OTHR

USEFUL / AESTHETIC / UNIQUE

MEET JOSH OWEN

When encountering a piece designed by Josh Owen, its use is delightfully apparent. This is not to say that his work lacks subtlety—the obvious functionality of objects or spaces drummed up by the multi-disciplinary designer belie the thoughtfulness and intent that he imbues into each piece. His approach to design is seemingly effortless—owed to Josh’s intuition for natural interactions and decades of experience in design

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QUICK FACTS

Authored the book Lenses for Design.
Has over 10 years of teaching experience. Method includes restraint and utility.

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Torq Nutcracker

CREDITS

Written by Kevin Chow
Photographs by James Chororos
In collaboration with Freunde von Freunden

 

 

 

 

 

 

"For a designer to be effective, his or her impact should be socially relevant."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"My friend and colleague, the late Massimo Vignelli once told me that 'it is not what you do that counts but how you do it that is relevant.'"

 

Aside from applying that experience and knowledge to creating minimal and refined objects and spaces, Josh is also a teacher disseminating his humanistic approach to design as the professor and Chair of the Industrial Design Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

 

Tell us about the first object you ever designed.

When I was about 5 years old my mother was feeling under the weather and complained that her nose was cold. The story goes that I wanted to help her feel better so I cut out the egg cup portion of an egg-carton, inserted a cotton ball for comfort and insulation, then poked holes in the parallel sides of the cup, tying a length of elastic string to either side to act as a flexible head-strap. Worn like a mask, this solved her troubles.

What brought you to Rochester?

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) brought me to Rochester. However, my wife was also being recruited by the University of Rochester at the same time. It was an opportunity for a dual-career move that afforded us a return to a less urban lifestyle that we lived previously in Philadelphia. We now live in a small village along the Erie Canal, facing the woods. It’s a wonderful place to raise our family and a fantastic base for global operations.

Tell us about how you got involved with OTHR.

I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Joe Doucet. I’ve watched his career evolve over the last decade and sent former students who were the right fit for his office to work with him. They have all benefitted greatly from his mentorship so we share an interest in being stewards of the next generation of designers. Joe and I bumped into each other this past year in Milan and he asked me then if I would consider working on something for OTHR. The conversation piqued my interest so I went out of my way to have a look at the brand launch in NYC. I was very impressed by the products and the way Joe, Evan and their team were managing the brand and was honored to be asked to join the group.

I tend to be most passionate about whatever I am working on at the moment. This is because I obsess over answering the brief set for me until a suitable solution is arrived upon.

What excites you most about the platform?

I’m very excited about pushing the technology and the infrastructure around design, production and distribution. I am also very happy to be part of a group of like-minded individuals who share some strong core values. A good ‘brand’ is always more than the sum of its parts but it helps a great deal when the parts are all operating at a high level.

Which of your designs is your favorite?

I like many of my designs for many different reasons so it is hard to choose. I tend to be most passionate about whatever I am working on at the moment. This is because I obsess over answering the brief set for me until a suitable solution is arrived upon.

How do you define success as a designer?

This is a good question. For me success is three-fold: Social, Critical, and Commercial. For a designer to be effective, his or her impact should be socially relevant. In that capacity I work as an educator to help others move their ideas forward and empower them to make enduring decisions. Critical success means that the work that one does is judged by peers and professionals to operate at the highest levels. When my projects (or the projects of my students) win juried awards or are included in exhibitions, publications or museum collections, this is Critical success. Commercial success means that the one’s contribution has been accepted as useful in the world and contributes to the economic ecosystem.

"My friend and colleague, the late Massimo Vignelli once told me that 'it is not what you do that counts but how you do it that is relevant.'"

You are currently a professor and the Chair of the Industrial Design program at RIT. How does being an educator affect how you think about design?

There is a great deal of reciprocity between my role as an educator and my identity as a designer. I am constantly challenged by attempting to distill the lessons of industry into the classroom. This is a never-ending cycle of following the evolution of culture and technology and looking for ways to impart a passion for the field into the exercises employed to create learning opportunities. Conversely I bring these lessons back to my clients. I’ve just written a book about this entitled “Lenses for Design.”

What is the best design advice that you have received?

My friend and colleague, the late Massimo Vignelli once told me that “it is not what you do that counts but how you do it that is relevant.” There is something in this statement that transcends advice that is specific to design that I like. It implies that design is bigger than what we (as a global culture) generally think of and encompasses our actions, our intentions and the web of relationships we build and the communities we participate in.