We first encountered Jamie Wolfond almost two years ago. A student at RISD, he had created a piece he dubbed the Emergency Bench, incoporating inflatable rafting tubes into a witty piece of seating that could be set up on the fly. Since then, he and his girlfriend, Samantha Anderson, have founded Good Thing, a Brooklyn-based firm. We recently chatted with Jamie to find out what life is like outside of design school and how his approach to his work has changed in the last few years.
Do you feel more or less likely to take risks and experiment now or when you were still in school?
The meaning of the word ‘risk’ has changed a fair amount since I was a student. In fact, when I look back on risks taken in school, I have a hard time thinking of them as risks. As a student, I may have taken on an extra-challenging experimental project, risking the possibility that I don’t finish on time, or like the result. Since starting Good Thing, I have experienced a whole new type of risk—those associated with having a business.
My girlfriend Samantha Anderson and I run Good Thing together, and design products together as well. We both agree that our design process involves as much risk-taking as it ever did. There are a a number of factors that go into determining the success of a product (marketability, price point, production cost, order minimum, shipping cost, even a product’s ability to make itself clear in a photograph) so the likelihood that we work on something for a month and find out that we are barking up the wrong tree is higher than ever. As a result, we develop products that are inexpensive to prototype and manufacture. In short, we take more risks that cost less.
Has your approach to design evolved much since we last spoke?
Most of the changes in my approach (and I think Sam’s too) have come from the realization that design is a commercial exercise, and the consumer is important. These sound obvious, but they are very difficult to put into practice, if you haven’t spent a week at a commercial trade show, or chased after a home goods store to make a sale. I still believe that the best ideas are born from experimentation, and that designing a product should always start with the talents and limitations of the vendor who will be producing it, but not all of the products that meet these criteria are necessarily sale-able. It feels good to have discovered this missing piece of the puzzle.
You’re starting to partner with various companies. How have these come about? What do you look for in these partnerships?
Well, Good Thing collaborates with other companies on a few different levels. As always, I love to strike up relationships with interesting vendors who help manufacture our products. Usually these relationships result from internet research and several phone calls, emails, text messages and in-person visits. We try to work with vendors who have an open mind and can tolerate our wacky ideas.
Good Thing is also starting to work with more and more outside designers and artists. These relationships all come about differently. When Elliot Camarra designed the Sticker Clock Special, she was our roommate, and making some patterns that we fell in love with. Joseph and Sina of Visibility graduated from RISD’s furniture department the year before I did, and when we discovered that Good thing can efficiently produce and distribute stainless steel mirror products, immediately thought of their Utility Mirror, which I have admired since they designed it three years ago. A friend of mine put us in touch with Jon Lucas, our web designer, who has been a part of everything from product development to online promotion. His latest project, “rate ur face,” is currently running on our Web site. In the artists, designers, and studios we work with, we look for creative people whose work benefits from the limitations of designing consumer products.
We are really excited that Good Thing is growing into a platform for creative exchange on so many levels.
Have you had any eye-opening experiences since we last spoke?
Just about every experience has taught me something. In general, I arrived at most of the realizations I’ve mentioned gradually.