Interview with Fletcher Eshbaugh

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Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Fletcher Eshbaugh (FE) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Fletcher Eshbaugh by clicking here.

Interview with Fletcher Eshbaugh at Tuesday 5th of May 2020

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?
FE: When I was young I had an interest in drawing, inventing, and playing around with ideas at a young age. I also had a strong fascination with Psychology and behavior which motivated me to the reasoning and emotion behind a particular design. Eventually I really fixated on logos and athletic shoes, designing them in my spare time as a child. This eventually led me to product design in schooling and my professional career where I have put this background to good work across several different fields of design.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
FE: 1th Studio was started several years ago and really was focused on client needs in the fashion industry, with a tangential focus on branding and identity for small startup companies. This continued for a number of years, but for the past I would say 3-4 years has become focused on creating items that are idea driven and focused on my vision of the world as I see it.

FS: What is "design" for you?
FE: Design is the ability to change things, the ability to make things better, and to inspire. There is something really satisfying about a well crafted design regardless of the medium. In the end it elevates your mood and enhances life in innumerable ways.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
FE: I still have a strong pull to the fashion world and designing bags and footwear. I am currently working on a couple of projects that are within this realm, but also give a nod to some of the themes I have been exploring in product design. I also love furniture in that it is such a concrete statement in terms of personality while also really getting to play with so many different materials and forms. There is something liberating about all the different iterations that say a table or a chair can become.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
FE: A favorite design is a tough one for me to zero in on. There are so many designs I get inspired by on a day to day basis. I think when you look back in history to some of the products that were created by artisans it really puts things into perspective. There is a certain sensibility and touch that a designer has to have in the mass production age, but there is something God like in the architecture and say religious artifacts of the last thousand years that inspires me.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
FE: The first thing I ended up designing in my career was a line of footwear for women through a small footwear company in New York City. I ended up becoming the lone designer at this company and was in charge of the entire range. It was a sink or swim environment, and although I think I did a solid job at the time I would love to go back and rework most or all of the designs.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
FE: I really do love metals and leather. Metal is such a permanent force and there is something so beautiful about how it wears, and the patina that develops over a number of years really can give it character that you cannot get with say plastic. Leather seemingly is on a downward trend due to misnomers like "vegan leather" which is nothing but either PU or PVC-I think once people start realizing how sustainable and natural something like leather is they will start moving back to it as a stronger material.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
FE: I feel most creative early in the morning and late at night. I will end up coming up with an inspired thought within a couple of hours of waking up in the morning, and then usually get on a roll in terms of implementation early evening until about 11pm. I used to stay up much later to design, but I found at a certain point it becomes counterproductive.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
FE: I think it is incredibly important to contextualize and ask questions. It ends up being a paradoxical act because in order for the design to succeed you really have to look at why it isn’t a good design, rather than leaning on any false assumption you might have created in your mind about the concept at hand. Beyond that, I think it is important to think about the details because these are the things that people will remember after the love or hate of the form becomes less novel. Getting those solidified and right is perhaps the most important on the checklist.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
FE: I end up having this electric wave of excitement upon first coming up with an idea or the finalization in my mind of a design. It ends up being quite a profound experience. Once things are settled in and I am working through a design I would say there is a generalized anxiety about what needs to get done, what has been done, and what should get done. Once things are released into the world though I still have a bit of dread looking at things because I tend to see everything that could have been better rather than what someone with fresh eyes is seeing. I have worked on getting better at this, to step out of myself and act as the final consumer on what is tolerable or not to them.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
FE: Once a design is realized I think it there is a sense of calm, but depending on the modality of distribution into the world, you really have to once again step it up in order to promote, disseminate, popularize the design. As I’ve mentioned, I do have a sense of all the flaws or the details of the design that could have been better. I think it’s a process through which you build and ever evolve the design-and if it is popular enough people will ask for that better version next.

FS: What makes a design successful?
FE: The most successful designs have some timeless quality about them. Either the form, or the concept behind them. These through lines really allow the consumer to emotionally connect to the design and then it in essence is let into their world and becomes a part of themselves. I also am a firm believer that if you are to push the boundaries of design you must only push one aspect of the design, and leave the rest to be familiar cues. Without that it becomes to vast a departure and the consumer will have no psychic relation to the design.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
FE: When I am looking at any product I have a visceral reaction if it’s a strong enough product—either I am drawn or repelled by it. Otherwise it unfortunately falls into the white noise if there is no emotional reaction. From there I tend to examine why I had the feeling in the first place—what was the one or several things that made me react. If I end up being repelled to it I save space for the possibility that it may grow on me in time which I think we should all do. Sometimes your initial reaction is based in what is familiar only, and you need time to overcome that hurdle.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
FE: In terms of responsibilities, I think that the designer’s responsibility is to stand up for a good design and fight for it. I have seldom seen in a business environment a uniform acceptance of an idea, concept, or design. And when I have seen it that idea may not always be the best. That said, I think it’s important for the designer to realize this is a commercial enterprise, and the limitations are in place to ensure success and profitability, which is another level of responsibility. Otherwise there is always a career in fine art. Outside of this, I think a good designer is mindful of what they are putting into the world, but I think that is an individual responsibility. Is plastic worth it if it shaped and changed the lives of millions of people positively? These types of questions should always be asked.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
FE: The design field has expanded exponentially in that there are so many more “non-professional” designers that have made their way into the field. I think the initial reaction of many designers is that of uncertainty-does this mean my livelihood is non-existent now? I think the contrary. There will always be room for good design, and always a way to lead the field no matter who inhabits that space. I also think it is a good way for existing designers to crossover into areas that they may not have had a chance to do so previously.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
FE: My last design exhibition was several years ago in New York City at the Ace Hotel for a new bag collection launch I did while designing at Coach for the Men’s division. I am currently working on securing space for Codependent and a couple of new projects that I am working on right now, so hopefully by the end of the year!

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
FE: Inspiration for me comes from those eureka moments you have when an idea that has been tumbling around in your brain meets compatible external stimuli-from there you have those amazing design moments. This happens in conjunction with the more mundane approach of asking a question or being dissatisfied with the current state of affairs for a particular product. I try to get out as much and explore maybe some things and places that are foreign to me. Inspiration can be as simple as that, just really shaking the routine off and seeing how other people see things, especially during through travel.

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?
FE: My design style is eclectic and somewhat eccentric in ways. I always want to solve a problem, but I also want people to really examine the object and have an emotional connection with it. I think that when you are a little odd there is an excitement about it. I am not and never was a traditional product designer, always looking for the interesting angle that the product could exhibit. Outside of that I like to look at the influence of psychology and products which I would say is a strong characteristic of my work, along with a certain gestalt approach to how the design appears on the whole. I don’t want the consumer to have to connect all the dots, I would like to lead them a bit.

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?
FE: I live in NYC full time and I think that there is such an eclectic mix of cultures within the city, and so many ways people live beyond that and this really serves as a massive cauldron of inspiration. I think in regard to working in the United States there are so many talented designers, but there is an American feel for the designs. I have always gravitated toward more of a European or Japanese sensibility in that it is a bit elevated whereas I think that is not tolerated by most in the US. They are less open to change or innovation in a certain sense, but that is one of my challenges and for the industry on the whole-how do we elevate design in the US collectively but also still make it feel attainable for everyone?

FS: How do you work with companies?
FE: I have worked as a consultant for companies for a number of years, but I have also worked at established consultancies and within the companies themselves. I think that it is very important to understand the politics of the situation you are in. There is a certain dynamic working with certain companies and industries that you can only find out about through internal involvement. Otherwise you are kind of shooting in the dark on a certain level. Conversely I think too much knowledge of how things are done can lock you into a certain way of thinking that the company may need to break free of, so it is a bit of a double edged sword.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
FE: My suggestion is to keep an open mind with designers. I find that most of us have what appears to be odd or unorthodox methods, personalities, and habits. It is incumbent upon the designer to make some effort though, but I think that many companies end up looking for someone that is exactly what they think they need, but in fact may not be the best option for them. Selecting a good designer is tempering the talent with the personality and looking down the road in terms of business-does this person have the opportunity to take us places, or are we just looking at some rather short term situations here?

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
FE: My design process starts with a general idea, and then I like to start sketching to see what I have. I typically do this in a free form way with little constraint, and then select several directions that I think are viable. From there I will further the ideas and pick them apart, usually one to three make themselves apparent as concrete. I then form most of the details, and take it into the computer. Once that process is complete I find that most of the work is on the fabrication end, and i usually leave a little opportunity for adjustment or a possible left turn from what has been planned.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
FE: My five favorite design items at home are my Herman Miller Aeron chair, Codependent table, Marais stools, Rolex Milgauss, and my Nike Alphafly running shoes.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
FE: I start the day reading, and then onto a run which helps me think about the day ahead and what needs to be completed. Most of the time spent is really the logistics of executing a design whether for a client or my studio, 1th, and a small portion I carve out most days to think about the evolution of these designs. I try to sketch everyday and usually end up working on new projects during the evening. The weekend ends up being partially spent on working through these designs but I have managed to get better about having some balance in life outside of design.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
FE: Remember that this is essentially commercial art-you need to be profitable, but that does not need to hinder you. Constraints are your friend, no matter where they come from, and be as flexible as possible in terms of what life shows you. That said, have conviction about the overall plan for you and your career, and while young look for a mentor that is doing exactly what you want to do. So much of life can be better done with someone who has been there before, and most of your professional career will rely upon the relationships you make both good and bad in your early career.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
FE: The positive is that you can help make products, and the tangible in this world serve people better. Even making something beautiful has it’s place, and it is great to be able to see consumers using your product and enjoying them. It’s not really a negative, but design tends to be an all consuming profession. You are always looking, critiquing, getting ideas, et cetera and it is hard to turn it off, so if you don’t love it you may want to get into something else.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
FE: The golden rule in design is to put a bit of your soul into things. Work on creating something that is uniquely from your perspective whilst avoiding alienating the consumer.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
FE: I think it is very important to understand every facet of design from the beginning of the process to the end. If you are just good at one part of the process there is definitely a place for you, but designers lose leverage with clients and themselves when they couldn’t say go out and make the thing they are designing or at least have a working understanding of the processes. I also think that outside of that no matter the pursuit you need to keep working through the tough and the uncertain times, just keep pushing forward because that continuous drive is the one predictor of success.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
FE: I like to sketch with pens, and i have a couple of different ones-a felt tip and a roller ball that I use daily. Outside of that I like to use illustrator quite a bit for layouts or proportion, certainly the graphic side of things, and I use Fusion 360 for 3D. Outside of that I rely upon many fabricators that I have worked with to utilize prototypes, 3D printing, samples, et cetera.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
FE: To be honest, it is a challenge to keep on schedule and I need to remain vigilant about it on a daily basis. Focus on the tasks at hand for the day and accomplish them. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and sometimes my list is too long, but if you break things into bite sized pieces it makes insurmountable obstacles manageable.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
FE: The entire process of my table Codependent was about two years from design to production, but there was limited time that I was able to put into it so it was delayed a bit you could say. I think for bags and shoes it is super quick and you can be in market in 6-9 months. Electronics might take a year and a half though. it depends entirely upon the subject of design. Something like a vase is pretty manageable, but when you get into complex systems and manufacturing it all adds up.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
FE: Why did you design what you did? Essentially people want to know the work that lead to the final design.

FS: What was your most important job experience?
FE: My most important job experience has been the work i have done in visual merchandising recently. It has been one of the bigger challenges of my career, and the least of that has actually been design related. I have been tasked with managing both a team, internal segments of the business, and all of our global vendors which has been a handful. It has really taught me patience and strengthened my determination as a designer.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
FE: Coach, Beautyblender, Covergirl, Dell, Gap, Miller, LG. Not to mention many small brands that I have worked with extensively.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
FE: I really enjoy furniture and bag making—there is an artisanal component to them that even in their commercial modern form feels like it has a history. That it’s more than some future artifact or novelty to be found a thousand years from now with some big mystery about what it is—these couple of pursuits are tied to the past and the future equally, not just a flash.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
FE: I have more furniture and bags coming, and also working on a few projects outside this that I’m excited about but not giving away.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
FE: All of the items I design and release through 1th Studio are to this point solo projects. I am still surrounded by some brilliant people that help me execute. Periods of my life have been occupied with full time pursuits and those have been both individual and team pursuits.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
FE: I do have several projects that I am working on concurrently, but nothing I am really able to talk about right now unfortunately. I am looking forward to bringing them to life though and sharing soon!

FS: How can people contact you?
FE: People can get in touch through my website, which is the best way to reach me.

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
FE: I think we have talked about quite a bit, don’t you?

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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