I am really pleased to bring you a change of scene this week.
While I really do relish my days alone in my office, the many advantages and subsequent creative strength from working within a team are not lost on me. I kind of think finding that great working dynamic can be as elusive as a regular romantic relationship, hence the need to nurture and protect it with clear roles !
Two young Australian designers who have discovered their skills and aesthetic compliment each others perfectly, are Sophie Bain and Jono Biet. Under the moniker; So Watt they have forged ahead in establishing a studio that relishes challenging, client based industrial design projects as much as the ongoing growth of their own furniture and homeware collection.
After exploring the variety of their work and really interesting client base (think full shop fit outs and a steam punk coffee machine housing!) I thought they offered a really fresh and current example of the realities of self propelled designers in business ‘down under’ today. I quizzed them on the balance of their roles as well and they shared the benefits of working with others.
Below you will see a mix of products from the current So Watt collections. Among them is one styling, modern writing bureau, watches and even a wood wax they have developed to repel stains.
They are more than “ones to watch” – they are HERE!
So many designers choose to work alone (and prefer it that way!)
What is it about your partnership that you find rewarding and are there ever times when it gets difficult/awkward/tricky?
Sophie : We’re very different, both in our personality and in the way we approach things. This is usually a great thing because we come at projects from totally different angles, but it does get tricky when we’re both being stubborn! Our saving grace is that our skill sets are polar opposites. Jono is the maker so I need to trust his abilities to make it the best way possible (of course I still triple check with a few testing questions), and I’m the organizer.
Having worked in various design industry jobs, I’ve learnt the ‘do’s and don’t’s’ when it comes to working with clients. This has helped me to define my own style so Jono leaves me to do that but also checks in pretty regularly!
At the end of the day, it helps creative flow to bounce ideas of each other on the fly, but sometimes when there’s lots of work to do I will need to forcibly remove myself from the excitement of the workshop floor to the upstairs studio and close the door!
Jono : We both enjoy doing pretty different things so that naturally helps us to not step on toes. We also have our zones.
Sophie is in charge of anything that goes through the studio side of things and I’m in charge of anything that goes on downstairs in the workshop. Then it’s just about respecting the boss of the zone you’re in! We delegate a lot too. Morning meetings over breakfast with a to-do list is pretty important.
So Watt is more than just a design brand; offering a full custom design and make service, you work with clients to bring their ideas to life!
What motivates you to continue working with others when you could just close the doors and solely offer your own product line?
Even though it might not seem like it, all designers actually do this!
They have to in order to pay the gigantic prototyping costs for their own designs bills. The difference for us is that we actually love sharing the experiences and projects we have with our clients, they are our main source of inspiration! It’s great to have a different challenge to tackle every week and to work with clients from completely different industries. Sometimes, when we’re working on a design for a client, we will come across a new material that we then end up incorporating into our own pieces. We also try and think of the work we do for clients as a collaboration with them, not an assignment. While we might have the design qualifications – they’re the ones that will be living or working with the finished product every day!
Working with other clients on projects that potentially have never been attempted before provides the perfect opportunity for us to learn new skills and techniques furthering our knowledge base which can can then draw on in the future. It forces us to constantly tweak our workflow with the result being we only get better and quicker- there’s always a deadline…
Our other motivation for both the custom collaborations with clients, and also our own work, is to provide long lasting and effective designs. It sucks when you buy something thinking it will do what you need and it isn’t quite right so you end up throwing it out. Sometimes this can happen 4 or 5 times before you have something you can live with! We hate the idea of all that landfill, so by creating considered, useful items, we hope to provide people with a solution that will last them decades!
Australia is bubbling with fresh creative talent presented by designers of all ages. What brands or people spring to mind when considering who you admire and are inspired by locally?
Sophie : The first name I think of is Nathan Day, we met him at Denfair in Melbourne last year. Nathan has an incredible workshop in WA and is a designer and maker of handcrafted furniture with a more ‘traditional’ approach to making. He mostly works with Australian hardwoods and is the apprentice to a master craftsman. In saying that – Nathan’s work is not in any way traditional! It’s super fresh and totally in vogue.
Jono : Not from a design point of view, but from a creativity in business point of view, I straight away think of Zanerobe. I was there ‘handyman’ when I was at Uni and they were still making their early waves, now they’re global. The guys always worked so hard to compete on the global fashion circuit which is pretty hard for Australian labels. Everyone has this idea that Australian design (fashion or furniture) is always 6 months behind the rest of the world, but companies like Zanerobe are proving that wrong.
At the end of the day, design studios are as much a business as an accounting firm (we just have more coloured pens), so it’s pretty important to remember you are still running a business!
Sophie Bain of So Watt.
Jono Biet of So Watt.