New Core77 Column: How I Design Stuff


I don’t have a lick of formal training in furniture or industrial design (my only design schooling was in graphic design). And yet, after reading the book “The Old Way of Seeing” by Jonathan Hale in the 1990s, I decided to give it a go.

Please consider the above paragraph to be a “surgeon general’s warning” for the next paragraph.

You can now read how I design furniture and other objects in my latest column for Core77. My process starts with becoming organized and disciplined about the visual world and how I experience it and preserve it – my image library is the backbone of my designs. Then I move on to sketches, models and prototypes. And I take different approaches depending on whether I’m building a platform or a box (the two major forms of furniture).

I don’t consider my process unique. But I do hope that explaining it might give you some tools to try out on your own designs, just like “The Old Way of Seeing” did for me.

As always, my column is free to read at Core77.

— Christopher Schwarz

Here are links to my other Core77 columns, which cover the problems faced by people who design and make things.

The (Mostly Forgotten) Power of Vernacular Design

Should You Publish Your Prices?

Be Honest About Your Inspiration – or Else

Anarchism & Design

The Exploitation of Wood

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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10 Responses to New Core77 Column: How I Design Stuff

  1. Michael Rodgers says:

    The Old Way of Seeing influenced me as well–not related to furniture design but in thinking about church architecture and its impact on worship. It is a very good book. We have truly lost something in our culture, our communities and as individuals in our rejection of historical design. I’m thankful that many folks are critically rethinking the modern and post-modern projects. Thank you Chris for your contributions.

  2. tsstahl says:

    Reject historical designs? Pashaw! I love the ’70s design era. Bland brick, concrete, single pane windows, slavish dedication to rectilinear forms. Why wait for dystopia when you have a whole decade of it? The institutionalization of institutional design might be a more apt description.

    Yes, there is heavy sarcasm in this post.

    As a design idiot, I start with outline sketches of what I think it should look like from 15-20′ away. Likely candidates get blown up and filled in with details. Then I copy something from someone else (most often poorly) and usually call it done. Most recently I’m trying to adapt the Moravian desk design ascetic into a make-up table for my daughter. Definitely got some looks while at the drugstore measuring nail polish bottles.

  3. ctregan says:

    You forgot to mention your Pinterest board?

  4. hiscarpentry says:

    It’s amazing how eye opening ‘The Old Way of Seeing’ is! Highly recommend for anyone who cares about designing anything.

  5. Mateus Kern says:

    Chris do you use some specific software to organize the images?
    I’m just using Finder and it’s getting pretty annoying to manage it and I ain’t even close to TBs of images.

  6. Pascal Teste says:

    You have a very methodical and disciplined approach. How do you deal with clients during the design process? Do you only show them scaled drawings or do you also present them with a model? Great tip on giving them half of the sample they agreed on. Thanks for all the links at the end of your column!

    • Almost all of my clients are remote. So I send 3D renders of casework (boxes). And photos and sketches of platforms (chairs and tables).

      And then I send them photos and questions at every stage during construction. Sometimes daily. Most clients say: Do what you think is best. Some participate. As long as you engage them at every step of the construction process, then there are few (if any) surprises or missteps.

  7. Rising Star says:

    good approach lost art press, nice article

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