A Q&A with Footwear Designer Charlotte Logeais

A Q&A with Footwear Designer Charlotte Logeais

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers as an educator and career designer, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work and their design journey. In this interview we spoke with senior footwear designer and art director Charlotte Logeais. Charlotte has been a designer at Nike* for over two years. She began in the kids division and is currently a senior designer on the Women’s Lifestyle team. To her, design has always been about storytelling and problem solving. With a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Pratt Institute and a Master’s degree from USC integrating design, business, and technology, she is well versed in the power of design as well as the power of style. Her experience as a professional ballet dancer gave her an athlete’s mindset, and she knows the value of performance footwear firsthand. We asked her about the challenges of footwear design, emerging trends in the footwear industry, and what makes a great shoe.

Portrait of footwear designer Charlotte Logeais

Q: What is inspiring you at the moment?

A: The biggest thing that’s inspiring me at the moment are fashion week runway shows. I love  seeing all the runway collections and how each designer creates their own world while still aligning with the history of the brand. I also enjoy seeing how the runway trickles down into street style. 

Q: Could you tell us about your role at Nike? How do you fit into your team there?

A: I work on the Nike kids design team. I’m technically on the performance side, but the cool thing about the kids team—especially for me, being newer to the footwear industry—is that you get to work on a broad range of products. I’ve been able to work on lifestyle shoes, like the Air Max 1, and on performance product as well, like running. It’s been great to get to work on such a wide range of products and it’s  helped me discover what I’m most passionate about. It’s been a great team to first start on at Nike. 

On the kids team you can push the boundaries a little bit more and really have fun with the design. Kids love bright colors, they love shoes that are playful and energetic. They get super excited about designs that are colorful and vibrant – it’s the first thing they notice about a shoe. 

In footwear, we work two years out. The process is kicked off by a brief and then the design team begins pulling inspiration and sketching. Various priorities in the product brief will inspire the visual direction of the design. If it’s a shoe that needs to emphasize comfort, it’s probably going to be a more rounded form language. If it needs to emphasize speed, maybe it’s more angular. Those notes help us determine the visual language. 

My favorite part of the product creation process is when the team comes together to sketch together on a new project. It’s the most creative time we have each season. We go find a room—the whole kids team—and we sketch together all day for a couple of weeks on the projects of the season. Then each project lead will take all of those sketches, identify the common threads, and bring it to the finish line. 

Once the design has been finalized, we send out a tech pack and get our first samples back to revise. 

Q: What drew you to footwear design? 

A: I kind of stumbled upon it, which is funny considering I grew up in Portland, Nike’s backyard. When I was at Pratt doing my undergrad degree, I applied to a footwear design internship at Adidas and interned with them for six months. I’d never really sketched sneakers before and fell in love with it during that internship. I’ve always loved fashion and sport, and did classical ballet for 10 years, culminating in one year professionally before going to Pratt. In ballet, your feet are your main tool, but pointe shoes  have barely evolved since the 19th century. So it’s rewarding for me to be able to bring innovation to athletes through footwear design.  

Q: Of the skills that you learned at Pratt, which do you find most valuable in your work?

A: Design thinking is a big one, and the design process overall. In footwear, we’re given a product brief by our marketing team. That brief tells us who the consumer is, what they’re looking for, and what the priorities of the product need to be. Then it’s the designer’s job to take that information and create a design. At Pratt it was definitely drilled into us that you get your brief, you find inspiration, you sketch, you refine your idea, you present it, and then begin the development process.  

Q: Footwear is an industry known for inspiring cult followings. What are your main challenges as a footwear designer?

A: Being on the kids team is definitely a design challenge for me. I’m not the target consumer, and I think it’s a big challenge to design for someone who isn’t you while still wanting to imbue  the project with your personal aesthetic and sensibility. It’s a good challenge: to keep the consumer at the center of the product while still being able to bring in my perspective. Whenever we get to interact directly with the consumer it helps us to understand what they want from a product. As the kids team covers toddler through grade school, it’s a pretty large range and we have to tailor each design to what the specific age group needs. 

Q: From a personal standpoint, what makes a great shoe? One you’re excited to wear? 

A: For me, comfort is a huge thing. I want a shoe that I can wear all day long and it will be super comfortable. Also, a shoe that feels versatile and can transition between working all day at the office to going out for a drink or going to a pilates class. Having a shoe that can move with you throughout the day and keep you comfortable the whole day is the biggest thing for me. Beyond that, I like having some sort of icon on the shoe, a hero aspect of the shoe.

The shoes that I’ve been wearing the most right now are the Vomero 5s, they’re an old school running shoe that have now pivoted into lifestyle. 

Q: How does sustainability factor into design and production at Nike? 

A:  Sustainability is definitely a big priority. As a designer, I partner with material and color designers, and materials are usually the biggest sustainability play. We’ll often make sure to prioritize materials that have a certain percentage of recycled content to try to reduce the amount of new materials being brought in and reuse as much as possible. That’s a big priority, especially in the kids business. I think we’re one of the teams that is making the biggest effort with that. The youngest consumer really does care about the environment and about what their future is going to look like, so sustainability is especially important for them, and knowing that we also care. 

Q: What do you see as interesting emerging trends in the footwear industry today?

A: Some of the biggest trends are new digital tools. AI has been a huge one, getting to input a prompt and have ideas generated for you, often ideas that you couldn’t imagine or that are just super out there. AI is a powerful initial ideation tool for brainstorming and creating concepts. Midjourney is one of my favorites right now, I actually discovered it while pursuing  my master’s at USC. 

In the past, I’d just go on Pinterest and scroll for aesthetically pleasing imagery to create a mood board, but now you can create your own imagery for that mood board through AI. It makes each mood board a bit more unique, and you have the control to create the imagery that you want to work with. Now I do a bit of a combination of both, searching for inspiration images as well as generating them myself. I still do love Pinterest though… and I have so many boards.

Q: Are there other areas of design you would like to explore?

A: I purchased an apartment last May and have spent the last seven months renovating it. It’s in a hundred-year-old loft building in downtown Portland and it was a blank canvas, so I did all the interior design for it, working with the contractor and everything. That’s been a journey! But, It’s super rewarding to see it come together. The results of interior design are so physical. Whatever decision you make, you’re going to see it in real life. That has so much impact. Interior design is something that I’ve discovered I really enjoy doing, and I would love to do more projects like this.

Being in footwear, I’ve realized that lines are so important to me, when things align and how they are offset from each other. I think I’m driving my contractor a little bit insane, making sure everything is perfectly aligned and organized. Design to me is seeing how forms have relationships and fit together.

Footwear designers look at trends and forecasting. We are tied to the fashion world, so part of the job is keeping up with that, seeing what people are drawn to, whether that’s in person or through social media. On the performance side, we follow the different sporting events. In the NBA, there’s an interesting intersection of style and sport every time the athletes walk down the tunnel onto the court. Following influencers on Instagram is another good way to keep up with global fashion trends. Maybe I like their style or the way that they combine different clothing items in unexpected ways. Following those creators helps me stay connected to fashion and innovation. When I lived in New York, I could just go for a walk and see amazing street style everywhere. Living in Portland that’s a bit more difficult, so I rely on travel and Instagram.

Q: What do you see for yourself as a designer and for your career going forward?

A: I feel like I’m just getting started in footwear but I see a long future for myself in the industry. I’d love to work on more adult performance product. 

I also value  having my own design pursuits on the side, like interior design. I used to paint a lot and that’s fallen off in the past couple of years. I think it’s important to find the time to keep yourself fulfilled, to have those external pursuits that don’t involve the pressure to perform as much as your day-to-day work. The renovation project has been taking all of my energy so I think, once that is finished, I can find time to paint again. I also used to meditate every morning and I haven’t done that in a while. For me, finding the time for mindfulness and sport helps me stay balanced.

*Views are her own and do not reflect those of her employer.

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

A Q&A with Public Space Design Expert Hannah Berkin-Harper

A Q&A with Public Space Design Expert Hannah Berkin-Harper

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work and their design journey. In this interview we spoke with industrial designer and design educator Hannah Berkin-Harper. Hannah is the lead designer at the nonprofit Street Lab, where she spearheads innovative, public space design work. She is also a professor at Pratt Institute and has her own business, HBH Design. While she has experience in furniture, products, tableware, and interiors through her own business and her previous work at Karim Rashid Studio, she is currently dedicated to bringing communities together and improving the urban landscape through interactive experience design. We asked her about Street Lab’s philosophy, how she incorporates sustainability into her design work, and how temporary neighborhood pop-ups can lead to lasting community transformation.

Photo courtesy of Hannah Berkin-Harper.

Q: Could you talk about what Street Lab is and how you came to be involved?

A: Streetlab is a nonprofit that creates and shares programs for public space all across New York City. We create programming and also physical design, and deliver it to the streets of New York. Things go out on the street and then, a few hours later, we take them back. It’s all quick pop-up activations, and Street Lab does them to improve the urban environment and bring people together. I started collaborating with Street lab in 2018 when I did a pro bono design project with another nonprofit called Open Architecture NYC, which is a group that offers free design build services to nonprofits and community groups. I designed a new flat pack table for  Street Lab and we hit it off. I did several more collaborations with them and then moved my practice in-house in 2022 and became their design lead.

Q: Can you tell us about the philosophy behind Street Lab’s approach to public space design?

A: We rely on custom designs, high quality materials, and experienced staff to create experiences that communities love. Street Lab’s approach to public space design is a now approach. We create designs that can be easily set up and taken down, that make an immediate visual impact, that are simple and meaningful, that are accessible, and that provide a positive experience. Change in the public realm can be really slow. Pop-ups show what’s possible and can create inspiration for permanent change. 

Street Lab is unique in that we’re both a design studio and also a service provider. We send staff with our programs that help facilitate activities and keep everything going. Every time we do a pop-up, we send a truck or a van with whatever program we’re sending out for the day. It could be a reading room or a draw program or it could be social seating, or something else. We usually have two staff members who go out with the kit for that day and they’ll set it up and facilitate activities. For example, for the DRAW program they’ll set up an attractive display of drawing materials along with some prompts for what you might draw. There are different setups; different kinds of paper, different tools. All of our materials are well-maintained and super high quality, which is important to creating something that feels special. The staff members help facilitate, so they’ll talk to kids while they’re drawing, ask them what they’re doing, and interact with people on the street. They also refresh materials and make sure everything is cleaned up, maybe hang up artwork, and then they take everything apart and load it back on the truck.

Not much invitation is necessary to get the community to participate. We usually work at the invitation of a community group or a public space. The staff keep everything looking fresh, they make sure that people know it’s for them, that it’s free, and that they can come and hang out. Our programs are open; you could come for five minutes or you could come for two hours. There’s no time limit. There’s no, Oh I missed it! I’m 10 minutes late. Our staff makes that possible.

Q: Can you share an example of a successful public space transformation and how it impacted the community?

A: There are a lot of examples because we have relationships with so many different communities that we have built over the last ten years. One place that comes to mind is Jennings Road in the Bronx. Street Lab has been going there for over ten years. It started with bringing our portable reading room to a play street that was entirely run by volunteers, which is common for a lot of these play streets and Open Streets. 

Play streets are streets that are closed for kids, and they pre-date the official New York City Open Street system. Community groups would be able to close a street and make it a play space. There are historic play streets. You can see historical photos of New York City with the hydrants open and kids playing street games. 

There’s a community organization called the Caldwell Enrichment Program. When we worked with them in 2021, we helped them get funding and support to become an official Open Street with the city. That was the first time that anybody had been paid or supported to do the work that they had been doing, and we’d been going up there since 2013. Last year the Yankees honored Street Lab, and the players came to Jennings Street. It was a huge deal for the kids on that street. I mean, if you’re a kid from the Bronx and the Yankees show up to play with you…It was just amazing. It was fun for us, too! We had all of our gear out and the Yankees were at our drawing tables. That’s a space that is getting great recognition and support. 

Lonnie Hardy, who runs Caldwell Enrichment, is working to create a network of Bronx Open Streets that can all share resources. These repeated engagements—and the relationship building that goes with them—create lasting change. There are kids in that neighborhood who have grown up coming to that place to read again and again, being involved in Street Lab programs. I think that’s also really special and meaningful.

Street Lab's Play NYC pop-up.
Street Lab’s Play NYC pop-up. Photo courtesy of Street Lab.

Q: How do you incorporate sustainability principles into a temporary project like a pop-up?

A: We try to use responsible materials, and we have to balance that with a need for extreme durability. We’re starting to use a hundred percent upcycled plastic in some of our seating, and we’re meticulous about waste. We try to find uses for every inch of a sheet material. We also practice design for disassembly, so everything’s modular. A lot of our objects can be knocked down with no hardware, so we can replace a part versus a whole. We try to make repairs, we use a minimum of single-use materials, and we take really good care of our gear. Even though things are designed so that I can replace a table leg and not the whole table, we actually don’t damage things at the rate you would expect given the heavy use. This means that everything lasts a long time, and that’s an important strategy. It shows care: our pencils are always sharp. Our markers always work. And that’s because there’s somebody here behind the scenes every week, checking all the markers and sharpening all the pencils. It also means that we need a large staff to be able to deliver programs and design in this way.

Q: What are some key considerations when selecting locations for your interventions?

A: We go everywhere at the request of community groups and partners, and we’ll go anywhere that our capacity allows. We’re not selecting locations as much as juggling capacity. If we have a bunch of requests, we’ll prioritize a neighborhood where there’s greater need. Our clients usually have a specific location in mind. For example, 34th Avenue Open Streets in Jackson Heights is a place where we work a lot. They’ll say, Can you come to this part of the street? We’d love to have you do this program. We’ve got a lot of kids that we expect that day. Then we’ll go. 

Some of it has to do with where Open Streets already are, where people want them to be, who’s holding the permit for the street, which community group has stewardship of a plaza, that kind of thing. It’s at the request of the community. Sometimes, especially if it’s a one-off event, the staff will realize, Whoa, they have all our stuff, everything’s out! Sometimes it’s part of a bigger day. There might be a street closed, for example in the Bronx this past fall that was a parking day: different organizations were taking over different parking spaces. We were asked to take over a couple of parking spaces, so we brought our WRITE program and we also tested a new product. We had a new thing we were working on, and piloting it made sense for that event.

Street Lab's One Big Table pop-up on Frederick Douglass Blvd.
Street Lab’s One Big Table pop-up on Frederick Douglass Blvd. Photo courtesy of Street Lab.

Q: Could you share a challenge you have faced in implementing a public space design and how it was overcome?

A: We use an iterative and experimental process at Street Lab. We test prototypes in place and there are always obstacles. Designs need to be durable, easy to assemble and disassemble, and reasonable for our staff to manage, and all of this is on top of the requirements to be fun and beautiful and inviting. We’ll prototype and test anything. As long as it’s safe, if we think it will be fun, we give it a try. If something’s a flop, that’s okay. I’m super thankful to be able to work in this way, to keep evaluating and testing designs as we go. Even when we think something is done, we might make adjustments. It will be out for six months and we’ll realize a detail or a change would make it better, so we’ll add it. Being free from the constraints of mass manufacturing makes change possible, you can keep making improvements. 

The challenges tend to be around the location. You make something that seems sturdy and then it’s super windy and everything falls down, Okay…I guess that wasn’t quite sturdy enough. Then we fix it. It’s great to be able to do that.

We have so many ideas about things we can do. It’s mainly about figuring out what to do when and how to prioritize what we want to do. We have a rubric that we use to decide whether something should go forward, Does this follow all of the Street Lab values? Does it function for our staff and our pop-ups? Is it delivering the kind of program that we wanted to deliver? Then we prioritize. Sometimes it’s about funding, of course, as we’re a nonprofit. We have to determine, Do we have funding for this? Is this a right now plan? Then I start to sketch and design and we work as a team. Before we prototype, we look at it again and ask, Does this make sense? Is this hitting all the points on our rubric? Evaluation is challenging.

Q: How do you measure the effectiveness or success of your design interventions?

A: We get a lot of feedback. These ongoing relationships with community groups mean that people talk to us. They say, I really liked that. I didn’t like that as much as this other thing. If people continue to request a program that we’ve put out, we know that it’s working and that it’s something to build on.

We also get a lot of feedback from our staff that are out on the street. Some of that feedback is super practical, like, That thing you designed was a huge pain to put together. They’re also hearing from the people who are part of the experience, hearing what they think. They hear participants saying, This is so fun. How do I use this? This is confusing. We gather all of that feedback and use that to help us develop the program.

We did over 400 pop-ups last year, so we’re often in a lot of places at once. We can be very reactive when we see a need or an opportunity where we think we can make an impact. We just launched an outdoor cooling station. That was a reaction to the fact that we had to cancel a bunch of pop-ups over the last two summers because it was too hot. We looked at mist and plants and shade and things that make people feel cool. We didn’t have the ability to make the street cooler, but we were trying to figure out how we could make an impact. We thought, Wow, it’s getting hotter. It’s getting harder to do these kinds of late summer pop-ups. What can we do? So we started to learn about it. We learned that a lot of New York City cooling centers are only open during business hours on weekdays, so we thought that maybe we could pop up on Saturdays with this misting object and cool people down a bit. We piloted it last summer. It’s pretty fun.

When a pop-up goes well we hear, Everybody was so happy! Everybody loved it! Can you come back next week? It’s hard to evaluate design success on such a small scale. In industry people can say, we sold 20,000 of whatever, but that’s definitely not our model. It’s really about the kinds of feedback we get. If someone invites you back, you were a good guest, right? It’s hard to measure design impact through quantitative analysis. Four hundred people could come to an event and that might have nothing to do with the design. It’s hard to know what the levers are.

Street Lab's One Big Bench on Broadway Plaza.
Street Lab’s One Big Bench on Broadway Plaza. Photo courtesy of Street Lab.

Q: How do you balance the need for temporary interventions with the desire for lasting impact in public spaces?

A: We return to communities over and over again. We work with community groups wanting to create new public spaces, and sometimes those temporary spaces become permanent. The now approach can kick off lasting change. At the same time, there’s nothing in the design work I do that would work as a permanent installation. It’s made to be a temporary intervention, and you can’t realistically have staff with programming out on the street 24 hours a day, every day. This is a model of programming that is immediate, a now approach: things are happening in this moment.

Our designs don’t become permanent installations but there are instances where we keep going back to a space over and over again, and we can help communities convey that they would like there to be a permanent public space through that continued programming. An example of that is on Beverly Road in Kensington. We went there repeatedly over the course of an entire season, and the community got used to that street being closed to cars. It was a positive experience and eventually everyone was involved, saying We would like this closed instead of one entity saying This street is closed and no one knows what’s going on. They did know what was going on because they initiated it. Our programs are meant to be inspirational, to give people the idea that, Hey, we can do this, too. We can make a program. We can make this street something really special.

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

A Q&A with Lighting Design Expert Alecia Wesner

A Q&A with Lighting Design Expert Alecia Wesner

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work and their design journey. In this interview we spoke with lighting design expert Alecia Wesner. Alecia is the president and managing-partner of Kovacs-Wesner Design Group, licensor of George Kovacs Lighting, an iconic heritage lighting brand. She is a deeply empathetic designer, and is dedicated to telling the stories of other empathetic designers as the host of the Healthy by Design podcast. She has type 1 diabetes and dedicates a significant amount of time to fundraising for the cure for diabetes as well as participating in clinical trials. In addition to her lighting design work, Alecia has a jewelry design business, part of the proceeds of which are donated to fight the battle against diabetes. We asked her about incorporating new technologies, innovating at a heritage brand, and the intersection of lighting and health.

Photo courtesy of Alecia Wesner.

Q: Could you discuss the role that lighting plays in shaping the mood of a space, and how you consider that in your design process?

A: I am a lighting designer but not in the sense of going into someone’s home and figuring out their scheme of lighting. I’m designing primarily decorative lighting fixtures. One of the biggest things for me is considering the task or purpose of the space. It’s easy to say that ambient and decorative lighting are secondary but we are all in our homes more than we were a couple of years ago, and homes are primarily what I’m designing for. Although we do hotels and office spaces, the home has taken on many more roles than it did previously. Your home office might also be your kitchen. Lighting that works for one task can be different from lighting that works for another task, but now we need lighting for two separate but possibly overlapping applications. One of the features I like to incorporate is dimmability within the space. I don’t think everybody needs their lighting at the maximum brightness all the time. This ties into mood; the light that you want to dine under is very different from the light that you want to work under.

I end up dealing with a lot of other designers in lighting who come from a background that is not industrial design, primarily interior designers and architects who’ve gotten into lighting design. One of the things that I hope that they understand is the role of shadow in lighting, and that when you’re designing a light fixture, yes, you need light to see something, but an important part of creating a mood is shadow and layering light. It kills me when I see a space that has one chandelier or fixture that is supposed to be the lighting for the entire room. You don’t get to see that space transform. As far as the design of light, let’s face it: I’m never going to beat mother nature. Having natural light combined with the lighting that I design is a big part of what I do. What something looks like at sunrise as a light fixture is very different from what it looks like in the middle of the day or in the darkness of night.

Q: What does a lighting design process look like for you? Could you take us from the initial brief or inspiration to the finished product?

A: I’ve never had a cookie cutter approach to this. I represent the brand George Kovacs, and I look for areas where we can continue to grow as well as areas where we can evolve. That tends to dictate the project. Often, I seek feedback from our customers and representatives who are directly selling the product to get their feedback.

For me, one of the most exciting  aspects of the design process is the technology. I started working for George in 1997. I’m technically still in my first industrial design job! In  the late 90s, George and I were in my car, talking about how brake lights were becoming LEDs in buses. He said that believed that LEDs would revolutionize the lighting industry. There were LEDs being manufactured out of Europe, lighting fixtures and task lamps, and they were incredibly expensive. They used blue, green, and red LEDs combined to make white light, and it wasn’t really accepted in the U.S. market. The strategy, in terms of the form, was essentially to retrofit the light bulb. It was an incandescent light bulb shape with encased LEDs that screwed into a standard socket, because that was what we knew. George said, These designers with these LEDs. They’re all just trying to make the same fixtures that we’ve always seen when, at this point, you could make a donut as a task lamp, and put your hand right through the center of it! That’s the magic. Looking back at those conversations with him, that’s where we are now. There are so many more options—as far as form and shape and ability to transform—with LEDs. Also, heat is always the enemy in the design of lighting and LEDs offset that to some extent. Now you take into consideration other challenges, like the placement of the driver or securing the circuit board, but you have the ability to make things, shapewise, that you couldn’t before. You can also distribute light output differently.

Q: What role does research and development play in the creation of new lighting products, and how does this process inform design decisions?

A: I always find this fun to talk about because you could talk to a million different designers about their inspiration and everybody would say something different. It’s the storytelling behind a product that to me is the intoxicating part of design. Life evolves, as do our needs. I have always, like any designer, had a million outside interests beyond the  job of lighting. I took glass making classes for many years. I took a neon class at night because I think neon is so magical, it’s a lost art. It’s those outside interests that often become the spark of inspiration for my next design.

I have a group of designs, Dripping Gems, that are based on 3D printed forms that I was creating for jewelry. I was working on those forms because, during the pandemic, we were in lockdown and I didn’t have access to a jewelry studio. I had a designer friend with a 3D printer, so the two of us would get together and we’d start printing out design forms we were considering for unrelated projects. I made a pair of earrings that were based on a light fixture that I was working on. I’m not the only one deciding which lamps make it into our product line. I’m selling myself and I’m selling the idea of what I’m doing, just like any other designer. So I made these earrings, and I Photoshopped the earring as a light fixture into a room setting, showing what it would look like as accent lighting over a kitchen counter. 

Technology plays a big role in my design process. Now, I can model and print any idea. I like working three-dimensionally instead of just sketching it out. I like to move around and see the concept from a variety of angles. I ask, What would this look like in different spaces? That is a starting point for me but also a way to evolve an idea. Once you have that three-dimensional object, whether it is a piece of jewelry or a scale model, you can see where you’d like it to go beyond what you imagined it to be.

Over the last 10 years, this idea of jewelry as lighting for the home seems to be a cliché tagline. It’s everywhere, as if this is the only thing that we all are doing now. Sometimes, when I’m looking at a lighting design, I think, What would I have done differently? My brain goes back to a jewelry mindset; what stone was used, how was the bezel set? That can help me visualize a small change I might want to make in the lighting concept. There hasn’t been much lighting that I have translated back into jewelry, but the thing that I’m asked the most by lighting customers who know that I make jewelry—and see me wearing the jewelry that matches the lighting at trade shows—is, When are the earrings going to light up? I get that question all the time! Why haven’t I done that yet? At some point, I definitely have to do that.

Q: Could you talk about the technological advancements influencing lighting design today, and how you adapt these into your products?

A: I have type 1 diabetes and always thought that my medical journey was separate from my product design life. I didn’t go into medical product design but I look back and it’s all interwoven. Now I find myself gravitating towards a lot of the science and health aspects of lighting. I was contacted by the Mount Sinai Light and Health Research Center, which is outside of Troy, New York. They were looking to use an existing Kovacs fixture in some testing on circadian rhythms, and they needed changes made to the product for the testing. They’d bought the product and made changes to it themselves, and they wanted to know if they could get these changes made at a production level. I jumped at the chance to go visit them. I’m a science nerd and, even if it didn’t work out as far as potential work projects, I wanted to learn. I got the full tour and was absolutely fascinated by circadian rhythms and how your environment, your non-sunlit environment, affects your ability to sleep. As somebody who loses a lot of sleep this felt so relevant and intriguing. They have trials in which they’re testing the saliva in somebody’s mouth to see how much melatonin they’re secreting based on the light experienced throughout the day. That’s just a general overview, they do much more. I thought, What if we incorporate this into the lighting we design? We’ve gone further and further into the development of smart homes. What if the lighting in your home could help you sleep better? That’s a real springboard for me. If there is a way to better the lives of people through lighting products, why would I not want to be involved in that? 

When I was in my mid-20s, I learned that I was losing my eyesight due to complications of diabetes. I was fortunate in that I had an aggressive treatment plan and I still have my vision. If there were products that could help me, lighting products that I need for my home but that could also help me preserve my vision…what an exciting possibility that is. I think about COVID and research seeking to test if lighting applications could benefit long-term COVID patients. There is a study about framing a doorway in Illumination in elder care, which helps center a person when they get up out of bed. If you shift that illumination, the person’s movements also shift. Think of all the possibilities with that. The same thing with vitamin D. Certain populations have low levels of vitamin D, and one of them is people with type 1 diabetes. I have extremely low vitamin D and I remember a doctor saying to me, You just haven’t had that much sunlight. I said, Look at me, that’s not it! I had just come back from vacation and I was as tan as can be. If vitamin D affects so much of your health, especially your bones, what if the lighting in your home could help you produce vitamin D?

As far as my lighting in my home goes, I am trying to get the least amount of artificial light in my bedroom at night. As somebody who constantly checks their phone, that is a real tough one to do. I am also conscious of the fact that my lighting needs are changing as I age.

Q: How do you balance the demand for timeless designs, especially given a heritage brand like George Kovacs, with the desire for innovation and experimentation in lighting design?

A: George Kovacs is currently celebrating our 70th anniversary. I have such a unique situation with him as a person. He took me under his wing—his wife, too—and showed me the world. I knew at the time how fortunate I was, especially compared to my peers starting out in industrial design. One of the things that a lot of people don’t realize about Kovacs [the brand] is that George was not only a pioneer of innovation and technology but also a risk-taker, and some of those risks were failures. Those were his favorite presentations to give. When I first got to know him, he would do these slideshows and talk about his failed projects because, as he said, People like to hear about the screw-ups. They like to hear about what didn’t work and the risks you took, not just all the successes. It was entertaining and endearing, and became part of the brand story. There’s a lot of humor and playfulness in that. The names of the products were genius, too. The ‘Save Your Marriage’ was a lamp that was two lights above a bed. It changed a million times over the years but there was witty advertising that went with that. I hope that, in all the lives that the brand has now had, that wit and whimsy remains.

As designers, we study modern design. I studied architecture before I studied industrial design and I think back on how many different movements I learned about in modern architecture. It’s easy to say modern as a blanket statement but, to many, George Kovacs has always been synonymous with mid-century modern. Of course, there’s so much more than that. Playing up the mid-century modern roots has a place, and that’s something that cycles through, but it’s also important to be a risk taker and to have offerings that customers don’t expect. One of the areas we’re growing is portable lighting; task lighting, table lamps, and floor lamps. That was an area we got away from for a couple of years but it was a big part of the business when I came on board because we were selling more to furniture stores than to lighting showrooms. Now we’re bringing task lighting back and advancements in technology allow us to reassess things like, What if a task lamp were portable and rechargeable?  What does your task lamp really look like? How much space does your task lamp take on your desk? Is the lighting an object beyond just giving you light? Is it sculpture? Is it an object of beauty? Why can’t it be all of those things?

Q: Could you talk about how your podcast, Healthy by Design, came about and the stories you are telling with that platform?

A: Healthy by Design was a stroke of luck for me. Bruce Hannah was working with a production company on a podcast about Industrial design and we’ve been friends for a long time. I used to come to Pratt with George to do a lighting design show-and-tell and then be a visiting critic for lighting design projects. After George passed away, I continued doing it, and Bruce and I became friends through that Pratt connection. He’s somebody that everyone admires and he’s the Google of industrial design. He has a story for everything and you want to be around him because you just keep learning the whole time. So he was part of this podcast production, though he didn’t tell me that part, and he asked me to meet with the production team. I thought I was there to do an episode about being an industrial designer participating in clinical trials in the diabetes space. I did the interview and, when they walked me to the elevator, one of the guys said, You got the part, but I shouldn’t tell you this yet. I was confused because I didn’t know there was a part to get! When I contacted Bruce, he explained that they wanted him to have a design speaking sidekick and I was it. I kind of took a step back. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be in the podcasting world. The podcast continued to evolve and landed as a  new concept, which was that Bruce would have a Design Mysteries program and the sister program would be Healthy by Design. That was just so exciting to me, not only the idea of the platform starting as my own story—of being a designer participating in clinical trials and using technology to keep me alive and thriving—but also the idea of talking to other incredible industrial designers who were creating products that improved  people’s lives and sharing  their stories.When I was approached about the podcast, one of the goals they shared was, We just want to do work that we’re proud of. That was so meaningful. I consider myself so fortunate and lucky to have my vision. There were all these people before me who tested laser technology for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy. In an effort for that treatment to evolve there were failures and people who continued to lose their vision. I saw Healthy by Design as another platform to pay it forward. I could teach a bit about industrial design and give credit to the people who are behind the scenes making the products that help others. I’m at a point in my life now where the question of purpose plays a bigger role in so many of my decisions. Not to get all mushy, but we’re all here for a limited amount of time. What are we doing with it? We have this training but, if we’re not learning empathy and bringing that to our own design agenda, what’s the point?

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

A Q&A with Inclusive Entrepreneur Marianne Weber

A Q&A with Inclusive Entrepreneur Marianne Weber

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has encountered many talented designers throughout her career, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them. In this interview we spoke with Marianne Weber, the founder and CEO of the inclusive lingerie line Even Adaptive and a licensed occupational therapist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Marianne worked with Interwoven to realize her empathetic vision, founding Even Adaptive in 2021 and launching the adaptive lingerie line in 2024. That our team contributed to Marianne’s incredible project, which won a Core77 design award in 2023, makes this a particularly special Spotlight feature for us. We asked Marianne about what inspired her to become an entrepreneur, the power of designing for a traditionally neglected audience, and what it was like to work with a design team. 

portrait of Marianne Weber
Photo courtesy of Marianne Weber.

Q: You had a career in occupational therapy when you became an entrepreneur. What inspired that transition? 

A: I’m still currently working as an occupational therapist and keeping up my license, so it’s a long, slow transition. I’m still providing people with what we do as occupational therapists: providing independence and helping them relearn how to do things for themselves. It’s definitely a career change, moving into a CEO and founder role and away from being a full-time therapist. But I feel like the change is necessary for touching more lives than I could in my occupational therapy role. When I had the idea to make this happen, I didn’t immediately think, I need to switch jobs. This has been a three-year journey so far, and I’m still doing both roles. 

The job I have is in acute care. What that means is that I come in when people are initially in the hospital or post-op day one. I’m seeing people at the most heightened and scared time of their lives, and it has to be taken very seriously every moment that I am working as an OT because one wrong step and I could seriously injure somebody. I’m not able to focus on being a CEO when I am at my job, I still have to be a hundred percent there and present. Then when I’m not there I can be 100% present as the founder of Even Adaptive. 

I think one element of the transition that changed my perspective was starting to talk to all of my patients about their engagement and their sexual health as well. As occupational therapists, we focus on making sure that everybody can complete their activities of daily life, their ADLs, and sex is one of those things that we have within our scope of practice. Before becoming the CEO and the founder of Even Adaptive, I was a bit more shy about asking those questions because my toolbox wasn’t full. But, through this process, I’ve done a lot of continuing education. I became more educated on how I can help people through the process of creating our products.

Q: You explain that confidence and sexiness are the pillars of your brand ethos, could you elaborate on that?

A: When you’re faced with these disease processes or you have a disability of some kind, a lot of society communicates that these people are not allowed to express themselves in any kind of sexual manner. They’re not allowed to date, and they’re not looked at as valuable in that way that other women can be when they have full function. The pillars of being independent and sexy go hand in hand for Even Adaptive. If we can make you feel good, and increase your confidence and your independence by providing you with something that you want to be wearing instead of something that was made for 75% of women out there, then we can help to drive change. Sexiness is not just about how someone else is perceiving you but about how you perceive yourself.

Q: Your brand focuses on a neglected target audience. Did anything about this audience surprise you? 

A: I don’t know if they’ve surprised me so much because I’ve been working with this community for many years now, but one thing that I was excited about was how willing they are to lift everybody up. In so much of the world, when you’re trying to do something new, you hear no over and over again. But this community says, Let’s make change. Let’s do this. Let me post about it. Let me share your website. Everybody is excited to be involved in the ambassador program and get their name out there and their story out there. They are used to being told no as well, so when somebody finally tells them, This is for you, they grab onto it and they’re excited to be a part of it.

I’ve got both sides of the coin. We’re looking for fundraising and venture capitalists are 98% men. You’re faced with talking to men about women’s bras and underwear but also about women with disabilities and underwear. It’s this far out concept to them. They think, Who out there would need this? No we’re not going to fund that. I don’t see how it’s going to make money. But when you give it to the people who need it, they’re extremely excited to hear about the product and want to know more and be involved.  As an entrepreneur, there’s one side that’s beating you down, but then the other side that’s lifting you up. There’s a balance.

I think my personal story into why this business came to be is a pretty powerful story and seems to resonate with a lot of people. It doesn’t resonate so much with men but whenever I can tell it to women entrepreneurs they get it right away.

Q: Could you tell that story?

A: I was in graduate school in 2018 and it was finals week. I was having trouble with my vision and I was thinking, I’m going to go to the doctor and get really cute glasses!  The doctor thought something was strange, so he sent me in for an MRI. The MRI resulted with multiple lesions in my brain and my cervical spinal cord, and a very long diagnostic process led to a diagnosis of MS [Multiple Sclerosis]. So I was diagnosed with MS during finals week of grad school to become an occupational therapist. I already had my career laid out for me. I knew what I wanted to do, and it just happened that this was happening at the same time. The whole disease diagnosis process is fairly unpredictable with MS. Being me, with well-established anxiety, I was going through all the terrible things that could come from it. It was a very taxing year for me before I got on medication and was able to deal with it. In that process, I started working at Johns Hopkins in neurology. I was watching these women, who were dealing with a more advanced disease process than I had, not be able to do basics for themselves because that’s my whole job: to help people to be able to do those things again. These women couldn’t put bras on. Those were always the first things that women with neurological conditions gave up on, their underwear and their sexuality. They would just say, What? I’m never going to leave my house again, so why do I need to do this? But that doesn’t have to be the only option.

Even Adaptive was created from my own experience of going through this diagnosis and feeling like my self-worth was down in the dumps, and then watching women have this reaction over and over and over. I wondered, What is the thing that I can do to help these people? And the answer was to create an adaptive intimate line, because it was the one thing I couldn’t solve. I can teach anybody how to put on a shirt one-handed or a pant or a sock, there are tools out there for that. But nothing existed for these women that could lay the foundation of confidence and help them to feel good again. 

Q: Could you talk about your experience working with Interwoven? What was it like to have a vision realized with a design consultancy? 

A: When first I called Rebeccah, I remember her calling me back very quickly. She was immediately interested in the concept. Hearing that, I realized, Someone is going to help me with this! It was very exciting that she was able to see the vision, wrap her head around it, and know confidently that she could come up with a functional solution. It was so exciting to have a team of experts that had this portfolio behind them, that actually listened to what the product needed to be. I think Interwoven did a great job of taking the requirements that I knew that the product needed and creating something that has never been done before; to make it the best in the market and the only one-handed functional bra product that exists. The other beautiful thing that they did for me was to think about how the product was going to survive in the world in an extremely realistic way. They thought, We’re putting this work in, has this been created before? Has this been patented before? Are we going to be able to get a patent through? They did work to find out how it’s going to be manufactured, and they thought about the pricing. Interwoven thought about every detail, so they knew that the product would be viable once it left their hands. That was one of the most important things that they gave to me besides the clasp design. They wanted to see the project succeed, so they designed it with that in mind.

Q: What is something you experienced in the Even Adaptive journey that you didn’t anticipate? 

A: It was surprising how much attention went into creating this product. The multiple iterations and all the trial and error, all of the tiny little changes that Aybuke would make along the way…the product is highly fine-tuned and functional. When you’re not on the inside, you don’t think about what it takes to really create something like this. I was surprised at how much they cared.

Q: While awareness is growing, inclusive design is not yet a universal priority. What does the landscape of the inclusive market look like from your perspective? What are your hopes for this market? 

A: Since I started, I do see more adaptive companies. They’re starting to get funding and they’re popping up more and more often. I am seeing a big shift in the normalization of it. It’s still really slow moving. In terms of taking into account the look of the products and being fashioned forward, a lot of them are stuck on function. I do think that we’re going to move into a realm—and this is part of what Even Adaptive wants to help accomplish—where you don’t have to search endlessly online to find the thing that will help you get dressed after breaking your arm. You should be able to just pop online, already have a brand in your head, and order it up. There are a ton of inclusive designs that have been normalized in our homes, like all of the door handles that are levers instead of knobs. That’s an inclusive design option and we don’t think twice about it. It’s just in houses everywhere now. 

Hopefully that’s where adaptive clothing will go. It happened with baby onesies overnight. Somebody came up with baby onesies that have magnets and moms are like, Yes!  That’s a cool normalization, and that inclusive normalization is going to move up the line as long as we can make things that people want to wear.

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

A Q&A with Biomimicry Expert Ignacio Urbina Polo

A Q&A with Biomimicry Expert Ignacio Urbina Polo

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has encountered many talented designers throughout her career, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them. In this interview we spoke with design leader and biomimicry expert Ignacio Urbina Polo. Ignacio has his own design firm in addition to being the current chair of industrial design at Pratt Institute and the chief editor of di-conexiones, a prominent Spanish industrial design platform. He is known for his innovative initiatives across design disciplines and for his international collaborations with design schools in Latin America, Europe, and Japan. We asked him about the power of biomimicry, the importance of communication in design, and the connection between being a designer and being a musician.

Photo courtesy of Ignacio Urbina Polo.

Q: You are known for your innovative biomimetic studios. Could you talk about how you became interested in biomimicry and nature-inspired design?

A:  When I did my undergraduate in Venezuela, there was a course called Bionics Applied to Design. At that time we understood that it was something related to nature, and we were trying to apply certain concepts from nature. It became more clear to me when I started working in the Brazilian Laboratory of Industrial Design  in Florianopolis, Brazil—a significant initiative launched in the early 1980s by German designer and theorist Gui Bonsiepe and a team of Brazilian designers—where I did a specialization with the Mexican designer Fabricio Vanden Broeck, an alumnus of Ecal in Switzerland. It became clear that getting interested in the complexities of nature can be useful for us as designers. I remember learning about notions of growth and notions of systems, notions of structure. I started to understand that for the projects we do—in the sense of designing objects and trying to create material outcomes—we need this expertise that is different from engineering. My school was pretty technological. We did math and physics and focused on structure and materials. But with bionics, because the term biomimicry came later, we began understanding how we can use nature to help us in our design work.

Q: How does a biomimetic approach impact the design process? 

A: When I finished my undergraduate and moved to Brazil to start working in the field of industrial design, the field concentrated on how objects communicate with people, how they function. It focused on the idea of structure and how we actually make pieces and parts and components. It focused on how we make those parts strong enough, and how those parts can be manufactured with machines. This was an engineering approach. The idea of aesthetics? We were barely touching it. There were just little flavors of it: This needs to be balanced, this needs to be in scale. We were focusing on how we construct. When the idea of bionics came along, there was a lot of thinking: What is the natural form about? How does it work? We were automatically more connected with beauty because beauty and structure: they came together. Without having to spend too much time, we were doing structure—trying to make components stable and working with the structure visually and physically—and the aesthetic was intrinsic to the natural building strategy, and came naturally out of the process. A bionic approach was solving all of the engineering problems and, at the same time, the aspects related to aesthetics.

Q: Could you share an example of a nature-inspired design or collaboration with nature that has inspired you? 

A: During my time at the Brazilian Laboratory of Industrial Design I had the opportunity to explore diverse areas. The LBDI’s key areas of focus included industry projects, design promotion, and educational programs. A highlight of my experience was attending the bionics course with Fabricio Vanden Broeck that I mentioned earlier. This course opened my eyes to the works of various designers, engineers, and architects, like Frei Otto and the renowned Italian designer Carmelo Di Bartolo, known for his nature-centric research and design.

One of Fabricio’s projects at Ecal was particularly intriguing. He focused on replicating the seed distribution and ejection mechanisms found in nature. His prototypes aimed to mimic the dispersal methods of airborne seeds. His goal was to apply these natural, random distribution patterns to the allocation of medicines and supplies in urban areas ravaged by earthquakes. This approach was not only about mimicking natural forms but also about applying complex concepts of natural growth and systems to solve pressing issues. This was especially relevant considering the significant damage caused by the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City. Such innovative thinking demonstrated how biomimetic design could extend beyond aesthetic interpretation and tackle real-world challenges effectively.

Q: You and, by extension, your website, di-conexiones, are an impressive design resource. You have an extensive social media presence as a design thought leader. What are some of the things you enjoy about communicating about design? How does this tie into your position as the chair of industrial design at Pratt?

A: I knew that there was something interesting and important about disseminating design and talking about design. The more I talked about design, the more it enriched my own work. I wanted to see what was out there, and if there was a better way to do this or that. Communicating about design is something we need to do all the time. The platform di-conexiones started as notes to myself. Fifteen years later, there are more than thirty people writing and it is something that I still feel is interesting. I have my professional practice. I have my job as an educator. I work in an institution. But di-conexiones is an independent website, meaning I don’t have to answer to anybody to write what I write. I haven’t made it a business, partly because I have other businesses to take care of but also because I want that freedom. At least for now, I need to maintain this independent way of talking about design – that is why I enjoy it. It has to be for myself and for the community. 

I always have the idea, I need to write about this. I do free research all the time because I don’t have to deal with anybody, and this creates a space that is more interesting to research my own ideas. I think we need that for what we do.

Q: You’re also a musician, do you see a cross-over between musical improvisation and design ideation?

A: There are many parallels we can make between music and design, though they are very different as well. The first difference is that we perceive them with a different sense. So the acoustic space is the territory of musicians and, as designers, we don’t often work within the acoustic space. Another big difference is that music is a performance art, meaning you play and then you hear it.  As designers we create before you see the outcome. We create and then we see. Where I see connections between music and design is in the design process.

I tell my students that there are three aspects that are interesting to consider in design, and the same three aspects are important to a musician. When we learn to play an instrument, there are three elements that we need to figure out. The first is physicality, meaning that I need to understand the physical instrument; how to play the notes, the technique. We need to develop that technique. We need to get good because the better we are at the instrument, the more we can hear the nuances of the sound. It is the same in design. The more we do models, the more we draw: the more we see. 

The second part is the content of the music, the form. The music tells you, This is rock, this is  jazz. Music, because it is a language that you can write, you can learn. The music has a structure that you can play, there are typologies. I can play rock because the rock has a standard form that I can recognize. The more I study the history of music, the more genres I can recognize. We can think of design in the same way. What is the typology? What is the form, the history of the art? All of those things are within the content. It can take a whole career to understand these things. So one part is the instrument, the technique, the second part is the content, and the third part is the sensibility to get involved. 

If you’re a good musician, you can play the instrument and you know how to play certain kinds of music, but you have to develop a sensibility to create music that nobody else can. The moment you play, there needs to be an energy—a sensibility—that makes you not only a good technician and a good musician but also a good performer, who can communicate with the music. That’s why we connect with certain musicians and we don’t connect with others. 

At Pratt we have a 3D methodology that teaches how to observe and create the phenomenon of form and how to talk about that. That is close to what we do with music. We work with eyes and hands in design and with hearing in music, but we are also trying to communicate and create a connection. This is a special thing you need to work on that is the third part of the design process as well as the music process.

For example, we can talk about the song of a birthday party; it has three notes and the form is very simple. We can also talk about a Beethoven suite that has many parts, and each part has a momentum. Both of these demonstrate the three aspects I talked about; How do you play it? What are the notes? What is the feeling? In product design it is the same. You can design a flower vase that is very simple. It can be one material, one gesture. Or you can design a car that has 7,000 pieces. The designs still need to answer the same questions. 

Because design is different from music, the response happens later. There is a timing gap. When people actually get the product is when you confirm the response. With music, you feel it right away. The way you play music, that will be the way you design. This is not mathematical, it’s more qualitative, and this is something that you learn. It could be thought of as a designer’s voice but I could even go back to more basic things. Part of what you contribute as a designer is not even conscious. The big musicians are not saying, I’m good. They just do their thing. It’s the same with good designers. They just do it. 

This is part of why it’s difficult for me to talk about innovation. Every time we talk about innovation, it seems like we are saying that we are going to innovate on purpose. In reality, innovations often happen later, when somebody recognizes, Oh, there is an innovation there. But you weren’t working on that. If you do good work, there may be an innovation in there somewhere. As designers, we are close to innovation because we have that thing that innovates. 

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!