Good Work in the Marketplace

Transitions! I am most active on this site in times of transition. Right now I am between gigs, footloose and fancy free. And this situation begs the question: what kind of work do I most want to do as I enter this final phase of my professional career?

Here’s one thing I know: I want to be doing good work. But what do I mean by ‘good work’, and how does this mesh with the market’s definition? I’d like to think out loud about this with all of you and invite your input.

The question about our best fit with the job market is a question we’re all familiar with. It’s about being a talented professional who wants to do more than just collect a paycheck. In terms of our work life it’s the only important question we can ask.

Residential interior by Bloom Design LLC 2012
Custom sofa, custom rug, Bloom Design Leah Line table

Good design means that the things we produce are beautiful, functional, profitable, timely and affect positive relationships. Obvious, right? Well, obvious and elusive. In the marketplace profitability and timeliness often trump quality design and meticulous function.

It’s a slippery slope. Business is business, and a business can’t function without profitability and timeliness. Any other proposition is absurd. But how does the design firm manage this?

I’ve worked in a variety of organizational environments over the years. Several have produced world class goods for a regional market. In some cases the design requirements were narrowed to allow profit and timeliness to trump product quality. This creates a gussied up rotten apple waiting to ooze and explode. This dynamic is just as much of a problem for the design firm as it is for the client.

Herman Miller, among other companies, points to a very different model. Every day I look at the Noguchi coffee table in my living room, manufactured and marketed by Herman Miller. It’s a piece worthy of being shown in the Whitney Museum, as the original stone prototypes in fact were. But the commercial version is marketed and retailed for well under $2,000.

Not every company can be a Herman Miller, with the talent and wisdom of George Nelson and Gilbert Rohde pushing it forward. I’ll settle for less. But not for a lack of design integrity in day to day work. As designers we can never be willing to compromise on this.

As I move forward, how can I best carry these intentions into my own work? Is it best to reopen the Bloom Design studio, look for a job with one of the major regional players or work with a smaller local firm? All options open. It is the vision that counts.

Granite Lake, morning, Wind River Rockies, August 2017

This photo is one of my favorite places in the Wind River Rockies, not as rugged as some, nestled below 11,200 ft. Squaretop Mountain. As designers we can demand that the work we do is like wilderness, acting with mindless generosity to do what is most appropriate with the elements at hand.

I look forward to talking with any and all of you. Please give me a nudge to chat and trade notes.

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