Design Legends ("DL") had the distinct honour to interview legendary designer Fletcher Eshbaugh ("FE") for their original perspective and innovative approach to design as well as their creative lifestyle, we are very pleased to share our interview with our distinguished readers.

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?

FE : My grandmother and I used to spend quite a bit of time together and we would discuss art and history even as a very young boy. She was a part time docent at the Columbus Museum of Art in her spare time, so she had quite a bit of knowledge to impart and was passionate about it which influenced me a great deal. As I got older, I became specifically obsessed with Nike shoes and design which lead me to product design as a career focus. I studied the University of Cincinnati in the DAAP program majoring in industrial design and really focused on blue sky projects. Through the university cooperative learning program, I was able to intern at several design consultancies in the US as well as an extended internship at New Balance. After attending university I ended up in NYC working in several fields-fashion, product, graphic, and visual merchandising to be specific and decided that a blend of these fields was who I really was as a designer. It has made the path interesting but provided opportunity that wouldn’t have been available if I worked in a more linear career path.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?

FE : I can really say that Nike and Tinker Hatfield originally influenced me to be a product designer and as I explored the broader world of design I became passionate about so many more facets of design, products, and ideas. What motivates me is the next great idea, the next beautiful thing, and the challenge and opportunity of coming up with something special.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?

FE : I chose to become a designer. I think there was a fork in the road where I wanted to be either a psychologist or a designer-if anything I was dissuaded from becoming a psychologist by my father. He is a practicing psychologist and strongly recommended against it.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?

FE : I design a little of everything. I typically work on shoes &bags, branding and identity, visual merchandising, and furniture. I really kind of look where the opportunity to create something special lies and focus on that, but generally speaking I think there is a huge swath of traditional product design projects that I would love to play around with which I am currently exploring.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?

FE : Be determined to take an idea from start to finish and not get discouraged if people don’t like it. There is a power in perseverance that minimizes long term failure. Push through even if it feels tedious at times, those moments are going to be what separates you from designers that are not as successful. You need to be willing to do whatever it takes.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?

FE : The difference between a good designer and a great designer is focus and determination. A good designer paints within the lines and creates something good, a great designer knows when and where to break the rules, and always has a good reason to do it. The great designers also explore many options to get to their final result, and good ones just explore maybe a few.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?

FE : It is sort of like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s view on obscenity, essentially “I know it when I see it” when it comes to design excellence in my opinion. I think though that there is a certain timeless or transcendent quality about those types of designs that make them extraordinary. Having that “Aha” moment of realizing the design solution, when you just get it is a solid marker in determining a great design. When it reveals itself to you really.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?

FE : The value of good design is innumerable, but a lot of times is seen as expendable or discounted which is unfortunate. I think there is the business side of it, that there is lasting value in having a good design, but there is also sort of a communal aspect to good design in that it elevates everyone’s life that is in contact with these ideas and products. If we fill the world with good design, there may be better choices made. One begets the other, a sort of psychological inertia toward the positive.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?

FE : I would love to design currency or sports uniforms officially. I have been playing around with some ideas and may just give it a try as a personal pursuit. I would love to get involved in some American staples like that where it would be interesting to see how far you can push it, and can you provide a balance of high design and tradition.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?

FE : I think it would be amazing to design a building inside and out as there are so many moments to design, but these spaces end up being profound to the user, more so than objects in a way, but they do work in tandem to fully create a mood or moment.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?

FE : There is no secret recipe to success in design except perseverance. It would be wonderful if there was a code or a quick way to the top but there isn’t. I firmly believe it is about pushing through, level upon level without any extended stagnancy if there is a secret. Once you stop pushing is where you end up limiting the opportunities to disseminate your designs and ideas.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?

FE : Philippe Stark was one of my early favorites-everything he did for a period of time I was fascinated with. Leebeus Woods, Tobias Wong, Mathieu Lehanneur, the Bouroullec brothers, and I do find Virgil Abloh interesting—not everything he does hits for me, but a lot of his ideas, and his volume of output and drive are inspiring for sure.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?

FE : Mathieu Lehanneur’s “Ocean Memories Collection” is amazing as it really captures the true emotion of the sea. Just as masterful is the technological feat of engineering and manufacturing the objects themselves. Crosby Studios interior work is amazing to me in their use of monochromatic themes with color. I am drawn to those spaces.

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?

FE : I think my Codependent table is my greatest design to date. I think it is great because the form is interesting and odd in a way, but beautiful. I also love the meaning behind it, and really the fact that I was able to capture in physical form a psychological condition.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?

FE : I think being a designer is all about being open to new opportunities, cultures, experiences, et cetera and really becoming a catalogue of these moments. That expands your visual dictionary, and resources. Studying why products and designs are successful should just be as effortless and automatic as breathing. Constant intake and processing of the external world.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?

FE : I think I would have either settled into Psychology or perhaps Archeology. Both of these fields I am fascinated by and developed an interest in from an early age.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?

FE : Design is many things, but there are a few that I tend to put toward the front of the pack. Making things better than the way you found them, in some ways not being noticed, or in other ways being the most conspicuous. Is it functional? Is it beautiful? Is it both of these things at the same time?

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?

FE : I have had many supporters along the years: my family, my friends, and going back to college, one of my amazing professors Dale Murray really believed in my work which got me started in a positive direction.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?

FE : There is certainly is a sense of purpose which drives me, but also I think having a unique yet attuned perspective certainly has helped. That and perseverance in the face of adversity regarding getting my work out there.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?

FE : I think that part of being a master if there is such a thing is that you know that you don’t possess all the information. Being a “good student” so to speak by observing, asking questions, and constantly learning is a hallmark of greatness regardless of the field.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?

FE : To as many people as possible! I think that how we interact collectively is shifting right now, and there is no set way to go about things. The best way to convey your design is in person, but second to that would be digitally either on social media or your own site. A combination of the three is preferable but I am looking forward to having some sort of yet created VR infrastructure that would give designers the ability to really have the public play with their work before it’s even made perhaps and what does that change about the process of design?

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?

FE : I am working on a couple of projects, one in furniture and the other that is part of the fashion realm, but I am also exploring a couple of other interesting ideas. I would prefer to keep most of that under wraps for right now, but you can expect some exciting stuff coming soon!

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?

FE : My ultimate goal is to make things better, and to design until I die. On that journey I hope to have some things that I am proud of, and to continue learning.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?

FE : I think that there is the expectation of success with any venture, but that there is also a unique point of view that meshes well with either the client, or the end result. The expectations I place on myself are far greater than anyone else’s expectations of me.

DL: How does design help create a better society?

FE : It is the face of communications, influences the way we interact for good or for bad, and certainly assists in feelings of generalized well being. I though am under no delusion that design is the center of civilization, but it certainly seems like it is the face.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?

FE : I am working on a line of bags that I am exited to bring to market. I think that obviously it is a tough time right now, so the launch date has been pushed out due to obvious COVID related constraints.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?

FE : Furniture has been particularly satisfying to me lately. i think it is because you are solving a problem but there is a mood, a personality, a character that you can imbue into the object that you cannot in many other products. There is a lot of freedom in the solution, even though it has been done countless times by countless designers.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?

FE : I think I would like to see more of a venue for conceptual ideas to make it to market, even in a limited way-in fact only in a limited way. There are so many concepts that are exciting and once they make it to market these products are watered down versions of the original vision. This happens a lot in the automotive industry. You see an amazing concept, and then you either have to wait 20 years and by that time its dated, or you get something within say 3 years and it is so safe in terms of design due to the investment that you have something inoffensive but also soulless. I haven’t figured out the right solution for this, but there has to be one in the ether.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?

FE : We are going to see everyday people integrated into designing products, and more bespoke solutions that are not financially unattainable for the masses. It will actually mirror some of what we did one hundred years ago in that when you didn’t have it you made it instead of buying it. this will end up being derivative of that and commercialism. I think it will be an exciting time.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?

FE : It depends on the medium, but from concept to finalized design I would say a couple of months. Manufacturing wholly depends on the product-soft goods can flip in a matter of months and hard goods tend to be a year and a half or so before you see things fully realized.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?

FE : I start with the idea, and move it into a sketch on paper. Then I kind of free associate with my hand some directions and pick direction from there.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?

FE : nil desperandum!

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?

FE : I think it is a little of both. If you are talking about fashion they tend to set trends, which then get picked up by other facets of design. Color certainly can be driven by the select few in terms of media which then sets the stage for the rest of the world following suit.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?

FE : I use 2D and 3D software along with 3D printing to facilitate my designs. I try to keep an eye on science and technology to see where bleeding edge technologies can facilitate better design but that certainly comes at a steep price. Usually I keep it simple though.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?

FE : I use a MacBook with Adobe, Fusion 360, and Keyshot. I have been very close to switch over to an iPad pro as I think it will be the preferred method in the next 5 years for designers. We are on the cusp of some true evolution in terms of how design is created digitally.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?

FE : Color, materials, and mood are extremely important to design. The wrong choices can absolutely wreck a wonderful design. Some of this can be due to experience of the designer or lack thereof, and other times it really rests in the financial implications of the project. You are telling only half the story if you simply move forward with little regard to these visual and tactile moments.

DL: What do you wish people to ask about your design?

FE : I want people to think, and to ask questions of the design, and be inspired. I sort of view design in the way that I view music. The musician sets forth to create a song they really love that will have a meaning and theme. It gets to the audience and what you find is that these songs become meaningful in totally different ways to the listener. For instance I made a necklace “Reset” out of the reset button from a Nintendo Entertainment System and Super-NES that originally represented oppositional defiance, but it even morphed for me to be a symbol of rebirth. Other people that purchased the pendants simply like video games. The original intent is changed by the consumer which is making it theirs. In this way they have already asked a question and opened themselves to having this item be a part of their life in a meaningful way.

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?

FE : If I want to steal the design or idea, then I know someone has done it right. Kidding aside, I think there is a visceral reaction, a wave of excitement that you want to explore the design totally and be obsessed with it for a bit of time. I usually have these secondary moments about great design where you end up having a newfound appreciation for an aspect of the design.

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?

FE : I think design is probably best done in pairs, but that duo needs to have such a strong bond between the two, otherwise it can devolve into pure chaos. It is imperative that you get perspective when designing something truly great, and partnership facilitates that. I think it can be as informal as your partner, or perhaps good friend giving you feedback but nothing is created in a vacuum. It gives you an audience before the audience, a dress rehearsal.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?

FE : I think there have been many that have shaped how I have designed, but that still remains solely mine even through their influence. I make it a point to look at what people I work with do the best, and really try to learn and borrow techniques rather than specifics.

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?

FE : The Design of Everyday Things, Man and His Symbols, and Pre-Suasion are three books that have shaped a lot of my foundation for design.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?

FE : Quite a bit of practice and repetition at the beginning, but continual practice is certainly how you get yourself into situations to figure out, and designs that are successful. It’s just practice I would say.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?

FE : I would love to meet and have a conversation with Alexander McQueen, and a less interesting answer would be to have a discussion with Albert Einstein.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?

FE : I definitely don’t think that I have had that much recognition, and I certainly am not famous in any traditional sense. If that changes you will be the first to know.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?

FE : Color right now is a rose quartz, and place would be California. Ice cream will do, and I appreciate fall and spring the most. The most exciting brand to me right now is Satisfy Running.

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?

FE : If I ever write a book about my design experience with clients it will be entitled “I don’t know what I want, but it’s definitely not that”: A Design Story.

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?

FE : A great day is a sense of accomplishment. Either you made a big dent in a mountain of work, or you made a breakthrough to another level of design.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?

FE : Nothing is obvious and greatness is to be earned through a lifetime of work.

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?

FE : They will be pulling most of our designs out of the sand and trying to figure out what these items were about. Landfills will be one of the most exciting archeological digs. Other than that I think that the future is almost unfathomable in that It can go in infinite directions. We may even be living elsewhere by then.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?

FE : I think this has been exhaustive, but really my design and design in general is about exploration and working on making each facet of life you touch that much more tolerable, in fact inspiring and I look forward to the ever growing and shifting landscape of design in the many years to come.



Codependent Table

Codependent Table by Fletcher Eshbaugh

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