Some people have it, some people don’t. I, of course, fall into the “don’t” column. I’m talking about an “eye for design.” But Lisa Roberts, a former architect -turned-product designer, has what it takes to find unique products that gain value as they age. Her own collection of over 300 items is the subject of her first book “Antiques of the Future.”
“Good design improves the quality of our lives…” Lisa Roberts
Her expertise has landed her as host of a new television show called “My Design Life” on the Ovation Network, produced by Nancy Glass Productions. The ten episode marathon is coming up Sept. 28, 8PM EST and again on Oct. 1 at 12PM EST.
Part travel show, part “In Search Of”, this design doyenne travels the country in hot pursuit of the best new and old products. What she finds will be in her next book: “Design Pop.”
So what makes a product museum-worthy? Lisa took time out from her travels to talk tv, her own designs, and just what exactly a Juicy Salif is…
EYE: Define “design” and what it means to you.
LISA: I like to think of design as it relates to art, since you often hear “art and design” together. Art is generally meant to be decorative — paintings and sculptures. Design, and in this case product design, performs a function and generally is mass produced or made in multiples, as opposed to art or craft which are one-of-a-kind.
EYE: You go in search of “Antiques of the Future.” What does that mean and how do you know about their future value?
LISA: I coined the phrase “Antiques of the Future” for my personal collection of “highly- designed contemporary products” that I believe will increase in value once they are no longer in production because they represent the best of design in their time.”
To be included in the collection, an object has to have one or more of the following:
– Exhibited in museums or in their permanent collections.
– Designed by a notable architect or designer
– Manufactured by design-oriented companies
– Recipient of major design awards
– Widely published in magazines or books
– Recognized by the industry as important
Who knows? You could be sitting on a goldmine with that designer teakettle or unconventional chair.
EYE: How did your background in architecture set you up for this new reinvention?
LISA: Training to become an architect is very rigorous. It requires both technical and artistic skills. Transferring that skill set into product design was not such a great leap; in fact, some of my favorite contemporary products have been designed by architects like Michael Graves and Frank Gehry.
Also, as an architect, one of my areas of interests was in environmental psychology, studying the relationship between people and buildings. I developed a sensitivity in listening to people talk about design.
I learned about assessing what made good design; and over the years, I have had the opportunity to share those insights. Communicating about design became my new skill, whether as an author or at the lectern as a speaker, and now, on a reality TV show.
EYE: You are an expert in this type of work…how did you become a connoisseur? Can it be taught?
“…to be a really good designer–that takes time, talent, and tenacity.”
LISA: I have been in the design world for 30 years in one area or another. I started out in architecture, which I practiced for six years. Then I became a product designer in the gift and home furnishing markets for 25 years.
Along the way, I continued my education on my own by reading trade journals and books, talking with designers, curators, manufacturers and sales people, all who have a wealth of knowledge and lots of opinions about design.
Design is not a mystery. Anyone who has an interest can seek out the information. But to be a really good designer — that takes time, talent, and tenacity.
EYE: Talk about your personal collection. Describe some of your prized possessions.
LISA: My personal collection is over 300 objects comprising furniture, housewares and some electronics. Some of my favorites:
– iMac G3 by Apple: it changed the way we think about the computer. It’s no longer that sullen gray-putty object confined to the workplace.
-OXO Good Grips: great line of kitchen utensils based on the idea of ‘Universal Design’, that products should be usable by as many people as possible including young and old, male and female, left-handed and right, and with or without special needs.
-Garbo trashcan by Karim Rashid sold at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $12: first disposable trashcan made out of plastic that was well designed, colorful, functional and affordable.
EYE: Did you envision a life on television doing what you love?
LISA: I never expected to be on television, particularly a reality series. I do like speaking and sharing my passion and most importantly, making contemporary product design fun and accessible to a broad audience.
Several producers approached me about doing a show to take that message to a larger platform. My biggest concern was how to make it entertaining without losing the integrity of the subject matter.
The producer I decided to go with, Nancy Glass, really gets design. She has done many design shows in the past and not only understands this subject but also knows how to make it stimulating for viewers.
EYE: What are some of the more interesting things you have learned from working with your team of curators, designers, retailers, etc.?
LISA: I remember asking a curator once if all good design had to be functional. She said that sometimes, if a design introduces a new idea or changes the way we have always thought about an object, that could be just as important as functionality.
For example, the Juicy Salif by Philippe Starck is a lemon juicer that looks like a long-legged aluminum spider. It may not be as functional as some juicers, but it totally changed the traditional form and became a displayable ‘sculpture’ for the kitchen counter.
It began a trend of transforming mundane kitchen wares into interesting objects well beyond their function. Juicy Salif is in museums and kitchens all over the world.
I have also learned that when it comes to design, like art, everyone has his or her own opinion. This is not a black and white subject. What one person loves, another may hate; yet there are those designs that most people agree on. Who doesn’t love an iPhone once they’ve had one!
EYE: What can we expect from your new show? What are some of the adventures, and misadventures, you’ve experienced while traveling the country?
LISA: Coming up on future episodes: a shopping trip to Target; a search for designer condoms in the bars of New York to research the NYC Condom Campaign (designed by renowned designer Yves Behar); watching the magic of a bracelet ‘coming to life’ before our eyes using a 3-D printer.
And there’s more…the making of a huge design cake that is covered with designers’ chairs made out of chocolate; working with an industrial designer to make a beautiful glass-like bowl out of hot glue; and testing a high-design fire extinguisher by setting a fire in someone’s backyard.
EYE: Tell me about some of the product design pieces viewers will be seeing in future episodes?
LISA: Humorous designs by Stefano Giovanonni including a toilet brush, dog bowl, and toothpick holder; the Peacock Chair designed by Dror Benshetrit made out of folded heavy felt; a chair made out of carbon fiber that we had a seven-year- old girl test its lightness by lifting it in the air. I don’t want to give away anything more or there won’t be any surprises.
EYE: What have you learned about yourself as a woman in this line of work and serving as a mentor for so many?
LISA: I find it surprising that most product designers are men and most consumers of product design are women. Like architecture, this is starting to change, and I look forward to motivating more young women to come into the profession.
“My goal is to make people more aware of design and to question what is good design.”
EYE: Is there a holy grail item that you want to get your hands on?
LISA: There are so many things I would like to have — the Softwoods Sofa by Front Design, the Madam Dakar Chair by Ayse Birsel and Bibi Seck, the Luester hanging lamp by Ingo Maurer — but with 300 objects already, I need a bigger house.
EYE: You’re passionate about this work. Why should we share your passion?
LISA: My goal is to make people more aware of design and to question what is good design. Good design improves the quality of our lives and enhances the enjoyment of performing everyday tasks. The more we are aware of it, the more we will seek it out and demand that we have better design around us.
EYE: What is your proudest moment or product that you designed or discovered?
LISA: My proudest moment is this television show. We previewed it to several hundred people who were both designers and non-designers. The feedback was tremendous.
Everyone thought it was both amusing and entertaining. The designers felt I got their message across without compromising the integrity of the subject, and the non-designers were surprised at how many new things they learned. Everyone wanted to see more.
EYE: Thanks so much Lisa for lending a good eye! Think I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great design. And where can I get one of those amazing whistling tea kettles? A reminder…Lisa and Nancy’s show airs Wed. at 8PM EST on the OVATION Network.