“Discussing the History and Future of Design with Jane Dagmi / Editor in chief of Designers Today on the importance of knowing what came before and the excitement of what’s coming next”

Question: BFL has a tag line of ‘Touch History……Design the Future’.  How important is design history in creative thinking and design processes today?

Answer: The importance of knowing the history of design if you are a design professional or aspiring to be one is a lot like why a doctor should know patient history – the past gives context, reference, a deeper understanding of the present and a clearer path forward, with the end goal of providing the best service and outcome possible. The past is a language shared among professionals (and clients as well) and can help translate ideas into reality. Finding the roots of things is necessary for new growth. In fact, I cannot think of one designer with whom I’ve spent time that has not taken the time to curate a reference library.

Question:  While in the publication/magazine industry you have seen manufacturing processes and construction change over the years.  How do you think this change impacted designers?

Answer:  I cannot truly address the technical aspect of manufacturing and construction, but I can speak to how the return to domestic manufacturing has impacted interior designers in that it has provided nearly unlimited possibility when it comes to specifying unique product for their clients. Domestic production gives designers a wealth of options programs as well as true customization, in some cases. Casegoods finishing programs, as well, that can do any color match, offer a candy shop of pattern finishes and motifs and hardware choices, are key when as part of the designer’s value is bringing something no one else has to the table. Prior to COVID, keeping it local also generally meant short to reasonable lead times for custom goods. generally shorter lead times.
Additionally, digital rendering, AR and other software programs – ones where designers can apply a finish or fabric to frame, for example – used to usher the manufacturing process along allow designers to see the end result, and they can in turn show their clients, making the selling of custom product easier. Not to mention 3D printing and its mesmerizing ability to realize models and print to-scale goods.

Question:  What are some features you expect and still look for in modern furniture and accessories that are based in historical processes?

Answer:  My thoughts immediately go to quality of construction and old-school production techniques. It’s no coincidence that when Gary Inman answered this question, he provided a photograph of Jeremy Kamiya’s desk – a thoroughly modern desk executed with some of the simplest joinery principles, then taken up a notch – that’s where my mind went too. Veneer and inlay are two other techniques that enabled fancy surface design back in the day and is still current. Additionally, the idea of conservation and using available and local materials – even reclaimed and recycled – was important then and very timely now.

Question:  What excites you most about the changes in design processes and construction?

Answer:  The ease and speed with which customization can happen – in the old days to make a custom piece took a very long time, now with instant communication exchanges coupled with AR and other programs, the process is streamlined and has less friction. Also, I’ve toured many factories, especially upholstery factories, and seeing the digitization of machinery coupled with the handmade is, to me, a most lovely confluence of old meets new.

Question:  As a book enthusiast and advocate of researching and educating oneself on historical design, how would you encourage young designers to move to this way of thinking and include research in their daily design process?
Answer:  I always think of books as a luxury – riches left behind for us to discover. To be able to page through someone else’s personal work, findings, point of view, is an opportunity for greater understanding and expansion. Just think of the time and focus it took somebody to complete a book – especially those books produced before the internet, when you really had to have a lot of passion and persistence to find sources. All that energy, all of those words, for us to be privy to that to partake of it is truly a gift.
I would encourage young designers to develop a discipline and set aside time for perusing books and periodicals – time for self-educating. Begin with a decade of design that they feel an affinity towards or that resonates with a current project. Document your self-education in a beautiful notebook reserved for your takeaways. Take notes. Sketch from the book. Channel the fluidity of a design icon or iconic design. Feel it.
And more cause to read and pick up books… whether you are streaming Versailles, Bridgerton or Mad Men for the fifth time, being versed in the decorative arts of the day will surely make digesting popular culture that much more delicious.
Set aside time to indulge.