Interview with Mike Pond

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

Interview with Mike Pond at Thursday 21st of April 2016
Mike Pond
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?
MP: I begin building things when I was a little kid and just never stopped. I don't have a problem to defining myself as an artist but that's not the way that I think of myself. I think of myself as a person who finds solutions to problems.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
MP: Solid & void is technically an architecture firm, so while we do practice architecture as a primary focus, a majority of our physical time is spent fabricating the designs we come up with. That might be in a shop or on location, depending on the scope of the project.

FS: What is "design" for you?
MP: Design is just solutions to problems. I think poor design often stems from not identifying ALL the parameters from the onset of the project that need to be taken into account. Certainly the physical needs of the work but social and emotional also.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
MP: I think any work that carries weight with the client. I have often likened it to designing a chair that someone spends 8 hours a day in an office in versus designing a chair that someone spends an hour in while relaxing at home. Both chairs are important, but for different reasons, and different from client to client also. So I prefer not to spend time designing things that a client would deem "unimportant".

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
MP: The next one.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
MP: Hmmmm I think a small room? An addition to a house.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
MP: The answer will of course change over time, but for the past several years I have been very attracted to the dichotomy found in concrete. In that, it is fully plastic; can be made to exist in nearly any shape, but at the same time has such rigidity when cured. Concrete without reinforcement is comparably very bad in tension, but still has the connotation of being very steadfast. I very much enjoy that concrete is both malleable and also firm.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
MP: Probably when I am not trying to be. I understand that I am “creative”, but I don’t think of myself like that. The more focused on the task I am, the less I am focused on my feelings, so the minute I start “feeling creative”, I am out of the mindset I prefer to be in.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
MP: Designing always feels more like discovering, to me. As though I am exploring a concept that exists independent of me and I am merely learning about it. It's very easy to impose your will on a design where it doesn't belong. So with that in mind, I think I mostly try to get out of the designs way.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
MP: Curiosity.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
MP: Well, normally by the time it is fully realized and every T is crossed, I am tired or bored. In that, it's no longer challenging, it is just execution. I think I get the most personal excitement from somewhere around 75% of the way done and I can really see details come together how this is all going to work.

FS: What makes a design successful?
MP: Steven Spielberg made two films in 1993. Schindler's List and Jurassic park. Both films are terrific, albeit incomparable. Can anyone really say that one is "better" than the other? They were trying to do completely different things and both were successful in doing so. So I think that is a design is a success when it accomplished what it set out to do. The degree of ambition is up to the artist and the client, but pure success is only measurable in the race it chooses to run in.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
MP: What its intentions were.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
MP: Listen. Responding without listening isn't actually a response, just an interjection.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
MP: I couldn't say exactly as I don’t really consider myself a “cutting edge” designer, but probably the influx of computer aided technology. CNC routers used to be only able to be used by elite designers, but they've become far more commonplace and I think that trend will only continue.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
MP: I've never held one.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
MP: I don't know. To be honest. Some people like chocolate ice cream, some like vanilla. I don't know where my sense of taste came from, just that it's there. As far as inspirations, I very much appreciate the work of Carlo Scarpa primarily and also Koolhaas, Libeskind and Zumthor.

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?
MP: I don't like the word "style" too much in terms of classifications. I understand the need for it as it helps us to clarify and categorize things, but I like to think that the work I am doing now is similar to the work I would've done 1000 years ago or would do in a 1000 years from now, barring technological possibility. Essentially, proportions (among other things) don't change. The Fibonacci sequence existed far before he "discovered" it and will continue to be important for forever. So hopefully the work I do can be a bit timeless.

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?
MP: I live in New Jersey in the United States and I have been fortunate to have worked in numerous countries. I am grateful to be an American as I believe it affords me many opportunities that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to have. The biggest pro of working in America.... Probably that we are a melting pot of cultures, especially where I live near New York City. People are as eclectic as it can get. I like that a person can stem from literally any country in the world and be fully American, whereas that sort of conglomeration isn't as prominent in other parts of the world. The biggest con from a designer’s perspective is that our system of constructing things has become so industrialized that it is very difficult to break out of. Standardized materials of course make way for higher efficiency and productivity, but very often leads to very thoughtless design solutions.

FS: How do you work with companies?
MP: I don't make an enormous distinction between working with companies versus a private owner. At the end of the day, I have my programmatic list, the list of people it is meant to serve and my personal lists. Whatever it is that I design from there is merely meant to satisfy those requirements and of course the customer.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
MP: Try to have a good idea about what you hope to accomplish prior to hiring (or even interviewing) a designer. A good designer will absolutely know how to draw out of you what it is that you're looking for, but I have found that the less ambiguity, the better. With that said, also be open to suggestions from the designer, as he/she is a trained professional and hopefully brings an experienced viewpoint to the table.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
MP: I am not very complicated. I make lists. The idea is that the lists should begin to shape the design, without even your intervention. Programmatic, social, zoning considerations will all start to spell out what the space/product should be, without my ego getting in the way and messing it up.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
MP: I have a few things that I would consider important to me, but they’re not necessarily because of how well designed they are. I have spent a fair amount of time in various third world environments doing volunteer architecture/construction. Schools, orphanages, things like that. Perhaps the most notably, I have been fortunate to have spent 4 or 5 months in Liberia in the last couple of years, including a couple months building emergency housing for children orphaned by Ebola during the crisis in 2014. I have a few things from those places that are good reminders for me, but that’s about it. Everything else sort of pales in comparison.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
MP: It's pretty boring. I wake up early, have a coffee and get to work in either the office or the shop, both of which are located on the property I live on. Several times a week I will train at nights at a mixed martial arts gym. Learning to fight has immeasurably helped to keep my mind working calmly. And my kids are my top priority. Any time that there is a school function or a game or something, I drop what I am doing to participate.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
MP: Listen. Sincerely listen, and don't be afraid of maybe "not making your mark". Not every job is going to be on magazine covers and you'll find your work far more rewarding when you learn to just listen and serve the client.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
MP: I don't see them in terms of positives and negatives. I suppose that there are both, but it is more a matter of fact for me. I didn't choose to be a certain height, I just am. The same holds true for being a designer, where it is just a part of life. So I do my best to be as good as I can at it, but I was born without much choice in who I am, in that regard.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
MP: Be honest.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
MP: Listening. Be a student, not a teacher.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
MP: I use the normal CAD programs on my computer and then I have a mountain of tools in the shop. Maybe hundreds of them.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
MP: Insightful question. Understanding diminishing returns. That last 2% that would make that design "perfect" is sometimes as time consuming as the initial 98% was. By all means, I'm not suggesting to be lazy, but acknowledging that that last 2% might not be worth the investment and will make literally no difference to the consumer, should probably be eliminated. Most artists are perfectionists and want to constantly refine a work, which I can certainly relate to, but I also know that if I am spending an egregious amount of time on a detail that is purely for my personal satisfaction, not the success of the design, then I probably need to let it go.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
MP: Well, a skyscraper takes longer than a coffee mug.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
MP: Haha, "how much does that cost?"

FS: What was your most important job experience?
MP: I went to Rwanda to do volunteer work in I think 2007? I would say that the experience of working amongst a people group who have gone through the experience of that genocide in 1994 was more eye opening than anything I have done, before or since. Granted, I have since seen a number of very difficult to digest series of circumstances, but that time spent in Rwanda more sincerely shook the essence of my being than anything else I can think of. It also very much let me know that that type of work was ingrained into who I am as a person and was going to be with me for the rest of my life. Komera.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
MP: I had recently noticed that in the past several years, I haven’t had even one project that was fully comprised of things I have done before. So, I am getting to explore a new method and/or material on every single thing I do, which I find very rewarding, personally.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
MP: I just want to work, of course. I hope to continue to find new and exciting projects that push me to go to places as a designer that are interesting and challenging.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
MP: Depends on the job. If the client is more artistically inclined or they have a background in the trades, then that is a bit more collaborative. As a general modus operandi, I will personally come up with the general motif of what direction I would like to take something, and I’ll have discussions with people I work with on either how to articulate it, fabricate it, develop it, etc.

FS: How can people contact you?
MP: The easiest answer internationally is email of course, given time zones and things like that. In America, a phone call is the most common and I often text clients once we have begun the process. 0019082104670

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
MP: Yes, actually. I would like to call attention to the prominence that the CNC router has taken in the design and fabrication industry in the last decade. I think it is a wonderful tool and I applaud its use the same as I would a hammer or a computer or anything other device that can help get good designs finished. However, I believe that the dependence on this tool has led to a diminished appreciation and love for the intrinsic characteristics of materials. I am most definitely NOT calling for the disuse of the CNC router but I am calling attention to the fact that this tool has allowed all manner of materials to be treated as plastic, where nearly any Euclidian shape can carved into nearly any material, for either the finished product of the form. This can lead to terrific advancement in design possibilities, but it can also lead to us as designers merely thinking in terms of SHAPE, not in terms of both shape and material. I would like to always remind ourselves to love one species of wood more than another, love what makes concrete so beautiful when it is broken, or polished or grinded. To just remember to always love materials also.

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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