“..my equation of a good design is Form+Function+Society..”
Nikolas Gregory founded the Nikolas Gregory Studio in 2014, during his time at the RISD-Brown dual degree program. – Rhode Island School of Design. Since it’s creation the studio has been putting out some fascinating projects, one of which – Scrap Stool – was a part of the 2016 Milan Design Week. The Stool is made out of nothing but scrap paper & glue, hence the name ‘Scrap Stool’.
“..a critic design studio..”
Born in the family of creatives, it is safe to say he had a knack for design or simply how things work – “I was doomed from the start” as he puts it. Projects that mean something and stand for something. Projects that can influence change and move society forward – this is what designer Nikolas Gregory does & which is why designdaily.. is an avid follower of his work.
An artist, a critic, a designer, a creative director & a founder – Nikolas is playing it all, and today we get to see the world from his perspective.
Nikolas Hi, How are you ? can you please share a bit about yourself & your background ?
“ I am from New York. I come from a family of designers, architects. My parents run the firm Bentel and Bentel with Peter Bentel, my dad’s brother. I grew up in their studio. My grandparents, Maria and Fred Bentel are the ones who started the firm Bentel and Bentel. Others in my family are also involved in creative fields. My brother is one of the 3 founders of the creative agency Hello Velocity. My sister, wants to be an automobile designer. ”
Why Design ? were you always attracted it or is it something that came in the later stage of your life ?
“ I wanted to be an engineer but I became interested in the design of products, figuring out how to make them function but also how they look and feel when being used, how they perform. While I love taking things apart to see their guts and to understand the “machinery,” I really get interested in the emotional relationship people have with designed objects. ”
The Scrap Stool
How would you describe your approach to design ?
“ There are two approaches which characterize my work. On the one hand, I aspire to create designs/art/objects which fulfill the immediate ambition – to make something useful, beautiful or both. This is the noble ambition we learn in design school, to strive to change the world through design. On the other hand, I enjoy designs that parody our design-obsessed culture with objects that border on the nonsensical. I take pride in both. Classical design always produces a good outcome. But funny is also good. For me, design is a language, a way of communicating. I take comedy seriously – it creates a counterpoint to the well-intentioned but narrow-minded utilitarianism that prevails in the design field. Design can serve as comic relief as well as any other form of communication.”
What is your definition of Good Design ?
“ Good design is about conceiving of things which perform well, solve a problem or facilitate a task. Good design is seamless, complete, unimpeachable. But those are not the only criteria nor exclusive criteria. Good design is not invisible. Good design is evident in things which provoke a conscious interaction with those who use it. The best design normally compels us to stand up and take notice, to be surprised and forced to ask, “How did they think of this?” We are engaged by things that are well designed. They force us to ask questions. They can change our minds about what is possible. ”
“ With that in mind, it is possible to imagine that good design is not limited to objects which work well. Designed objects with little utility – or even negative utility, meaning that they do not work well or are not handsome – also provoke surprise and force us to ask questions. ”
A majority of people still relate Design to the looks & the form of a product, if you agree then how would you propose we can change this?
“ The long fix to this problem is to get the public to understand how important design is to the world. Everything is designed from the toothbrush to the stock exchange system. Designers are engaged in every compartment of life and everything that is made by humans is designed by someone. The all-encompassing presence of design is evident not only in the touch and feel of the things humans make but also the way we all interact with our creations. Getting that message across is the first step in changing the false public perception that designers are only concerned with inconsequential surfaces. ”
The studio website doesn’t really display your commercial work, mainly the Discursive & Experimental designs. So do you take on commercial projects ?
“ Absolutely. It is the bread and butter of a designer. I need more of it. But, discursive work – the work which inspires commentary – can be auto-generated. It might be suitable for a museum context. It is deeply satisfying. I love its irony and hilarity. It is good for people. But it does not keep food on the table. ”
“ Translating discursive design into a commercial product is hard to do. My goal for the studio is to try to bridge the gap between discursive work and commercial work. A perfect assignment would yield a product which serves a purpose – which has real value to someone somewhere – but which simultaneously and unobtrusively presents a critique of the program it was intended to serve. A great design would be one which has value in the present but also anticipates it’s future replacement or, perhaps, its own obsolescence. ”
Designers often use the words ‘Emotions’ or ‘Emotional Experience’ when they explain their work. So, what part would you say that ‘Emotions’ play in the creation process & could it be the Difference between a ‘Good’ & a ‘Great’ product or design ?
“ Products have to touch the user emotionally. Humans are emotional beings. We are not machines. Mass production distances design from human emotion by standardizing products and, in the process, standardizing their users. This sounds old fashioned, a kind of early 20th century critique of industrial culture. But it is still true today. ”
“ Take Apple, for example. I love their products, the genius of their designers, the unrelenting commitment to design excellence. But all the products are created as perfect objects, devoid of kinks and idiosyncrasies. They are almost too perfect. But in my mind, an Apple product makes the human using it look like the problem in the human/product relationship. Humans are transformed into Apple sycophants. A little emotional/destructive mess is good to have! ”
The Ripley Kit.
“Every Creation shares the values & characteristics of it’s Creator.”. Nikolas how would you say this applies to you & your work ?
“ My work is simultaneously serious and humorous. To me, humor is a good way to get a concept across to an audience. It demonstrates that we have perspective on our ambitions. It also offers room for popular success. It makes products accessible and appealing to an audience. It also reflects who I am and how I see the world. ”
How would you describe yourself, The Studio, your work & your team in one word ?
“ Workaholic – Busy – ♥️ ”
Do you think Design as a Tool can play a role in working against world problems like Poverty, Hunger, Global Warming, Waste etc. ?
“ Definitely. That is where current discursive design falls short. Many products/systems are “show and tell pieces”, products that say something but do absolutely nothing and are just occupying space. ”
Which quality do you think is the most important for a designer & do you find that quality in yourself ?
“ A good designer must multi-task, good at design but also a good at managing the process, good at the business of design. A good designer must be a communicator capable of describing an outcome before it is realized, good at marshaling the resources of materials, method and money to the cause of getting something done. A good designer must be successful at selling ideas. It is a simple reality of the world we live and work in. If there were still Kings and Queens, it might be different. ”
What is that one thing according to you, that ‘design education’ is lacking in nowadays ?
“ Recognising the importance of designing “constant change.” New technologies make old working methods less valuable. New design concepts make the status quo old fashioned. New social patterns emerging with each generation mean that the sensibilities of the audience for design are in constant evolution. This is not how designers raised on the canon of grand design are taught to see their work. They want their designs to enter into the pantheon of great design. They are taught to be heroic. That ambition is inconsistent with the world we now live in. ”
Do you think that the definition of design i.e. Form + Function has changed in these current times & are there other factors in play when a designer has to create a new product ?
“ Yes. My comments above reflect my belief that there is no simple formula – such as functionalism – that results in good design. Designers have to be aware that those who “use” what designed objects experience them is many ways, not because the objects change but because the circumstances in which they use them change. A person today is not the same person tomorrow. What is functional today may not be tomorrow. What is serious today or beautiful or well designed now may not be tomorrow. Designers should embrace this fact. Their task – my task – is not to change an unchanging world but rather to design in ways that accept the condition of change and understand what is good today may not be tomorrow. ”
“ For me, that means always question the outcome of reason, always challenge what we take as normative. I am not proposing that designers abandon what they know. They know a lot. They possess wisdom accumulated over generations. But, they must be prepared to abandon convention. It is about living with the reality that there is no single set of conditions which will provide the context for their designs. ”
“ And do not forget that fact that the methods of making things are undergoing revolutionary change. With bio-design, for example, we can design objects which change and grow. The model for this type of design is not, “make the perfect mousetrap and go down in history.” Instead, it is to design an autonomous system and set it free to grow and change in response to the environments it encounters. Designers can no longer predict the outcome of their design only the point of its departure. ”
“ This is why I am a big believer in speculative criticality as a crucial part to the design process and outcome. Where do you see the product in 10 years? Where do you see it in 100? ”
Which one would you say is your best work yet & why ?
“ The Scrap Stool is my favorite to date. It transforms a bad social practice (poor waste management) into the resource for something positive and good. It is a simple design and one that is easy for people to understand. ”
ScrapStool on designdaily.. (click to visit)
The Pizza Pipe
What is the inspiration behind your work ?
“ My father and mother are a big source of inspiration. Hard workers and do what they love. ”
What is it like to have & run your own design studio ?
“ Definitely keeping a balance of projects you like working on and projects that will keep the studio afloat. ”
What is easier, working alone or with team ?
“ For me, designing is a hectic process. I have no idea where the next project will come from or who will have the correct skills to work on it. Usually the best ideas come from the most unlikely people. The work I do usually starts in my head. As the idea develops, the process of further refining becomes collaborative. I solicit opinions people and delegate parts of the design development process. At a certain point the design takes on its own unique form that I would have never been able to come up with by myself. ”
According to you, what is the current state of the ‘Design Industry’ & what would be your predictions for the future?
“ Increasingly, designers are working with virtual rather than physical media. Even when they are designing what will ultimately be physical objects, designers think and work in a virtual world. How strange that designers who are responsible for determining the form of the world we occupy invent those ideas about physical space in a virtual reality. This is a real change. This is sad but slowly becoming our reality. ”
Something that you would want to redesign.
“ A Spaceship 🚀 Obviously ! ”
A piece of advice have you would like to give to the aspiring designers out there ?
“ Keep producing. Always be making. ”
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