Ravenhill also cites the work of midcentury designers like Jean Prouvé, Charles and Ray Eames, and Friso Kramer: "They had such an amazing sensitivity about how things are made," he says. Ravenhill's Cord Lamp, shown above, improved upon the original wooden iteration while also reinterpreting Prouve’s classic Swing Jib design for a modern, cost-conscious consumer. "It has a simple construction, where the cloth-covered cord acts as both the power source and the tension element that holds the arm straight and prevents it from swinging too freely," Ravenhill says.

Brendan Ravenhill, Furniture and Product Designer

Believe it or not, Los Angeles–based designer Brendan Ravenhill owes the success of his Cord Lamp, at least in part, to Etsy. It’s not that the designer spends his days hawking the spare, Prouvé-inspired insta-classic on the online crafters’ marketplace. But a few years ago, Ravenhill was coerced by his wife to participate in something she’d created on the site called Mail Order Pals. “It was basically a penpal for purchase," Ravenhill told me when I visited his Echo Park home and studio earlier this summer. "People could buy you in order to receive a letter or a surprise package in the mail.” After someone “bought” Ravenhill, he went to the hardware store and whipped up an elegantly simple wooden swing-arm lamp in one night. Upon seeing his creation, the designer’s wife convinced him it was just too nice to send. The penpal ended up getting a wire sculpture of a penguin, and the couple began living with the lamp. In the months that followed, Ravenhill became obsessed with the design, refining and tweaking it in his head to the point that by the time he was approached to create a piece to show with the American Design Club at a trade fair in New York, he was able to fashion a prototype in just one week. The final lamp — composed primarily of porcelain, cast aluminum, a cloth cord, and a bare bulb — packs and ships flat and sells for less than $200 at places like The Future Perfect, cementing the young designer’s status as a rising talent to watch.
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The RCA’s Platform 14 Graduate Projects

There’s a funny ritual that goes on at the start of each year in the Design Products program at London’s Royal College of Art. The masters program is split into five separate units, or “platforms,” and the professors helming each — which at last count included Sebastian Wrong, Doshi Levien, and curator Daniel Charny — are charged with convincing new students to turn away from the others to join their course. Mostly they rely on written manifestos describing the aims and ideals of their particular curriculum, like enacting social change or loosening the boundaries of the discipline, but there are also more nuanced incentives, like we will hire Jasper Morrison’s photographer to take extremely clever shots of your final projects, a move recently employed by Platform 14 leaders André Klauser and Ben Wilson. Granted, when they called in camerasmith Nicola Tree to shoot the images you see here — which are a Sight Unseen exclusive — it was meant more to teach their six graduating students that documenting work is a key part of the design process, especially in a course aimed at fostering entrepreneurship.
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What inspired your Totems? “For our premiere collection we decided to propose ‘totems for living’ — they’re intended as monolithic objects that dominate the habitat, yet remain entirely functional.”

Oeuffice, Furniture Designers

Had Jakub Zak and Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte met and not formed a partnership, it might have seemed almost sacrilegious, a kind of fuck-you to the gods of fate. After simultaneously studying design in their native Canada, and then again at the very same university in Berlin together, the pair only became aware of one another's existence once they'd both moved to Milan to start their professional lives — Lecompte as a roving member of the Montreal-based Samare studio and Zak as a designer for Patricia Urquiola. As if the shared condition of being the only two Canadians they knew who were actively working in the Milanese design scene weren't enough, they happened to meet at the precise moment in each of their careers where they were yearning to try something independent, experimental, and new. Samare was three years old and growing quite successful, but its physical manifestation was way across the Atlantic, and it maintained a relatively narrow focus on Canadian crafts and heritage; Zak was — and still is — working full time for Urquiola, "which is pretty demanding," he says. "You reach a stage where you want to start doing projects of your own. Oeuffice is a research-minded collaboration where Nicolas and I can play with new techniques and materials in ways we might not have the opportunity to otherwise."
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In Lipsey’s Acciaio series of chairs and stools, a seat made from a sandwich of perforated aluminum and saddle leather is stretched between tapered rolls of chromosteel, a special steel alloy that’s only available through bicycle suppliers. The chairs debuted this year in Milan at the annual furniture fair and in New York with Sight Unseen’s Noho Design District. They’re now for sale at Matter in New York.

Max Lipsey, furniture designer

Max Lipsey’s father is an architect, and his mother is an artist, but it might be Murray Moss who’s most responsible for turning the Eindhoven-based, Aspen, Colorado native on to design.
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A promotional image for the video lookbook Amsterdam duo Freudenthal/Verhagen created around the five ArtEZ Fashion Masters students' collections, each of which is represented within one or another of its triangles.

ArtEZ’s 2011 Fashion Masters Graduates

Whether they go on to work at Viktor & Rolf and Louis Vuitton or scrape together the crazy amount of money it takes to launch a solo line, nearly all clothing-design talents make their first identifiable mark of genius on the fashion world during end-of-the-year graduation shows. Sure, after a year of monomaniacal focus — at least double what any designer ever gets in the real world — the concepts are usually completely overthunk and overwrought, as student work in every discipline tends to be. But without the constraints of the market or a demanding boss, in some ways there can be no purer expression of creative perspective than when designers send that first exaggeratedly proportioned dress or gender-bending jacket down the runway. With that in mind, Sight Unseen made it a point to be there when Generation 12 of the ArtEZ Fashion Masters program opened the doors to their final presentation last week, during the Arnhem Mode Biennale.
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What inspired your Batucada series? “Music and cans. In Brazil, people in the favelas play instruments made of tin and aluminum pots, and ‘batucada’ is the percussion sound made by beating them. The process interested me in general because Brazil recycles 98% of its aluminum — it’s a record. The cans are collected by hand by people who collect trash in the street. It’s a crazy system but it works very well. The factory that spins the aluminum for me uses recycled metal.”

Brunno Jahara, Product Designer

If you think about it in the context of design, Brazil is a lot like America: A vast, relatively young country with a tiny cadre of contemporary designers struggling both to step out of the long shadow of their mid-century forebears, and to create objects in a near-industrial vacuum. But you won’t hear Brazilian designer Brunno Jahara complaining — having lived in dozens of European countries, worked under Jaime Hayon at Fabrica, and run a freelance business from Amsterdam before moving back to São Paulo a few years ago, he credits his native country as being the catalyst for his newfound success. “In Brazil I have all the freedom I didn’t have in Europe, because there’s a whole historical background over there that holds you to making things in a certain way,” says the 32-year-old.
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What inspired your Carpetry Sideboard? "I had been obsessed with Persian rugs and the relationship the West has with them — here they’re often used in stately homes and palaces. I decided to create my own homage to this, and I made a carpet that appears to be quite Persian from a distance, but on closer inspection you see it has very British details woven in, such as the Tudor rose and the Crown Jewels. I also wanted to use traditional British manufacturing techniques, so when weaving the carpet, we used a Wilton loom, which is very rare these days. From there, the idea was to transform the carpet into a piece of furniture rather than a floor covering, so I developed it into a sideboard; when it's closed it’s almost like a floating carpet, and when it’s open, the pattern literally comes alive. It’s one of my favorite pieces."

Lee Broom, Furniture and Interior Designer

Growing up in Birmingham, England, Lee Broom had dreams of becoming an actor. So it doesn't come as a shock to learn that his first proper job was in the office of Vivienne Westwood, the dramatic doyenne of women’s fashion. What’s surprising is how he got there — at age 17, no less: “I was in theater school at the time, and I was into design as a hobby,” explains Broom. “Somehow I decided to enter a fashion design competition judged by Vivienne Westwood, and I won. At the event, I asked Vivienne for her autograph; she wrote her phone number instead and asked if I wanted to spend a couple of days at her studio. I hopped on a train to London and literally spent two days, just Vivienne and myself in her office, while she talked me through her work. I showed her a portfolio of around 100 outfits I had designed, and she said I could stay on as an intern. I ended up being there for seven months.” Broom’s career since then — though wildly divergent from both of those original paths — has been full of moments like these, where by some alchemic mixture of doggedness, talent, and sheer pluck, he has managed to end up in the exact right place at the right time, sending his career spinning into another unplanned yet deeply satisfying trajectory.
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Design object you wish you'd made: “The typical Anglepoise lamp. Actually we prefer the rip-offs rather than the original one, which is probably a shame, but that’s why we wish we’d made it. It’s a real icon of a lamp and found in any color on nearly any desk. It’s technically nearly perfect, and at the same time, mechanically quite simple.” Pictured: Mischer Traxler’s new Relumine lamps, for which they retrofit two vintage lights with modern fittings, then connect them with a fluorescent tube bulb inside a glass casing.

Mischer Traxler, Designers

As a high school student in Vienna, Thomas Traxler followed a course of study fairly typical for Austrian teens. Having had the choice to either study liberal arts — as his future partner Katharina Mischer was doing — or to specialize, he chose to immerse himself in the world of automation techniques. Typical school projects included constructing a kind of assembly-line handling system to transfer goods from one conveyor belt to the other. “It prepares you to work in an engineering office constructing machines that eliminate the need for people,” Traxler, now 29, explains. “It wasn’t creative at all; you had to make things the cheapest, fastest, most durable, and easiest way. After the third year, I knew I didn’t want to continue.” When he ended up at design school as an undergrad, where he met Mischer, the pair were pretty much coming from opposite worlds: She was interested in art, nature, and the unexpected, and he was still learning how to reconcile those things with his inclination for the mechanical. So in a way, their collaboration was both perfect and inevitable. “In technical school you’re trained as a technical idiot — you’re not meant to think out of the box,” he says. “So it’s important to have the perspective of someone who’s not in the box.”
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This winter, Lin designed United Bamboo’s second annual cat calendar — a cult favorite in the fashion world, shot by photographer Noah Sheldon — giving him the chance to work with a slew of paper-only techniques: blind-debossed months, a foil-stamped back, a silk-screened sleeve. “I envisioned it as more than just 12 photos of cats. On the back of each page, there’s information about the cat — their age, how their owners got them — and clothes silhouetted like a clothing catalog. It adds a bit more of a narrative.”

Alex Lin, graphic designer

If you were to chart the degrees of separation among young American designers, you might do well to start with Alex Lin. Since 2007, Lin — a Yale School of Art grad and former designer at 2x4 — has created all of the branding and collateral for Brooklyn-based furniture designer Stephen Burks, who often does work for the sustainably minded home accessories company Artecnica, who recently launched a line of pendant lights by Rich Brilliant Willing, who produce their Excel light series with Roll & Hill, who shared an exhibition space at this spring's Noho Design District event with Areaware, who commissioned a special 5-year anniversary piñata from Confetti System, who did the set design for United Bamboo’s Spring/Summer ’09 campaign. Confetti System also happen to share an 11th-floor Manhattan studio with Lin, who is the mild-mannered, super-talented graphic designer at the vortex of this Venn diagram–gone-haywire. Lin has headed up his own shop for only two years, but in that time, he’s worked with every creative on this list and then some.
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Things you keep around your studio or home for inspiration: “Succulent plants (shown with our mini-pedestals), coffee, colored pencils, music, crystals, currently eating a lot of arugula salads (good brain food) and our view.”

Iacoli & McAllister, designers

It’s hard enough to be a young American designer. The lack of government funding means that prototypes must often be self-financed, and the difficulty in working with most European manufacturers means that young design studios frequently end up handling their own production as well. Now try doing it all in Seattle, a city that’s not exactly famous for its flourishing industrial design scene. “When we started working together a few years ago, we felt really removed from the world that might be interested in what we wanted to do,” says Jamie Iacoli, one half of the Seattle-based design couple Iacoli & McAllister, who have become known over the last year or so for a pared-down industrial aesthetic that’s matched with a supreme gift for color — think wrenches powder-coated in bright magenta or wire-frame pendant lights in emergency orange or cyan. “The thing that’s weird about Seattle is that because it’s so laid back, you get people who talk and don’t do. There’s no pressure to create, in part because no one here is buying.”
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"We've realized that the tiles actually make sense as simple objects on their own — you can buy them mounted on a beech frame or for use in murals or furniture — although we're frequently contacted by people interested in them for unsuitable uses and have to turn their offers down."

SuTurno, Graphic and Textile Designers

In some ways, Marc Jacobs is a bit like Oprah. With a flick of his influential magic wand, Posh Spice can suddenly be considered cool, Bleecker Street can become the place you simply must open your New York shop, and a Madrid-based, husband-and-wife graphic-design duo can go from virtual unknowns to the toast of magazines and blogs around the world. That’s what happened two years ago to Julia Vergara and Javier G. Bayo, co-principals of the print and pattern design shop SuTurno, whose Bolsaco tote — a simple canvas bag made from vintage stock found in an old warehouse in Spain — was spied by two of Jacobs’ buyers at the Madrid shop Peseta. “It was the first product we ever made with the SuTurno label on it, and it actually became our most hyped design to date,” says Bayo. The two were asked to produce a limited edition of bags for the Marc by Marc Jacobs stores in the States, and they promptly sold out within a few days.
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Right now, Daniel Emma is: “At this very moment we’re eating popcorn.  However generally speaking, we’re preparing for the release of our first production collection D.E (pictured), which will be available to retailers from mid-October. This work is a combination of our Solids and Basics collections, and consists of small desk objects and housewares.”

Daniel Emma, Product Designers

Australian wine capital Adelaide has a population of 1.3 million, putting it on par with Dallas or San Diego. But as native Daniel To sees it, it’s a big city with a small-town mentality — one that nearly consigned him and his wife Emma Aiston to a life designing laundry lines. “We met at the University of South Australia, where our design program was heavily engineering based and suited to what’s required for the city's industry,” explains To. “Adelaide has three main manufacturing companies: one making garden sheds, one light switches, and a third clothes-drying lines.” Rather than learning about mid-century modern, Memphis, or the Bauhaus — all of which would later inform their work as the independent studio Daniel Emma — the pair were taught to perfect their technical-drawing skills and gear up to become cogs in the local wheel. Just as they were starting their final projects in 2006, though, they had a kind of mutual awakening.
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