April 1, 2008
Jeffrey Bernett answers a few questions on industrial design, inspiration, and process—using his thumbs.
Job description: Industrial designer and strategic design consultant
Current projects: A couple of contract side chairs for B&B Italia, ongoing work in office systems and seating for Knoll, bathroom fixtures for Boffi, and always a couple of other little things
First step on a project: It usually starts with identifying a problem to solve, coupled with an opportunity in the marketplace.
Last step on a project: Most of our projects enter the market through trade shows, so usually the last step is helping with the initial communication and launch.
How do you break a creative block? Gerhard Richter said something to the effect that it’s important to continue in the daily practice of your profession—so persistence and patience. But a short break during the week would be an espresso at a café down the street. A weekend break would be going to Chelsea to be inspired by the contemporary art world.
Why do you do what you do? I’m very mechanically inclined, which includes an affinity for and curiosity about machines, industrial process, and materials. I was born with the benefit of being a good three-dimensional thinker, as well as studying a fair bit of business at university. Design was the perfect profession—culture for commerce.
Education: Harvard on the highway
Mentors: All of those who have come before me. Design is a continuum.
World-saving mission: Recycling, reducing carbon emission, etc. We have only one world, so we all must be really intelligent in how we take care of it.
First act as “design czar”: Working with government to come up with a whole new policy on ecology and sustainability
Dream team: It includes an excellent engineer(s), an excellent material expert/engineer(s), and an involved, intelligent, and passionate client, all working together on a good problem to solve.
Office chair: We have many task chairs in the office—Knoll, Vitra, Steelcase, Herman Miller, B&B Italia. It’s an occupational hazard.
Office sound track: Off the Internet usually, mostly for subtle background ambience. Variety is good.
Favorite tchotchkes: Simple everyday items—eating utensils, paper clips, tools, etc.
Most useful tools: BlackBerry, computer, iPod, and Fisher Space Pen
Bookmarks: New York Times, YouTube, Merriam-Webster, Weather.com, Amazon, eBay
Best place to think: On a plane
Current read: World as Design, by Otl Aicher
Old standbys: I have a number of catalogues raisonnés on my favorite artists—Richter, Judd, Saville, Friedman, Gursky, Duchamp, Serra, Giacometti, Opie, Havekost, Lutter.
Something old: Parthenon, Stonehenge
Something new: Mies’s Farnsworth House
Favorite space: Either out in the mountains skiing or here in Chelsea, on the upper floors of the Dia space on 22nd Street and all of the wonderful contemporary-art gallery spaces around that area
Guilty pleasure: Since I love a good meal, that would probably mean dessert.
Underrated: Humility, honesty, hard work, passion, and the pursuit of excellence
Learned the hard way: Most lessons in life
Command-Z (undo): No need to look back
Dream job: Luckily, I love what I do and have some great clients, so usually it’s the next project coming up.