Leon Ransmeier

New York, ransmeier.com
Unlike many of the designers on this list, Ransmeier primarily produces his beautifully minimalist, ultra-functional work through big-name manufacturers like Herman Miller, Hay, and Mattiazzi. 

What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
One of the greatest pleasures for me is making objects that almost anybody anywhere in the world could know how to use — hopefully they might even enjoy using them. I believe there is a universal, human understanding of form and meaning that transcends nationality, American or otherwise. When people speak about “design,” the focus is often on furniture and interior objects, but who decides where “design culture” starts and stops? In my opinion, if we are talking about design, we should also include film sets, sports equipment, sneakers and airplanes, just to name a few.

Regarding furniture design, in the U.S. we don’t have the tradition of small family-owned producers of modern goods, and instead the market is dominated by a few large companies. There were a number of years — too many years — where people’s well-being was placed second to profit, and quantity sold trumped quality of life. Entrepreneurship and utility were ingrained in American culture from the beginning, as well as innovation and invention, all of which are still a source of cultural pride in the United States. America helped to pioneer industrial manufacturing on a truly massive scale. Enter the Calvinist frugality that was also embedded into American culture from the outset, and one can begin to hypothesize why the appetite for low cost products is still a dominant force in American consumerism.

Thankfully, the dark ages of American design are over. I see big business in America placing a much greater focus on good design and sustainability. I am energized by the collaboration with industry on a large scale, and with designing for a consumer base that may not know or care who designed what they use. If design begins with the desire to change something, then I am inspired by designers who are reinventing objects, businesses and services.

Entrepreneurialism is still very American, and the application of inventive passion combined with good principles motivates me. We are seeing more and more young companies producing and distributing their work, and hopefully some of these newer brands will manage to stick around and gather some history.

What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
I just returned from Chicago where I presented one of two objects I have designed for a group show at Volume Gallery. The second object (along with the first) will be shown at Design Miami. Also in December, a collaboration between my studio and the Corning Museum of Glass will be exhibited at the re-opening exhibit Beautiful Users at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. I am currently in Japan, about to begin work on a ceramic project, which will be shown in Milan in 2016. In November, I will be visiting Finland for a two-day glass-blowing workshop with Iittala. We are working on some line extensions to the CHIARO collection with Mattiazzi, set to launch at the Salone in April of 2015. I’m also currently exploring a new project with Herman Miller, which we hope to debut sometime in 2015.  My studio is also designing and developing a very exciting piece of outdoor equipment that I wish I could say more about!

What inspires your work in general?
My work is inspired by a wide spectrum of ideas, but it is informed by use. Use follows form, and finding the form to be used is our work. There is a big difference between an idea and a product. An image or a thought can create passion, but nothing can replace the act of using an object. The design process is often a long and winding road, and for us, there is a certain rhythm between finding inspiration and making. We build everything full scale. Even if they are rough models, the experience gives us a better understanding of the objects we create. This includes ensuring the utility or “usefulness” of an object, but I hope that we are able to go beyond that, and to create something more meaningful. While our fundamental human needs include subsistence and protection, they also include affection, understanding, and freedom. It is the designer’s job to create objects that simultaneously complement these needs.