This past July marked a win for modern design, with local talent Jonathan Costello, Bradford Martin, Daniel Murphy, and Matt Owen proving that the functionality of objects still reigns supreme, and that the Internet is making it possible for young designers to compete with the big boys. Right now, they’re in a workshop in Allston making designs out of the textures of pool water and burnt slices of cheese pizza for their new start-up, PLANWORK. We’ll let them explain:
Why did you decide to start your own company rather than, say, working for some other big design company?
Modern technology—the internet, scalable production methods, and cheaper tools—allow us to operate independent of career paths that are confining. We can design according to PLANWORK’s vision, rather than that of another brand.
PLANWORK is our intellectual freedom.
So you make all your products yourselves in your workshop by hand right? What does that entail?
We initially fabricate them by hand in our workshop, while the idea is being formed, but every step of the process is geared towards using scalable production methods.
We want a mirror fabricated in our workshop to be as perfect as 10,000 mirrors churned out in a factory.
How’d you come up with the idea for the wallet?
The project started with the idea that you don’t/shouldn’t be carrying around a double quarter pounder with cheese in your back pocket. Fat wallets are just… well… uncomfortable and unnecessary. The theory of cash in the front and cards in the back (pockets) emerged from a pattern we have seen in the way people organize their money. Less is more, especially when you’ve got apps out there like PassBook that can hold gift cards, tickets, coupons, etc.
Is the manufacturing kept local?
The focus is to keep things local as we grow. It allows us to have conversation in person with the people that we trust to manufacture our products, and that is waning in today’s global market.
Local can be global if we work together.
How do you use pool water to design the wallet?
DAN MURPHY: We decided that we’re going to take pool water to a whole new level. So we studied the way that it happens in movies, in CGI, and the way that they actually make it through algorithms and computers. We took pool water, put it through Illustrator a little bit, played with it, screwed with it, and then—
How do you put pool water through Illustrator?
DM: We put the picture of pool water into Illustrator and we trace it. Then we pull out three levels of patterns from it: a hash pattern, a trace pattern, and negative space. After that, we put the pattern through a series of 13 tiles that never repeat called Wang tiles, so the wallets have a tiling system on them that will never repeat. None of the wallets are ever the same.
JON COSTELLO: A slice of cheese pizza gives you the same pattern. If you grayscale a burnt slice of pizza you get the same organic shapes as pool water. It started in the summer when we had to be working all day, and we started thinking of hanging out by a pool and eating a slice of pizza and letting loose a little bit, so we went ahead.
So you can find the patterns for your designs in anything really?
JC: We’re all so OCD and detail-oriented that we’ve been trying to see the patterns in everything.
So I think patterns in everyday natural things, like clouds, burnt cheese pizza, pool water—there’s so many variables and so much affecting the way the water and the light and the wind interact—there’s just so much happening that it’s impossible to really predict the patterns you’re gonna get.
On one end it’s a challenge to try and recreate these patterns, on the other hand it’s a nice break because you know it’s so complicated that you know you don’t have to work too hard to try and figure it out. As opposed to man-made things, where you can see the pattern in the reoccurrence.
So it’s both unique and timeless?
DM: The pool water thing is sort of an original concept in this realm of design. The mirror’s got that same thing. It’s all about vanity:
The collector is part of the collection.
It’s all about you displaying your objects and organizing them—coming home at the end of the day, putting your wallet and your keys there, organizing throughout the day. And the collection of objects that revolves around your everyday life is always changing, and you’re always changing, and you’re always looking at your reflection. It’s this object that should be timeless and that you can have for your whole life.
What about the door stop?
DM: With the doorstop, the PLANWORK logo will fade away with time. That’s this branding thing we’re going for. It’ll be forgettable.
It’s all about good design being forgettable.
And it’s so good that you don’t even realize it.