I’m often asked for my definition of “good design.” Like design itself, the answer to that question changes constantly. When I first started in this industry 30 years ago, good design was all about efficiency—getting function out of a space by arranging its occupants in tidy, reproducible patterns. When tech came along with its “question everything” culture, good design became more focused on meeting individual needs—the need for comfort, for self-expression, for really good coffee somewhere nearby.
Good Design Equals Community
Today, I think good design has evolved into a broader concept of community, an environment that functions as a healthy and meaningful ecosystem. Through all these definitions one thing has remained constant: good design is authentic. If that sounds like Dieter Rams’ 11th principle, it’s probably because it grows from the same roots that sprouted Dieter’s other 10—humility and integrity. Everyone recognizes and responds to quality. You don’t have to have a maker’s temperament to feel the value in something that was lovingly crafted and put together with pride.
As a designer of workplaces and, more recently, of workplace furniture, I have come to understand the impact subtle interactions with texture have on the way we feel about our day—the sound a knuckle rapped on solid wood makes, the depth of color in a true ceramic tile, the subtle message of reassurance we get from settling onto real leather. These are pleasures available only in the original.
More Community Design: Advocacy in Design
Reproductions can’t reproduce them.
For that reason, I always encourage clients to use authentic Herman Miller or Knoll products. These iconic designs are timeless because the tradition of quality they represent never expires. That quality should not be undermined with fakes. I am also on the lookout for new artisans and authentic manufacturers—the Charles and Ray Eames of the future. The design industry has created a highly receptive market for companies and individuals dedicated to creating and distributing original work.
O+A is always happy when we can specify products from MASH Studios or Dsegnare. Even happier when we can work with those fine craftsmen and women to make custom items for our custom interiors. When I was partnering with Kimball Office on the design for my multi-functional workstation, Canopy, I realized a truly successful product encompassed all of the definitions of good design—it was efficient, it met the user’s individual needs, it contributed to the healthy ecosystem of the workplace. To touch all those bases, to make something that will evolve alongside the changing values of accelerating times, it is necessary to slow down and do the careful, attentive work that only comes from original effort.
You can’t knock off quality. Knock your knuckles on a table to hear why.
Primo Orpilla is the co‐founder of Studio O+A, a multi-disciplinary San Francisco design firm that has changed the way we think about work and workplace. Recently named Global Chair for Student Experience at the International Interior Design Association, Primo's new focus is empowering the next generation of designers. In 2016, O+A won the Cooper Hewitt Design Award for Interior Design. In 2017, FRAME Publishers released a comprehensive retrospective of the firm's work: “Studio O+A: Twelve True Tales of Workplace Design.”