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Interview with James Hoefler

Home > Designer Interviews > James Hoefler

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer James Hoefler (JH) for A’ Design Awards and Competition. You can access the full profile of James Hoefler by clicking here.

Interview with James Hoefler at Monday 14th of April 2014
James Hoefler
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
JH: I have an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Syracuse University (BS, 1977). More recently I took some courses on design at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen (2010). Both of these experiences helped me develop a sensibility for what works well and what does not, what is worth doing and what is worth saving for another day.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
JH: I am a free-lance designer. My studio is my basement workshop.

FS: What is "design" for you?
JH: The word design means SMART to me. The concept of SMART means making things that improve people’s lives, making life easier and more enjoyable to live.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
JH: I like making things that have the broadest possible appeal; things that anyone can use or operate; things that people have fun operating and working with.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
JH: My favorite design is the one I have been working on for this competition, going on two years now. It meets all the criteria I have for SMART.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
JH: XoomRooms is my first foray into the official design world.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
JH: Wood rocks. You can do so much with it.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
JH: I feel most creative when I am driving and falling asleep.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
JH: Utility is key. If it is not useful to the broad public, it has little interest for me.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
JH: I feel lots of stimulation when I design, spiced with moments of exhilaration, and of course counterbalanced with the occasional moments of despair. The exhilaration always wins, though, and makes the despair worthwhile.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
JH: Exhilaration is the word. There is no feeling quite like it in the world.

FS: What makes a design successful?
JH: Design is successful when it works in the hands of others.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
JH: I go back to utility. Form is nice, but function is the key.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
JH: Designers should endeavor to make the world a better place, in the long run. To bring joy to as many as possible, while minimizing the seen and unseen costs to the planet now, and for future generations.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
JH: Design is being democratized, opened to a whole new world of uncredentialed makers. It is a very exhilarating and democratizing trend.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
JH: I have never held and exhibit. I am really just getting started at my advanced age (58).

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
JH: Creativity and inspiration springs from need. Need, being the mother of invention, is what inspires me to problem solve, and that’s really what design is all about.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
JH: Clean and simple as possible are the best ways to characterize my design aesthetic. It was once said that a theory should be as simple as possible, but not simpler. Likewise, a design should be a simple as can be, but no simpler.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
JH: I live in the United States, but find geographic location provides no particular advantage or disadvantage. I have taken inspiration from all over the world, and sourced things I have used in my design from all over the world. The internet makes this all possible and I am quite sure I would never be where I am with design without this essential window on the world.

FS: How do you work with companies?
JH: I work collaboratively with the companies I have partnered with, and I listen a great deal to what they tell me.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
JH: Push, push, push. Praise is nice, but better to wrap that in suggestions for improvement. I would not be where I am today without helpful and thoughtful critique of those I have worked with

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
JH: Much of what I know and use these days is self-taught and the product of much trail-and-error experimentation (lots of trials, lots of errors!). I have always loved design and always have something in mind for my next great idea, so forward thinking is also an essential element of my work ethic.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
JH: ShopSmith table saw and drill press (35 years old); iPhone; iPad; Rav4 (a beautifully designed car, for the most part), and the micrometer my dad used when he was first getting started as a machinist. I have used it more times in the last year than I have in my whole life.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
JH: I teach political science at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, so being a professor at a small liberal arts college takes up most of my working day. I do most of my design at nights, on weekends, and when traveling.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
JH: I heard an architectural professor telling a story about a student whose design for an infill project was totally bizarre. He asked the student what he was thinking and the student said he wanted to make something really DIFFERENT. The professor suggested that me make something really GOOD and worry later about whether it was different or not.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
JH: It is all good. I do not see a down side to the wonderful world of design.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
JH: Make it useful.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
JH: Sensitivity. A sensitive designer will sense need and a useful way to meet that need. A sensitive designer will also have good ears, to absorb feedback, and good eyes, to see what works well and what does not.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
JH: My eyes are my best tools. I am always looking, always watching, always trying to see things as they are, and as they are used.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
JH: I do most of my design in what would otherwise be down time, while driving, sitting in airports, and as I fall asleep at night.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
JH: I don’t think design ever ends, so it makes no sense to put a time frame on it. Time frames suggest that perfection is possible, and I just do not think that is true.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
JH: Where do your ideas come from. I always say that my ideas come from looking around and being sensitive to the world around me. If you look hard and listen carefully, design inspirations will beckon.

FS: What was your most important job experience?
JH: Living in Copenhagen, where design is in the air, was perhaps the most important job experience I have had to date.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
JH: I don not have any clients yet, but I am still young.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
JH: I like the kinds of design work that can help people live more enjoyable and productive lives.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
JH: I have many ideas that will spin off the current XoomRooms concept, and so I have enough here to keep me busy for several years.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
JH: I design solo, but always test my design ideas with others. I have had some pretty bad ideas, and thankfully others have told me so and go me back on the right path.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
JH: I have several iterations of the XoomRooms idea that I am working on; smaller ideas that may actually have a bigger impact when all is said and done.

FS: How can people contact you?
JH: Email is best: XoomRooms@gmail.com

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
JH: A big thank you to Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA), the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (Copenhagen), Northway Industries (Middleburg, PA), and Hafele America Co (Archdale, NC). All these institutions helped me in one way or another.


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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