Its getting close to the end of the year which is a great time to reflect. Lately I’ve been very focused on the details of my instruments. Getting everything just right so that I can continue to grow my brand in a healthy way. It’s also given me a chance to reflect on my design philosophy and why I make what I make the way I make it. Throughout my life, there have been times that reading or hearing a quote has really resonated with me. I’ve been interested in design since high school and used to have several design books. One had beautiful colorful pages with designs and quotes from designers. I remember reading a quote and knowing that it was true for me.
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I realize now how much I have internalized this concept and let it guide me through my career in design. I have never been a fan of overworked and gaudy design and I don’t subscribe to the concept of more is more. Instead I believe in allowing an object to exist in a place where form meets function. Where each part of a design has purpose and meaning. It’s not to say that I don’t believe in the value of aesthetics. In fact I believe that aesthetics serve a high purpose in design, its just that aesthetics must be thoughtful and necessary. It’s also not to say that I am a minimalist. In short I believe in refining a design until there is nothing left to take away, to constant and incremental improvements until a design is perfect, both aesthetically and functionally. It never is. Which leads me to another of my design philosophies:
Design is never finished.
My background is in jewelry and metalworking. I hold a BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and was lucky enough to spend a Summer working with Greg Wilbur in Portland, OR. Greg is an internationally collected metal sculptor specializing in raised metal vessels. We spent long days hammering metal and discussing art and design in Greg’s basement studio. One day mid summer Greg pulled a large copper vessel down from his rafters, told me that he started it 30 years ago and then started to work on it some more explaining to me that metal is never finished. My mind was blown. That he could take an object that I saw as sacred and modify and change it seemed inconceivable, but as I grew more comfortable with the idea of art as evolution it allowed me to let go of what is and focus on growth. Design is not static. We are not static.
The last concept that guides me every day is the Japanese concept of tsukumogami. According to this philosophy, a tsukumogami is a tool or object that on its 100th birthday gets a spirit. I won’t live to see my objects become 100, but my goal is to create objects that will one day receive a spirit. I believe the way to do this is to build objects to be cherished. Objects that are made to be used and used well. I believe that the spirit a tsukumogami receives comes from the love and energy that is put into an object by the maker while it is being created and by the user while it is being used. This partnership between the maker, the user, and the object itself is what will give it life.
These concepts are not for every designer or maker, but for me they are true. They are born from my experiences and they guide me in what I make and how I design it. I constantly re-evaluate my designs and ideas based on these 3 concepts and I believe that their framework allows me to design and create with integrity.
The Mendel Design Philosophy in short:
- More is not more. Design is finished when there is nothing left to take away.
- Design is never finished. Always be willing to re-evaluate and revise.
- Build objects to last 100 years. Do it by creating objects built with integrity to be used and cherished.
Adam sanding a radius into the sides of an acoustic ukulele.
Greg Wilbur at the Hawaii Artists Collaboration.
“Before and After”
Raised Bronze Vessel by Greg Wilbur