We are all quite familiar with the idea of making products attractive for consumers through the use of slogans, brand recognition or marketing promotions. But not everyone is aware of how a chair is created, why that color, or shape, or what made the manufacturer choose plastic over wood.
Everything we buy, from a toothbrush to a car, goes through a similar process when it comes to its design. Someone at the beginning has to make the decision that will give any product, piece of furniture or building its defining characteristics.
For this issue’s Art Forum, contemporary designer Sami Hayek, who is known for blending styles, materials and scale to create striking modern products, shares his insights about the design process.
Hayek has immersed himself in the design disciplines of furniture, interiors, architecture, landscape and industrial design, quickly establishing himself as a young, preeminent designer. His clients range from National Geographic and Louis Vuitton to private clients and governments. He has exhibited in numerous galleries, including twice at Art Basel Miami, and has made several appearances on design shows.
We caught up with Hayek this spring while he was taking some time off at his family’s ranch in Washington State to talk about the process he goes through in creating his designs and he shared some of the stories behind several of the projects he has created in recent years.
SC: When you are asked to design a product or a line of products, how do you begin?
SH: Before thinking about the product itself, I try to come up with words that will define its character or personality. I like to think of the experience that the final consumer will have when using this product. These words refer to emotions it will provoke in them. I see them as the DNA. I also like to use similes to help me define its character: if it were an animal which one would it be; if it were a metal or a city, things like that. By doing these mental exercises I can come up with a definition of its essence. Once you have set those defining terms clearly then it doesn’t matter whether the final product is an airplane, a chair or a whole line of products. All the elements, such as the colors, the material, shapes, etc. have to fit within that first set of words that I came up with.
Outdoor and Indoor
Aromas and Scents
Let me show you an example. This is a trunk I designed for a Tequila producer who wanted me to come up with a presentation platform for their high-end liquor. In this case the word I used is 007, as in James Bond. Everything came out of this already very well defined concept. It’s classy, luxurious, adventurous, with gadgets that come out, etc.
In other cases, the company that hires me already has a very well-defined concept and I have to design something within those parameters, which sometimes makes the whole thing more challenging, because you have to come up with something new, yet it has to be clearly recognized with the brand.
A couple of years ago, Bentley Motors asked me “Where do you see Bentley in the future? What do you think the next Bentley should look like?” They asked the same question of two other designers, so we went to their factory and got acquainted with their processes and the overall spirit of the company.
The presentation of our projects was done at Basel Miami during a fancy sit down dinner. We decided that each of us should do a little video instead of explaining the presentation and that no one should know what we were presenting until the event.
The first designer’s project was a car that morphed according to the circumstance. The second design was about creating life style furniture and products with the brand.
I went last and all I said at the beginning of my presentation was, “This will be the biggest, fastest Bentley ever produced. It seats sixteen people.” I still remember the question mark expression on the faces of Bentley’s top executives from the U.K. One of them even clapped when he saw that it was a private jet and I am sure it was not so much because he loved it, but mostly out of relief as he realized it was not a stretch limo.
SC: Is there something that you do in order to find inspiration or clarity of mind when you are about to start designing?
SH: Not really. This is my job, I have deadlines to meet, bills to pay and great responsibilities to give my clients something they will like. I’m not an artist in that sense. There are days when everything seems to flow great and others when I have to spend hours grunting things out until it’s good.
One time I was jet lagged flying in from Turkey, exhausted and hungry and in the middle of chaos trying to pull a complicated project together. My client asked me as a parallel task to develop a concept for some furniture. As he was giving me some guidelines for it, he said: “I want them to be green, but not too much, just a little bit,” so I asked him how little “just a little “ meant. His reply was 25%, so right there at the dinner table I drew up this piece of furniture for him and said, “There you have it.”