JAMIE WOLFOND OF GOOD THING
This week we interviewed Jamie Wolfond, the founder of Brooklyn-based design and manufacturing collective Good Thing. Started in 2014, Good Thing produces innovative, functional, and accessible household products.
Jamie shares with us his process of "designing backward" and the studio's collaborative efforts to strengthen the relationship between designers, producers and consumers.
What is good thing?
Good Thing is a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of small products and household accessories. We aim to produce innovative, functional and expressive objects by combining the experience of skilled tradespeople with the unique vision of talented artists and designers.
When and how did it come about?
Shortly after graduating from college, I came up with this strategy that I now think of as ‘designing backward’. Rather than starting with a problem and subsequently finding the materials and processes to solve it, I begin the design process with a curiosity about a material or process, and work with a manufacturer to figure out what else their process can be used to accomplish. Since the prototypes that result from the process of ‘designing backward’ do not need to be adapted for mass-production, it seemed natural to build a business around this method of designing and producing.
It wasn’t long after deciding to start the company that I became interested in seeing how other designers approached manufacturing in our constraints.
What inspires the playful and colorful products you create?
I am sure each of our designers would answer the question differently. In general, I think the work is unified by a love of material and curiosity about how things are made.
How does good thing collaborate with its designers and manufacturing partners?
Since Good Thing’s role is to strengthen the relationship between a designer, producer and consumer, bringing a product to fruition takes many levels of collaboration.
When we’re working with an outside design studio, the process often starts with a discussion of our strengths and limitations. With every object we produce, we further our understanding of what our vendors are best at, and pass that knowledge onto our designers.
The designer submits an idea as a drawing or model, and we begin a dialogue with potential producers. This is where the process becomes so deeply collaborative. Through several iterations of factory visits, drawings and models we determine whether it is, in fact, well suited to the producer. Sometimes, (but rarely) we discover that we have guessed right and proceed with manufacturing the object as planned. More often, we learn that the object can’t be made in the way we imagined. In this case, what we’ve learned about our producer’s capabilities informs the next iteration, and so on.
This thorough dialogue (or should I call it a trialogue?) often leads us to discoveries that we would not otherwise have reached, and steers a product in a new direction. That is the most important attribute of our process – we almost always end up somewhere that we didn’t expect.
Is there a specific piece that was especially influenced by collaboration?
Samantha originally pitched the Field Candlestick as a single component comprised of welded steel tubes and a metal washer. The idea was to contrast the industrial forms created by welding steel with the warmth and individuality that a carefully chosen set of colors can create. At the same time, I was working on sourcing a shelf comprised of many adjacent wooden dowels that would offer a surface to store both flat and round objects.
After months of sending drawings and models back and forth with potential producers, it appeared that neither product was going to be feasible. The square wooden components required to mount the shelf were much too difficult for our vendor (who specializes in creating metal blades for machining custom dowels) and the steel candlesticks would require tube tolerances that were next to impossible. Soon after this unfortunate realization, it occurred to us that our dowel-makers process could lend itself perfectly to the form that we had assumed could only be achieved in metal. A few iterations later, we arrived at a hand-painted wooden candlestick that embodied the contrast between industrial, geometric form and personal organic surface.
If it hadn’t been for our many iterations of dialogue with Samantha and the several companies that we were working with at the time of this product’s development, we would never have arrived where we did.
What's next for you guys?
We plan to continue growing our collection and striking up new relationships with designers and producers. Of course, I am looking forward to designing some new products myself too.
We're also really excited to create more opportunities to engage with the public directly. We will be showing at Wanted Design during NYCxDesign and plan on organizing some fun parties and workshops in the following months - maybe even a pop-up factory!