The way Jonas Damon sees it, designers these days fall into two camps: those who hold fast to the principles of legendary German industrial designer Dieter Rams and those who are partial to the camp and kitsch of pop artist Jeff Koons. It’s a theory Damon, creative director at New York’s Frog Design office, picked up from his friend and fellow New York designer Ross Menuez — both of whom often produce work for Areaware, a design company that moves expertly back and forth along the Rams-Koons continuum.
Damon is decidedly a Rams guy, though he also claims as his influences Donald Judd, whose estate he worked for just after the artist’s mid-’90s death, and Tom Dixon, another former employer. The Rams connection is clear in the work Damon does for Areaware; a vacuum-tube radio with exposed innards and a dial that could have come straight out of Braun’s mid-century design lab is one of his best-known works.
Which is perhaps why he feels so conflicted about the retro wooden enclosure he made for his iPad, one of the many things he’s built in his spare time for use around his apartment. Inspired by hacks he found around the web — an iPad inside a retro arcade console, another inside a gutted Macintosh computer — Damon built a dock in the style of an old-school cathode-ray television and completed the ’80s homage with a screensaver of grainy television snow. “It’s quite ironic and I don’t know how I feel about that,” he laughs. “I wish in design there was a tradition of using a pen name like writers do. Maybe if I was Damon Jonas I could pull this off.”
Typically, though, the nostalgia that runs through Damon’s work can be attributed not to kitsch but to sentiment, which, he says, “I know is a bad word for most designers.” But he’s constantly thinking about how a product can connect to a consumer on an emotional level, which is in part what’s made his work so successful. The iPad dock was inspired by his love for outdated home appliances; another piece he made for his family, a Corian fruit bowl, was inspired by the Clementine crates he remembers from childhood.
The fruit bowl is a humble object made slick by Damon’s choice of materials, while the iPad dock is exactly the opposite. “What’s funny about the TV is that Frog founder Hartmut Esslinger’s claim to fame was his design of a television,” Damon explains. “For the German company Wega in the ’70s, he designed one of first modern televisions, with a white plastic enclosure. Up until that point, TVs had always been housed in wooden cabinets that were meant to look like furniture. His point was, ‘Why should a TV reference something that it’s not?’ Making my television, I’ve done exactly what he tried to get away from. I’ve disguised the iPad in an old-fashioned enclosure that has nothing to do with what it is. It’s the opposite of innovation.”