Stephen Burks Uses Global Design as a Means for a More Inclusive World

A prodigious industrial designer and part of Metropolis’s Specify Hot List 2021, Burks works with artisans from around the world.

Designer Stephen Burks is an industry gem not only for his talent but also for his progressive approach to manufacturing and design. On the road to becoming one of North America’s hottest industrial designers, Burks has worked with artisans in France, Germany, Ghana, Haiti, India, Italy, Kenya, Peru, and the Philippines, among other countries. His past decade of commercial work is so impressive it is the focus of an upcoming solo exhibit being held at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in September 2022. But ahead of that milestone, he recalls that in most of his collaborations, he was the first African American his clients had ever worked with. Those experiences made him want to use his work to elevate voices of other marginalized groups. “This is about everyone who is outside of that circle of European design. Everyone who is making things in other ways and in other parts of the world and has something to say,” Burks declares. 

Burks’s partnership with DEDON is the manufacturer’s longest with any designer, and has helped link its collections to handcrafted techniques around the globe. His KIDA lounge is above.

His collections for outdoor furniture manufacturer DEDON may best illustrate that philosophy. Burks has folded his appreciation for world cultures into each collection: DALA, meaning “to take” or “make” in the Tagalog language of the Philippines, is inspired by the improvised seating Burks has encountered across the developing world. THE OTHERS, a line of portable lanterns, was designed during Europe’s migrant crisis with bold and weary travelers in mind. “THE OTHERS was a way of saying, ‘How do you welcome (if you can welcome) this lantern into your garden, and into your life? Can you also welcome other people into your community?’” Burks asks rhetorically. 

Meanwhile, the KIDA hanging lounge (shown opposite) seems designed for day-dreaming, a lighter but still human-centered activity. “He has a playful and colorful creative mind, with design ideals that align so much with ours,” says DEDON’s marketing director, Chloé Sos. Burks and DEDON have mutual appreciation, and he views their relationship as symbiotic: “They’ve given me the opportunity to experiment,” he says. 

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