Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The King of Morocco and a Designer's Priorities.

It was just a few weeks ago that my phone rang, and the following conversation took place:

Me: "Jack Gold"

Caller: "I need to build a gift for a king."

Me: "Who is this really?"

Well, it turns out that it really was a client, and he really was looking to build a gift for a king.  The caller was the Rabbi of a congregation on Manhattans Upper West Side, and was scheduled to be Knighted by the King of Morocco during a ceremony to take place the following week.  As is customary, the Rabbi was to present the king with a gift as well, in this instance, a silver crown - and he needed a display case designed and built.

The client explained to me that they were already over budget on the project, and he was wondering if I had any creative solutions.

In my previous articles, I have spoken at length about the importance of qualifying our clients and projects - and why this is so crucial to the outcome and success of our work.  Well, if I had heeded my own advice, I probably would have simply walked away from the project.  There were some pretty straight forward warning signs:

1. The client wanted the project designed and built in under a week.  A timeframe that is unrealistic.

2. The client needed something perfect, the gift after all is going to a king, but there is little budget to work with.

On any normal day I would have clearly seen that the expectations of time, budget and detail were simply unrealistic.  It was a project that was doomed to fail.

But all I heard was "Can you build something for a king?"

And I allowed the idea of building something for a monarch, designing and creating something that would have a place of pride in an Embassy or Palace - to just sweep me away.  I mean, is there not something magical about the idea?  How often do we have a chance to interact with royalty, even if through numerous proxies?  It is the stuff of fairytales and Hollywood, and now it was sitting on my desk.

Well, My normal workflow went out the window.  This was a project with a clock ticking, and a king waiting.  I skipped the CAD and sketches, and went straight to the floor armed with a pencil and a straight edge.  While working with a carpenter, I roughed out a concept right there on a piece of scrap wood, and as we cut and formed the pieces, the design evolved.

Here we created profiles and a brick-like pattern and laid out the box construction perfectly...while another project sat on the sidelines, waiting for my attention.

The next day, after all the glue had dried and all the parts were sanded, I stood at the staining booth, mixing powders and bases and creating the color I was seeing in my mind. Emails were going unanswered, but the king was waiting, and the color needed to be perfect.

And so the process continued.  We completed the finish process and had the glass vendor start working on a glass box while the engraver made up a silver plaque and we began to line the interior of the box with a luxurious bed of navy blue velvet.

The client came to pick up the box the day before it was to be presented, and I felt like a hero.  I had done the impossible, designing, building, finishing, and completing a project that should take 2 weeks - in just under 3 days.

But at what cost, I later wondered?

I broke every rule that I have ever set for myself about timeframes and workflows and profit margins.  I neglected work that was waiting for me, emails and bookkeeping, all the tasks of running a business.  I allowed myself to be completely wowed by the wonder of working on project for a king, and in the process, I allowed the tail to wag the dog.

Now the kings emmisaries have been presented with the box and gift, and the press covered the news story and I am very proud to have been given the opportunity to design this gift box and build it.  It was rewarding and humbling and the real definition of a "feel good" experience.

But ultimately, it was bad business.

As artisans and as people who are emotionally invested in our work, we have a tendency to gravitate towards the projects that make us feel good, the projects that allow us to feel honest in our concepts and faithful to our aesthetic sensibilities.  These are all fabulous core beliefs, but they should never affect us to the point that we forget, that at the end of the day, we are business people too.

Taking on the right projects, and dedicating our time to projects that allow us to be profitable, well that's how the rent gets paid, and that's how the sign stays up.  It is difficult to separate the emotional part of what we do from the logistical part of what we do, but such seperation is critical, if we are to give ourselves the tools and opportunity to build and maintain successful design practices.

Given the opportunity again, I would no doubt build the box again.  But today at least, I know what I SHOULD be doing - even if taking my own advice is sometimes to difficult to manage.

Jack Gold is the owner and Senior Designer at Presidential Interiors, a NYC-based millwork, cabinetry and upholstery fabrication firm.

He can be reached for private comment via email: jack@presidentialinteriors.com

The story of the Rabbi and the King can be read here:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

4 Secrets to Beat Budgets & Meet Deadlines on Design Projects.

As designers, it seems as though we often play tug-of-war, our clients budget and time-frame pulling us in one direction while our aesthetic sensibilities contrive to pull us elsewhere.

Over the years, I have collaborated on custom lighting, millwork, metal, glass and upholstery projects from the manufacturer's perspective, and found that there are some simple rules that can open up entire new worlds of possibilities - that you may not have known were available to you.

Here are the four ideas that have worked best for me, I encourage you to see if you can apply them to your own projects - and increase the value you bring to your clients:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teamwork. Why the job is more important than you.

I know that with a title like this one, I am bound to get some emotional emails telling me about family time and all the wonderful and valid reasons why we can never put our work before our selves or our loved ones - and before you start writing, let me assure you that I agree.  This is an article about the ego, about that feeling we are all born with, that sense of entitlement to be right.  For those of us who sell our thoughts, ideas and creativity each day - we have often fine-tuned our sense of self importance, and this can make us fabulous designers but poor team players.

When working a project, particularly a large project, where there are many different players and complex dynamics, it becomes easy for each person to be obsessed with their right to be right - nothing suffers from this, save for the project itself.

This became extremely clear to me during a recent retail flagship project for a high-profile client.  I was lucky enough to be invited into a team collaboration where my talent was welcome - but my ego was not.  The team was a big one, 2 principal designers (Laura Reddy and David Friere of NY3 Design Group), a builder (Joel Klein of Continuum Construction), a half-dozen representatives of the client's company, and too many sub-contractors and vendors to count.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

From the love of pretty things, comes fabulous design.

This article is about pretty things - and their relationship to the design process.  Let's talk about design and the different levels on which it can be appreciated.  Then let's talk about pretty things.  

I recently got a new iPhone, and while I know the world to be split between those that love and those that hate Apple products - there is simply no denying the fabulous design that is to be found in all of their products and my iPhone is certainly no exception.

I certainly enjoy the many features and the apps and the instinctive user interface and all of that - but this is a product that I actually think is beautiful - an attribute not usually assigned to a mobile phone.  So I appreciate this device on a functional level as well as an aesthetic level.  There are many more levels.  There is the engineering that went into producing the phone - and engineering that went into creating the chip sets and circuitry inside that makes all the magic happen - but these are levels I neither understand nor care to learn more about - I just love the way it feels when I hold it, I love the way it looks in my hand or sitting on the desk, and I am enthralled by the way the phone seems to know what I want - reading my hand gestures and swipes and then accomplishing its tasks so elegantly.

But then this is a design blog, not a gadget blog, so let me tell you how this got me thinking.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you can see the absolute beauty in the peony shown at the beginning of the blog.  Looking at this picture, you see shades of color, you see texture, you see the beautiful lines of the petals all competing for space and creating a wonderful gathering of creases and folds - that makes the flower look amazing.  If you are a bit more tuned, you may notice the perfect composition of the photograph itself, the depth of field, you may even get a bit of satisfaction from the petals closest to you, and the way they are bent outwards, capturing at once both light and shadow.  But realize, for many of your clients, they just see a flower.  Boring and uninspired - unless shown to them as part of a complex bouquet.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Unimprovable. Mark Twain and his influence on design...

Mark Twain may seem an unlikely source for design inspiration, but then as designers we find stimulus in all we encounter and digest.  Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain was arguably one of the greatest American authors of all time- if not one of the most read.  Over the years of enjoying his material, there were many sentiments of his that rang familiar to me in my design work.  "The difference between the right word, and almost the right word" he is quoted as saying, "is the difference between lightning and a lighting bug."

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Review Email - Checklists that keep the designer in check.

It's Friday, and that means that today is the day that the principals on all my active projects are receiving their "week in review" emails from me.  The email is a simple numbered list of items that need to get done the following week.  At the end of each item, is listed who on the project is responsible for that task, and for the tasks that are designated to me and my team, an estimated date of completion is indicated as well.

I began this practice after reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Gawande, a physician, pioneered the use of checklists for critical tasks in the hospital and surgical setting.  His fascinating book provides an in depth treatment on the use of checklists and how vital they can be to ensuring that all tasks are dealt with correctly.

Initially, these checklists were sent out as a means to show my own proficiency.  While I knew they were a good idea, I felt that they were really just window dressing, but naturally, being a designer, I had no problem with that.

Then something strange occurred.

Clients began to respond to these lists, and in their responses I discovered tasks that I had a different expectation for than they did.  I discovered mistakes in my own thinking and time-lines, and by reading their responses, which were often submitted item-by-item against my list, my projects slowly began getting tighter, better managed, time and money was being saved, and these lists, and the discussions they generate, quickly became one of my favorite parts of the design process.

Naturally, this list forms the backbone of my workload and day planning for the coming week, but that is far from all.  When I sit down each Friday to create these lists, my first task is to look back at the previous weeks list, and learn from both the accuracy and the errors of the expectations that a seven day younger me had made.

There are so many levels on which this process aids the cycle of work and learning.  As a business owner, working with dozens of trades, I learn worlds about time-lines, schedules and commitments.  As a designer, I learn about snags in the approval process, creative challenges and clients expectations.  It started as a self-congratulatory tool that bordered on marketing ploy - but it has evolved into a critical practice that ensures the momentum of each project is maintained and that each member of the teams expectations are in-line.

Jack Gold is the owner and Senior Designer at Presidential Interiors, a NYC-based millwork and cabinetry firm.

He can be reached for private comment via email: jack@presidentialinteriors.com

Photo Credit: adesigna / Flickr 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Interior Design and the Art of Typography

Typography has always been a passion of mine, and there is something profoundly refreshing about seeing a really well designed advertisement, announcement or invitation that speaks to my appreciation for artistic work and my design sensibilities.

Most interior designers, who work outside of the graphic art and printing world may not know of all the fine-tuning that goes into creating a perfect piece of typography, but there are many aspects of the two skill sets that are so closely aligned.

Interior design at its core is all about solving problems.  As designers, we are constantly working with layouts and floor plans, sizes and scales, to make certain that we are able to provide our client's with all the needs and functions they require.  Because we are not designing Soviet Submarines, we are further guided by a specific aesthetic in each project, and based on the clients needs and preferences, decisions will always be made by whichever factor is of more importance.  Sometimes function will be sacrificed for design, sometimes design will bend to make way for usability.