’re not designing, we’re making art.
That said, the future of American Industrial Design is going to live, not just in how we approach problem solving, but in how we choose to frame the question we use to solve the problem at hand. Specifically, I’m responding to the view expressed here from Scott Klinker where he suggests:
“…we should see the evolution of a much more advanced discipline: one that has absorbed the skills and spirit of ID, but climbs the food chain to tackle problems of greater complexity and significance. One with x-ray vision to see through objects for their emerging patterns of culture, business and technology, and with a keen intuition—willing to go beyond rational techniques in order to propose new culture. It should have an enormous vocabulary to shape rhetoric, a big heart to elevate daily experience into something more like art, and above all, a brilliant point of view.”
I’m sure that I’m not interested in seeing Industrial Design as a discipline evolve into a laser-eyed group of market ethnographers and demographers searching through niche groups to try to pin point what it is that they’re looking for to complete them culturally.
Of course I understand that this is largely a semantics argument, but it is a distinction that I feel is important to make. Maybe an object doesn’t need to reflect what our cultural point of view is, but rather what it should be, or at least what we want it to be. Industrial Designers are more than simply commodities makers.
This is an Occupy Industrial Design type of view being expressed here, I think we should be looking for solutions to problems that actually help 99% of the population, instead of overly focusing on the 1% of consumers who buy “designed items”. There are real issues at hand here in this country, and I personally don’t think that the whole of the ID community need be spending their time on wine totes, hipster underwear, fancier import cars, and more niche consumer junk.
Maybe, just maybe, I don’t need another totem to express who I am as a consumer.
Here’s a Cultural Point of View, let’s work on making a culture that will not only create but will also value a product made with less material that will be owned for 50 years. There are 7 billion people on this planet who are almost all consuming these commodities that we’re supposed to be designing. The least we can do is to design something worth keeping and using.