hero alt

Considering the Details: A Conversation with Carl Gustav Magnusson

The 80-minute interview with Magnusson for the September Inspiration article was filled with so many great highlights, i+s is sharing it in full.

08/29/2017

During NeoCon, we almost left the Allseating showroom without saying hello to Carl Gustav Magnusson. The unassuming designer sat in one of his creations, proudly inviting visitors to take a seat with him and discuss the Lyss chair like a beloved docent, pointing out the oft-unnoticed aspects of their favorite artwork. (I say with the utmost respect and admiration for those who work in museums and historical sites.)
                Magnusson is one of those special people who never seem to tire of discussing design, no matter how often he has to repeat himself for the newcomer sitting next to him, nor does he seem to forget anything. When I sat down and was introduced as the editor-in-chief of interiors+sources, he lit up and reminded me that we had bestowed him with the Bloom award for one of his designs a decade earlier. A week after the following interview was recorded, I happened to run into him during a meeting in the Midwest. After reintroducing myself in person, he quipped: “I knew it, those images weren’t high enough resolution, and here you’ve tracked me down.”
                The following interview occurred on July 10, 2017, as part of our September Product Inspiration article on Allseating’s recently released Lyss chair. Although only a portion was ultimately used, the 80-minute interview was filled with too much insight and delightful commentary to be simply left on a hard drive somewhere. 


Kadie Yale, interiors+sources Magazine: What did you think about this year’s NeoCon?

Carl Gustav Magnusson: Most people love to hate NeoCon, but the fact of the matter is, that NeoCon and Orgatec are the greatest industry exhibits—alright, you can also include Salone del Mobile in Milan—but NeoCon is, of course, the most important show in the biggest contract market in the world, so I always love it, even though I’ve attended probably 25 of them or something like that. You meet all your friends in the corridors—I’m very glad the Mart corridors are wide enough that you can stop and talk to, more or less, everybody. It’s really good! And of course, this year I had the pleasure of the product introduction—and as a designer, you always love the introduction of your product—and I introduced the Lyss chair with Allseating. That was a lot of fun. You never quite know how it’s going to go, but I’m always filled with optimism. That proved well; they did a terrific job of promoting it and bringing it in. Despite the fact that they’re not in the Mart themselves, it was a very successful introduction, and very well received. Especially by the contract community, the big users—the Fortune 500 companies—and that’s where you want to be well received, and in the large A&D offices. It was a lot of fun!

KY: Why do you think it is that these big Fortune 500 companies are changing from the standard office structure that we’ve seen for so long?

CGM: I think that there’s been a wonderful sort of morphing from the cubicles to a much more open landscape. The open landscape, by the way, has only been around 50 years. It’s more than 50 years that it’s been going on, so the walls are finally coming down. And with the walls, we’ve had a revolution no one really expected back then, which is a digital one. We can be untethered and work more closely in collaboration, so the layouts of all modern offices are now much less so about the cubicle and about 25 percent (probably, you would know better than I) of the space now is delegated to interactive areas where people talk about the problem and the solution. They don’t have to sit at a desk to be on their phone or tablet or laptop.
                I think it’s become much more egalitarian. The idea of the CEO sitting in this wood-paneled office has, more or less, evaporated. Everybody now has become a little bit more equal. I think one of the drivers of that egalitarian aspect is that the cost of real estate is very high; the closer you are to higher-quality employees, the higher the cost of the real estate. That’s why real estate costs, or costs per workspace, are very important. Therefore, you have a concentration of work areas, like benching. Executives are sitting with the rest of the people. That’s the result of it, which is just fine. The people who are managing are the ones who are working with other employees, understanding what the real issues are. Makes for much better team work, and office group therapy, etc. That’s where we are today.
                So, we see beautiful interiors being done with a very high concentration of the space. I would say 20 years ago, we would have, as they’re called, “office parks” in the suburbs that were beautifully designed, great architecture, beautiful spaces. But, really, the people that are very well educated, they don’t want to work out there. They want to work in town. They want to work in downtown Chicago. So, to do that, you need spaces that not only attract the people immediately upon sight; therefore, because they’re more costly, you end up with smaller desks and such. I think it all works out very well. When you’re in proximity of people, you get a better exchange of information, a better opportunity to understand what they do, and hopefully move everything forward to a common good.

KY: I don’t think that there’s a lot of conversation about the products that are used—what do you think is the impact of products in the workspace?

CGM: Just to the point that some of them are enclosed, there’s a normal reaction that offices are so open that there isn’t any privacy; you want to have some space where you can have a conversation without disturbing other people or, quite frankly, it’s none of their business what the discussion is. What it’s lending itself to is not lots of huge conference rooms—to the contrary, they’re more or less gone. What we have is small conference spaces, usually in glass so you can see who is there, and usually it’s 46 people. In many cases now, even little groupings like a place for two people to sit down and have a conversation, which I think is all good. The past has shown huge conference rooms—boardrooms, not to be confused with boring rooms—where it’s for 30 people, but how often do you use it? “We use it once a year. Every year we pull everyone in, or once a month.” It’s such a waste of space for no good reason. That’s why I think, instead, having all of these smaller conference areas or places where you can just casually sit down, or maybe, you know, make a personal call. The kids want to call you and they want to discuss things your neighbor doesn’t necessarily need to hear. I think it’s a natural pendulum swing, or, I should say, it’s more of a balance of where things should be.

KY: For your collection with Allseating, what was the inspiration behind the design?

CGM: Well, first I would say that the category of seating that they identified that they wanted to head toward was side seating, as either pull-up chairs or chairs for breakout areas or for dining. When I looked at that, I naturally went back to my roots, which are the Eames office and very much Dieter Rams—if anyone has a hero, mine would be Deter Rhams, the German guy who’s still around! I thought, “I want to have a product that’s as visually simple as possible with lots of roundness, in that we immediately naturally find attractive in things. So I think I wanted forms that were friendly. When you think of forms that you really like, for example, like a camera. [Cameras] have, of course, rectilinear parts to them, but they very much entail round radius surfaces that tangent to the flat, that when there’s a material change, there’s also a visual detail change. It’s not just one material bucking up to the next. In some way, there’s a certain embrace between the different materials. Because the chair has an interior and exterior, by obvious definition, I chose to do the exterior in one default shell color—white—because the outside has less chance to become soiled and a maintenance problem, but it allows it to be quite visually stark. The inside is a 20-percent gray, which is the classic color used for photographers to adjust the camera to correct lighting. But it’s nothing more than a piece of paper at so-called 20 percent, but it’s been proven the eyes find it very neutral, and you can work from there. The outer shell has a higher durometer—in other words, the durometer is how ridged it is. Diamonds are a durometer of 100—you can’t do much. Water is zero. It’s the “squeezability.” The durometer on the outside can be very high because it has a job to do which is create rigidity. The durometer of the inside shell can be considerably lower because it simply has to be fused to the exterior shell, and thereby, you get the overall rigidity. But because it’s softer, the touch is more comfortable, so therefore I chose a finer finish on the inside, and a rougher one on the outside. The rougher one you can only see because you don’t touch there. The inside one, your hand automatically falls to the arm rest and touches the material, and you want that material to be inviting, in color, squeezability—i.e. durometer—and, of course, in texture.
                Then the shell can be upholstered. When you upholster, you have the opportunity to either hide all the seams, which it does around the perimeter, which makes for a very clean definition between the interior—let’s say that’s what you upholstered—and the exterior shell. Or if you decided to do the exterior or the two together, maybe in different colors or something like that—it can be rather nice to do a dark green, and then the interior done in a very light red or something like that, they just come together. They fold themselves together at the very edge of the thing. But there are certain areas where you need to have seams, which are the verticals between the back and the arm, and there, it gives you the opportunity to give use to good ol’ saddle stitching, which is these three lines. You see the actual seam, and then you have two parallel lines, which are the actual stitching of it. It’s the symbol of high quality, which, I believe, actually goes back centuries to the time of leather making for horse riding. That’s where a lot of that stuff comes in. You try to incorporate those details when it’s appropriate, to make up a shell that, when you look at it, you find it inviting, and hopefully the client views it as something that is beautiful and attractive.
                Then you come to the other component: the base or bases. With the base, you have a choice of having them either four-pronged no caster, four-pronged caster, five-pronged caster, five-pronged height adjustable, four-pronged wood frame, and then four-pronged lower lounge area. With the lounge area, it also includes a swivel mechanism that stops at about plus or minus 30 degrees. It’s a very simple mechanism that just swings back to zero so it doesn’t disturb the initial intent of the designer and the proper statement of the space. It doesn’t look like everyone left the hotel room at the same time.
                When we got into the materials of it, I said, “Look, aluminum really is one of my very favorite materials because it can be formed in nearly any way, extremely strong, and you can build up finishes that are superb. At the same time, it’s not pretentious. Aluminum feels nearly in the direction that relates to warmth—that is to say, color warmth—in the same way as silver, while chrome is much more cold and goes into the direction of stainless steel. Stainless steel, like the fronts to refrigerators … I don’t think it’s as nice as aluminum in areas of actual furniture, which is probably why it isn’t being used as often as aluminum.
                I’m very inspired by automobiles, I’ve always been mad about that stuff, and if you think about the details on Audis, for example, the beautiful trim. If you take a real close look at it, it’s never chrome, it’s always extruded, or cast, or stamped aluminum, and it’s finished with a nearly acid-etched texture. And then after that it’s anodized. In this particular case it’s what I’m looking for—it’s nearly always what I’m looking for—and then it comes off as being something very congenial, warm, and works very well, I think, with the rest of the shell architecture.

KY: I follow you on Instagram, and I saw the photos of cars a few weeks ago. Originally I had wanted to attend the art college in Pasadena [the Art Center College of Design] and take classes in their automotive design department, but it was so intimidating. There are so many different aspects. But I always think it’s great when people who love design also love talking about cars.

CGM: Art Center College of Design is terrific. I’ve had quite a bit to do with them. In fact, one of my sons went there in the area of industrial design. Most automobile designers come from Art Center College of Design. Even if it’s a Japanese name working for Ferrari, she came through Art Center. There are, of course, other places—Center of Creative Studies in Detroit, places in Europe—but it’s Art Center that does it best. I love the building, by Craig Ellwood. You probably know the building that sits with a bridge across a gully. It’s like a Mies [van der Roe] building laying down on its side with a bridge structure with glass in between them. And it turns out that because of my love of automobiles, or call it an obsession if you want, there’s a book coming out on Craig Ellwood and they asked me to write the chapter on automobiles. They asked what I was going to title it, and I said “‘Octine,’ of course.” And then I started studying about the guy. It was a very prestigious moment because Craig Ellwood was living in Noyes apartment at the time, and he had done many case studies for Art and Architecture Magazine, and I started studying all of his cars, of course. But then it turned out that I had to study all of his wives. Because so much time has gone by, none of the wives are resentful—well, some of them took my call—and I think now that it’s been many years since Craig has been dead, so, it seems, are the bad memories. Everyone was happy, “Yeah, we had a great time!” So that was fun. He was, I think, an amazing architect, even though he never was an architect. But that’s for another subject, which I think you’d enjoy very much.

                I’ll give you one little tidbit because I loved it: He’s not an engineer, but he always loved structure, so he drove from Texas to Los Angeles, signed up for some course, and became an engineer building estimator. That wasn’t exactly a sexy title. He then found a space behind the El Wood liquor store in Culver City, and he took on the name Craig Ellwood, but he didn’t spell it like the liquor store, because that would be plagiarism, so he just added an L to Ellwood, and he dropped his name, which was something like Bobby Wilder. Then he hired a couple of starving architects, who turned out to be great architects themselves, to do all the drawings. He was the front man, bought himself a flashy car. Other architects were pulling up to the prospective client in the most modest car they could so that the client didn’t think he was spending too much money on the job, but he basically pulls up and says, “Hey, you, we’re all rich. Let’s go.” And it worked! He had all of these top-end Hollywood guys. He ended up being part of their social circle and getting the business and had a lot of fun with them.

KY: We talked a little at NeoCon about your history and how your career went. Are there any moments from your history that influenced the Allseating collection?

CGM: It hadn’t occurred to me that there would be some sort of nexus, but surely it’s an accumulation and conflux of various aspects of the history, from the time when I began sketching cars at the age of 12, only to be told in my report card that, “his obsession and propensity to drawing cars is holding him back.” Of course, back in those days, that’s the way schools looked at things. But more so, when I began working with the Eames office a new definition of what design could be really became my working textbook. When I was able to see how a designer can, simply by deciding to, work on nearly any discipline and pull into it factors of [other] disciplines whether it’s engineering, manufacturing, [etc].

                At the same time I was there, I was also doing some small projects for blood banks—you take what jobs you can—and it was basically said to me, “Here’s our problem. We want to make a very beautiful, comfortable….” By the way, this was so advanced to what even exists today in medical institutions. “We want people to come into the space to donate blood, and we want them to feel very good about everything visually. So what are your thoughts?” Well, at the Eames office, you learned how to do multimedia slideshows right away. There isn’t much difference between design and photography and image, industrial design. It was all one thing. So I designed a cube that had a projector—a quiet, carousel projector—that was the most advanced thing that existed in technology, the advanced Kodak carousel projector with a so-called front surface mirror projecting it up onto the ceiling so that when you were laying there giving blood, you would see wonderful images. They, separately, piped in music. So you fell asleep, had a good time, and left feeling good about your donation to humanity. You didn’t go through a medical process, you went through a bit of a cultural process. That gave me the opportunity to exercise, as small as the project was, and gave me the opportunity to solve a problem the way I wanted to. Quite frankly, looking back on it, it still looks OK.
                But I must say, I was very moved by everything that was going on in Southern California; quite frankly, I am to this day. Southern California is just a crucible of continuing acceptance of new ideas, whether good or bad. Hula-hoops or cyclotrons or whatever it is. I think the reason is, [the Eames] moved out from St. Louis, Mo., so they certainly weren’t born into the beach culture. They moved out there because, I believe, the connection between Hollywood—the so-called expression of an idea or story—and the technology, of course, which was all the area. I think that attitude permeates, continues to permeate, as being very respectful. So, today, you go out and it’s very easy to get stuff going. Very easy to get stuff made. When you come in and ask them, “Can you make this?” the answer is typically “Yes,” while in other parts of the country, there’s a reluctance to embrace it and get it made. Also, when they say yes, they lend their own knowledge to the process and show you how to do things, show you what details are possible with these details or process. Everything is fairly, I’d say, translucent so that you can learn from the processes as you’re visiting these little shops that do wonderful work. It’s easy to get prototyping done. All of that sort of lends itself to the idea, as a designer, “Yeah, you can get that done,” while I think there are other parts of the country and the world where, no, that would be really difficult. There they are very open to it. All of that gives you confidence as a designer. “Yeah, I could get that thing done.”
                I think what happens is, I needed to embrace the idea of… or, I needed to understand materials and processes. There’s a wonderful book available today titled, probably, “How Do You Make It?” As seemingly fundamental as it is—well, it is fundamental. And that’s the beauty of it. You can figure out what materials should probably be used, what process should be used. What finish. How you specify the color. With all that knowledge, then you’re able to, I believe, create a better product. I stay very close and in great near homage to development engineers because they’ve lived all of that. And in turn, presumably, they turn to me [and ask], “How did you come up with that form or that combination of materials?” and such. But keeping very close to the product development process as it is very important. I wish I did more of it earlier because, of course, we’re learning all the time how we get this stuff done.

KY: Do you think the mid-century modern aesthetic is one that we will see for quite some time?

CGM: I think we’ll see it, maybe, forever. The reason is, I’ve had questions posed, “Do you think aluminum will stay as a popular material?” I think it will for the next centuries, and so will modernism. Because modernism isn’t a fad at all. You can view these things from a stylistic point of view, but modernism is actually a thinking process that relates to the confluence of various disciplines such as, “What is the function? What is the reason for its existence? What are the ergonomic issues? What are the commercial issues? What materiality? What is the process that’s available? Chromatic aspects, which colors would you like it to be done in? What textures?” So there’s so many things that you can bring into the equation. In fact, design itself is an equation that continues to add factors into it.
                You could say that decades ago, we began adding ergonomics; before then, nobody really cared. Now, of course, in the last few decades, environmental aspects—ecological ones—have added in a factor into it. Who knows what the next factor will be that we want to bring into the matter? But modernism is the approach that this equation can continuously add important factors to. We’ll see what it ends up bringing. Modernism also as opposed to, as you will, other periods of design, rejects decoration for its own sake, and instead there’s a decorative element from the summation of all of the things that you put together. I mean, one of the reasons why Modernism, which has been around—mid-century is a very American phenomenon in the history of design. Modernism itself goes back to about 1900 in Vienna where it was Wiener Werkstätte, the Secession period. Then, in a sense, you can skip over the decorative period of Art Deco in French culture, Jugendstil in the German one, liberty style in the Italian one, and the British Arts and Crafts movement. It was good design, and it all contributed to modernism, but it really wasn’t modernism in the same way that the big guy—Bauhaus—was. And, of course, nearly everything in modernism as we know it today stems from the teachings of the Bauhaus.       What I find incredible about the Bauhaus is that it lasted only 13 years, moved four times, and that was it. But it had some of the greatest people ever, by luck—I think it must be by luck— at the school at the same time. Whether it was Mies van der Rohe; Johannes Itten; Mayer; Walter Gropius, of course, who founded it; [László] Moholy-Nagy; Annie Albers, all of those people! All in one shot. Herbert Matter. It was amazing that all of these people could be together during that period of 13 years. If you think they moved four times—that would be very disruptive. Somehow, out of all of this, came the very canvas of design that later on, I believe, formed this so-called mid-century modern, which is the result of a lot of the Bauhaus people moving to the United States and starting on their own again. Finding themselves in places like Black Mountain College where Annie Joseph Albers went, or the Cranbrook School, which, I think was the recipient of most of that influence. Many of the so-called “modern masters” went through there and, in a sense, assimilated their talents throughout American industry and created what we now know as mid-century modern. It’s just a period of time when it started formally in this country, in North America, but really it’s just a beautiful continuation of that approach that goes right up through today.

KY: I listen to the podcast “99 Percent Invisible,” and they had an episode on the Bauhaus during and after the war. I find it amazing that not only was so much able to be saved, but then many of the designers came to America and continued working. I don’t know if I have the constitution to leave my home during a war and then just start back up and continue that influence.

CGM: Yes, given everything that one would go through, it would probably be easier to say, “Look, I’m just going to go into real estate,” or something like that. And, by the way, most designers regret that they didn’t. But I think designers, particularly those related to design production, have done more to affect our society than endless offensive buildings.
                But certainly the photography area, it’s quite amazing what went on there. Even when you look at it now, you realize—at least when I look at the photography of the Bauhaus, you go to MoMA or you go wherever you go—it’s still modern. It’s still at the front edge of experimentation.
                I think also the fact that it was all in black and white has also helped identify it as an art. When you think about it, black and white photography is more valuable on the market than color photography. And Polaroid is more valuable than color photography. The reason is, this is my own assumption, is that when something goes obsolete—i.e. black and white—it becomes art. And once it becomes art, it becomes more valuable. There’s no logical reason why black-and-white photography should be more valuable than color photography other than when it becomes obsolete it becomes more valuable.
                My definition of design is “function with cultural content.” When the function has evaporated, what is left is the cultural content. Then the cultural content can rise in value—it can also drop—but usually it ends up being so. For example, Polaroids. Yeah, it’s interesting this instant camera, but other than the fact that it was instant, there’s nothing that great about it. Once you’ve owned, or once you’ve had a Polaroid in your hands and you’ve held onto it longer than the processing time of a normal film print—let’s say two hours turnaround—what’s better about the Polaroid beyond the change in color or something like that? The advantage—the reason for its existence—has evaporated because it has now been taken over by the two-hour print. But people view this cultural content of the piece as being more valuable than the color print. Maybe because they know it’s very difficult to do this now, that could be. And so it goes. The same thing happens with other things … it has a little bit to do with the problem of art markets also. The notion that if it’s rare, it should be worth more. We all believe that, but there’s nothing for it as far as its contribution to society.
                One of the things industrial designers do, we embrace the idea that we can design a product like a can opener or a bottle opener, that’s going to serve everybody and be really inexpensive, and therefore we’ve done our job, and nobody cares if it’s the first, the last, or the in-between millionth bottle opener or some other item. It’s this quirkiness of the art market that we start declaring things valuable because they’re rare. That’s not really quite the designer’s job. I think the designer’s job is to create products that are highly competitive in price and available to anybody that deems them worthy of buying it. And that’s what contract furniture is about. I’m very grateful we aren’t sucked into that area of “this is a limited edition chair.” So what? What’s the problem? You’re having trouble making more of them or something like that? Usually the answer is that no more will be bought. But the beauty of industrial design as a profession combined with the Industrial Revolution is the fact that it doesn’t matter how many are made.
                For example, Michael Thonet’s Number 13 chair—forgive me if it was number 14—the bentwood one. He’s a master of the Industrial Revolution as it relates to the furniture industry, having invented a particular type of steam bending of beech in Austria. By 1875’s World’s Fair, he’d already produced a million chairs. Exactly the same design. Did we look at it in 1875 and say, “I don’t like it. I’ve seen too many of them”? No! Now in 2017, we still look at that chair and say, “That is great.” We don’t care if it’s rare. All we care about is if that’s a great design. Does it hold up? What does it cost? And so on. And that’s what design should be doing. And they did! The company continues on manufacturing these magnificent products, really, in a sense, as everlasting as they should be. There isn’t a café in any town in the Western world that doesn’t have some Thonet chairs. I always love them when I see them. I always want to own one, but then again, I own many of these little things. And for us, when we collect stuff—my wife is an architect also—when we collect stuff, we don’t like to think about rarity. We like to think about quality, we think about the design of this thing, and rarity seldom comes into the equation because it’s not what design is about.

KY: There’s a local antique store that I absolutely love. [The owner, Dave] sells products well below what they’re worth because people out here in Iowa don’t realize what they’re looking at. Once I was helping [Dave] set up the shop, and a man came in who kept saying, “Why does everything cost so much? I can just get this at the thrift store!” But recently he renovated the shop and now sells artwork as well. The products are still moderately priced, but he’s been able to raise them and no one thinks twice about the cost.

CGM: That’s part of that whole phenomenon. The cultural content becomes the value. He has a different clientele now. As opposed to a used furniture store, he’s now elevated it to a cultural experience, and the people who buy art are the people who presumably have a more elevated, culturally conscious and wallet.
                There’s another aspect too. Are you familiar with the Professor Veblen? It’s the phenomenon in pricing where, if it’s more expensive, surely it must be better. Art really falls into that area. Of course, everything else does too. There’s no question about it. The new South Korean automobile, the Genesis, is a complete knock off of Mercedes. Set aside originality; is it a good car? It is. As good as Mercedes. If you can’t tell the difference, it’s as good as a Mercedes, if you can’t tell the difference in visual aspects. And it’s 30-percent less. So then the question is: Why are you paying 30-percent more for the Mercedes? It’s the Veblen effect. You feel like it must be worth 30-percent more.
                The same thing happens in furniture. Not with the contract furniture business because everyone is a professional, and they really know what they’re talking about. The budget is for $250 for the chair, that’s where it’s got to be or we can’t give it consideration. But as soon as you get into the so-called “gallery market,” which you apparently feel very comfortable in, you end up in these things where a chair you used to look at was $60 and now it’s $600. And there are a lot of people who say, “Oh, yeah, I guess it’s worth that,” because you really get sucked into it.
                Bottles of wine, that’s the worst area for me. I basically just judge the wine by, first of all, is the label really well designed? As if that has anything to do with the people who are crunching the wine. Then, of course, I ask the price. But if it’s a special occasion, we tend to think, “Geez, maybe I will spend $30 on a bottle of wine.” But I don’t have any idea. And if you ask the wine merchant, I don’t know where they got their vocabulary from. “It has this rusty quality and it has a smooth ending, and it’s sort of soft on the uptake.” I always think, “What are they describing? A bed?” In the end, they just want you to buy that one. There are a few things I do understand: If it’s extremely acidic, cheap and acidic, I stay away from it because it’s going to affect my longevity. After $20, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all Veblen. And watches! We all love great-looking watches. Timex makes great-looking watches for like $75.
               

KY:

CGM: I can also send you some sketches I did on the product, that’s just how I work. As I was taught, a long time ago, don’t make the mistake of buying an expensive pen. You’re not going to improve anything. Always buy the $0.19 BIC and you will humble yourself to your ability rather than as opposed to thinking that the actual instrument is going to elevate you. It’s not. So I work with the least expensive materials so I don’t kid myself into thinking that looks really good. And I do it nearly all by hand now just because, the problem in the earlier years before the digital took off, you were lucky to have a circle template. And a circle looks perfect, right? That doesn’t mean your design is any good, it just means you can draw a perfect circle. The same thing happens now. It’s really dangerous for people who are working in CAD because if they draw a line from A to B, it looks perfect, but it doesn’t mean anything. And especially when they start to get into really complex drawings, you’re in awe of the presentation, but it’s devoid of the idea. So I try to limit myself to drawing by hand with traditional pencil and paper. If it starts looking good then, it’s got a better chance of being translated later on.

KY: When I started my career in an architecture firm in San Francisco, I came in one day to find a drafting desk in my little cubical. What had happened was that they hired a principal who insisted on all of his drafts being by hand, so it became my job to draw the blueprints because I was right out of college and had just taken courses. No one else knew how to draft quickly by hand.

CGM: Right, because it became obsolete. I’m not using obsolete as a negative. It ceased its function of the moment. That’s great! And here’s the other aspect of it—it’s tactile. I won’t like that pencil for whatever reason, but I do like this one. It goes back to pencils. Is it HB? It’s an art form; don’t be such an engineer. Loosen up a bit! Use an HB. But who knows? Maybe coming up is digital software that allows you to go back to that process. We shall see—literally and virtually—where it is. But there’s a certain… I’ll tell you, I learn to work with people who do the digital stuff because I then hand it over to pretty terrific people to do the renderings and such. What I realize is, when you draw by hand, your errors are transparent, and you can go back to a line [and think], “Yeah, maybe that wasn’t that bad.” Then you can finally sort of, before you start hard lining things, going back over many of the thoughts you might have had during that time.
                I’d send you a complimentary BIC, but $0.19? It costs, what, $0.42 to mail it to you? Buy your own! Don’t be such a cheapskate.