ICFF 2008: “What’s Wrong With American Furniture Design?”

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On this rainy Sunday afternoon of ICFF, the editors of I.D. Magazine presented a panel discussion addressing the state of American furniture design. Hosted at the shiny new Design Within Reach studio in Soho and sponsored by Bionade, our panel included New York designers Stephen Burks and Jason Miller, Future Perfect owner Dave Alhadeff, Jerry Helling of Bernhardt Design, Derek Chen of Council, and Yves Béhar, founder of Fuseproject and chair of the industrial design program at California College of the Arts. The panel was moderated by Aric Chen.

The afternoon was conceived as a way to further a discussion started by design critic Alice Rawsthorn in her New York Times article “Dearth of a Nation” and continued as a roundtable in the June 2008 issue of I.D. Magazine. (Click here for a sneak peek of our article, on newsstands Tuesday, May 27!) Here were some of the panel’s highlights:

On what’s wrong with American furniture companies:

“For one, we rely way too much on dead guys. It’s super easy to work with dead designers and a pain in the neck to work with them while they’re alive. There’s not enough investment in new talent. Two, companies are too engaged in short-term involvement, in the designer-as-guest phenomenon. It’s very easy to invite designers to do something for three months, but it doesn’t create long-term value.”—Yves Béhar

“European companies design to teach consumers how to consume. American companies design based on focus groups.”—Dave Alhadeff

On the difficulty of working with European manufacturers:

“I watched Konstantin Grcic yesterday talk about the idea of a cultural connection with BASF and with Plank, and how the proximity to those companies from his homebase in Munich was crucial in the production of the MYTO chair. The idea of being able to do things completely digitally in the design world is a farce. It’s not just about sending a file and hoping everything works out great.”—Stephen Burks

On educating the American market:

“350 million Americans aren’t concerned about what’s wrong with the American furniture market. They don’t know who Moooi is.”—Jason Miller

On the problem with classifying things as specifically American:

“I don’t know anyone in this room who owns that term with pride the way someone would say, ‘I’m Dutch.’ I don’t go around traveling internationally saying ‘I’m American.’ I say I’m from New York.”—Dave Alhadeff