Create, Don’t Imitate: The Making of an Original

As the managing editor of Contract magazine, I was recently invited to moderate a panel discussion for Be Original Americas at the Los Angeles office of Gensler. Be Original is an association that is committed to informing, educating, and influencing manufacturers, design professionals, and individuals on the economic, ethical, and environmental value of authentic design. Intro

The panelists were Jerry Helling, president and creative director at Bernhardt Design and the first president of Be Original Americas; Joey Shimoda, founder and chief creative officer of Shimoda Design Group and Contract magazine’s 2013 Designer of the Year; and Daniel Stromborg, regional product director at Gensler.

Moderator and Contract Managing Editor Murrye Bernard with panelists Daniel Stromborg, Jerry Helling, and Joey Shimoda. Photo by Irwin Miller.

From L–R: Daniel Stromborg, Murrye Bernard, Jerry Helling, and Joey Shimoda. Photo by Irwin Miller.

To kick off the discussion, the panelists shared slides featuring examples from their own work that demonstrate authentic design. Helling presented Bernhardt’s Mitt chair, Shimoda discussed his design for the WorkCafe within Steelcase’s headquarters, and Stromborg shared how the work of Jean Prouvé influenced his design for the Stromborg Table for Knoll.

The panel discussion drew an audience of more than 100 staff in the Gensler Los Angeles office. Photo by Irwin Miller.

More than 100 staff members of the Gensler Los Angeles office gathered to listen and participate in the discussion. Photo by Irwin Miller.

The issue of plagiarism has been in the news often lately, most notably within the music industry, and there are many “blurred lines” when it comes to referencing or paying homage versus copying or knocking something off. A recent example in the design industry is furniture manufacturer Emeco announcing plans to file suit against IKEA for copying its 20-06 Stacking Chair designed by Norman Foster. And many other big retailers have been accused of similar practices. The panelists discussed when it’s OK for designers to reference another’s work, and when it might verge into the territory of knocking it off.


IKEA’s Melltorp dining chair (right) looks suspiciously similar to Emeco’s 20-06 Stacking Chair (left).

TK CEO Emeco Gregg Buchbinder. Photo by Irwin Miller.

Emeco CEO Gregg Buchbinder was in attendance and answered questions related to the issue of plagiarism in the furniture industry. Photo by Irwin Miller.

Then the discussion shifted to specifications: Designers might spec a certain product, but then the specifications are often altered at some point in the project by furniture dealers or even the client. The panelists discussed the necessity of “protecting your spec” and educating the client on the value of authentic design, and, in turn, the importance of designers educating themselves on which products are originals and which are not in order to avoid specifying a knock off by mistake.

Photo by Irwin Miller.

Gensler staff listened intently to the discussion. Photo by Irwin Miller.

Murrye Bernard talks with

Contract Managing Editor Murrye Bernard (right) talks with fellow former East Coasters turned West Coasters Jessica Cairncross (left), vice president of sales at Ligne Roset/Roset USA Corp., and Laurel Petriello (middle), marketing specialist at Gensler. Photo by Irwin Miller.

Many thanks to Beth Dickstein of bde and Be Original Americas for inviting me to moderate the panel and to Gensler for being a great audience and for hosting the event in their beautiful office space in Downtown Los Angeles.

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