DESTIG Magazine Interview - STANLEY JAY FRIEDMAN - We discuss the business of creativity with the USA’s most prolific product designer!
You have been in the industry since the 1970’s– how has the design business changed since you started out?
In a word: ‘computers!’ in 40 plus years, the design industry has grown enormously. The industry was a tightly knit group of individuals and manufacturers that controlled and “showed us what to buy”. Today the consumer is savvy. Most people are aware of design like never before - films, TV, newspapers, design and fashion magazines, online social media, and ecommerce has made it impossible to be oblivious and not pay attention to design. We are inundated with “being in the know!” Years ago, one could only purchase designer furniture through designer showrooms in which entry required going with a designer. Now the field is wide open. Today we all want to express our own personal individualism whereas in the past, egocentricity was frowned upon.
Your designs are described as bold, clean, barrier breaking and modern – do you ever play it safe?
I think I play it safe. I’m not looking to design museum or art product. I design product for manufacturers and I have a responsibility to design product that can be successful.
I sometimes push them a bit and give them a bit of a progressive aesthetic, but I’m careful not to push too far. Having said that, I will not do things that bore me or that I find objectionable to me personally. I still have to satisfy myself and I still have to design good relevant product. Yes, many manufacturers think of my designs as barrier breaking, and for them they might be. However, if and when I feel there’s a right time, I’ll show what I believe is not playing it safe.
You studied at the renowned Parsons School of Design but you radiate the authoritative confidence of a self-taught expert?
When I went to parsons (it seems like a century ago), design and theory were taught with a very different approach than it is today. First, Parsons at that time was entrenched with the classics and traditionalism. Computers were nowhere in sight. Modernism was spoken of, but not glorified. Bauhaus was certainly discussed, but not rejoiced. My education at Parsons was superb. I learned thoroughly about art history, the periods, and exhaustively knew every curve a Louis fifteenth fauteuil had. I was nevertheless frustrated about not investigating modernism more. The fact that I was frustrated about this issue gave me the impetus to go (on my own) and study and learn about the modernists. Though at that time, I didn’t realize how rewarding the understanding and study of art history was and how it was essential in becoming a complete designer. A slow evolution was emerging within me. The understanding of the periods began to unfold for me into having a better clearer picture of what modernism was all about. From the early works of Adolf Loos through the beginning/ending of Bauhaus, then on to the later forties and fifties of American and Scandinavian design and architecture. Personally I can attribute some of the reasoning for why it’s important to go through that kind of progression to what I saw in the work of Pablo Picasso. It was his early blue period of realism and how it evolved to the most extraordinary abstract work the art world has ever known.
You teach Evolution of Modernism in America – why do designers make good teachers?
To answer your question simply, it’s the passion. It’s your life. It’s what you breath, and it’s the need for expounding your feelings and getting it out. When you see young design students with eyes wide open, you remember how you were and the exhilaration you had. But not all students have an insatiable thirst to learn, but when you do find a student that does, it’s wonderfully gratifying to teach and nurture them. Then we can go nonstop discussing, lecturing, arguing or concurring what’s good and bad about today’s design vs. the past. What can we as designers do about it?
How do you keep your finger on the pulse to stay relevant to a younger generation?
Read, dream, and keep your eyes open - the news, politics, travel, real estate, fashion, design, architecture and the cinema. When I was very young the cinema served as an enormous influence on me. The fashion, set design, exotic places, lighting, drama, architecture, and what the world looked like. I lived vicariously through the styles and travels to places that I might never get to see. All of it gave me reason to dream beyond my expectations. Today I feel exactly the same.
When did you realize that design would be your life?
As a child, I always drew extremely well. I helped all the other children in class. That built my confidence. Most studies bored me and I did poorly. But I never stopped drawing. To this day, I sketch everyday in my little black books. I even keep a book by my bedside for the times I wake in the middle of the night with an idea. I knew in high school that my life would be in art. My family accepted that I wasn’t a great student, and they knew I loved to draw. They knew I wasn’t going to be a lawyer or a doctor. The truth is, I might have preferred to be a painter.
I was talented. But my family steered me in the direction of design, in fear I would be a starving artist.
What are your all-time creative influences?
My top most creative influence has to be the cinema (as mentioned). I loved it and still love going. Though I must admit, I miss the old films. Of course I have many other creative influences. I loved what Jean Michel Frank did with style and design. Chareau, Scarpa, Prouve they are some of my favorites. Saarinen, Wright, Le Corbusier, Aalto, Mies Van Der Rohe, Kahn, Barragan, and artists like Bacon, Shiela, Giacometti were all influential to me. Then there are today’s architects. Piano, Botta, Hadid, Ban, Koolhaas, Meier... I could go on and on.
You gave up your interior design practice to focus on product design – Why did you make that decision and how do the two disciplines differ for you?
Actually, I always designed products, and designing interiors was fun for a long time. I like people and that business is creating environments for people. I like and still do enjoy making beautiful things happen. Whether residential or commercial you have to satisfy the client. That’s not always easy. I did it for many years and had a large office staff. I think I just got burned out. Now I primarily work by myself with one or two freelance draftsmen-de- signing (strictly) product. The overhead and the responsibility are much lower. It gives room to free my mind. I love it this way!
You have earned many design awards during your career, if you could have a Stanley Jay Friedman Award what would it be for and why?
Passion, Discipline, and Perseverance. The PDP award!!! Without my passion, I would not have had the discipline and perseverance to go on for so long or just to go on at all.
You became the Design director for Brueton. What qualities do you look for in designers you work with?
Sometimes designers submit designs without knowing and understanding what the company’s capabilities and focus are. They just send things. That’s the wrong way to get your product accepted. I have always told new designers to learn as much about the company you plan to design for before submittal. It also goes without saying, that a designer’s portfolio and experience tells me immediately if they’re talented, capable and focused.
You have designed for Chinese manufacturers – what’s the state of China’s high design sector? China has come a long way. You can still buy junk, but you can also buy high quality product. The prices are still rewarding for us in the American market and most places in the world. I’ve seen in recent years some truly beautiful product coming from China. Having said that, Italy still outdoes most countries with design and quality. The reason once again, is passion. Italians seem to have it in their DNA. Everyone in Italy supports the design industry. They’re fervent about design. So until the Chinese or other countries understand that, Italy will remain number one.
You are a native New Yorker – what are your favorite places in the big Apple?
NYC is like most large urban places in the world. All of the once downtrodden areas are being gentrified. In NYC we have the highline, the meatpacking area, Chelsea (the new art gallery scene), Tribeca, Soho, and the Battery. Uptown, walking Madison Avenue is always an elegant treat. 5th avenue along Central Park, all the way up to museum row is a beautiful trek. And visiting all our great museums is always rewarding, as well. New York, New York it’s a wonderful town! But my all-time favorite place has to be Central Park on a Sunday.
You have a British connection (your wife is a Brit) what are your favorite places in the U.K?
I love walking around Southbank, Canary Wharf, always love Mayfair, tea at the Ritz.... dinner at the Connaught is like an experience you won’t ever forget. We yanks get so self-conscious over our accent but English pubs make us feel right at home. Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, New Bond Street, Saville Row, the great museums and restaurants. Out of London the lake region and the Cotswolds are incredibly charming. I could go on and on. I appreciate the elegance that permeates the traditions of Britain. My wife being a Brit, while being in the fashionbiz, has been a plus towards getting to know and see what’s happening in the UK especially the London scene. Because of her, I’ve become highly aware of fashion. London is easily one of the best spots to see the latest trends.
Aside from bringing some more modern classics to life what are your other plans for the future?
Never retire! I’d like to keep on doing what I love. I’m convinced I’m yet to design my best product. One day I’ll present some of my very progressive designs. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote by Ayn Rand “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” That quote aside, I still must admit to sometimes seeing a newly designed product and thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Visit the Website: www.instagram.com/stanleyjayfriedman
Credits – Stanley Jay Friedmann