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