Designer and collaborator Patty Johnson will make you rethink your office or the way you define the idea of a workspace. While technology allows us to be more and more mobile, working from the kitchen table or our beds, Patty takes that a step further and is working all over the globe in remote communities. Her home office moves with her from the Jamaica to Guyana (pictured above) and back to her house in Toronto (pictured below). Read on to find out more about her mobile studio.
How long have you worked from home? And where is home? Home is Toronto, Canada and I’ve worked from home since my son was born 15 years ago. I am a designer who is interested in the interchange between research and design and commerce and culture. I operate worldwide with partners, enterprises, manufacturers, communities, governments, and designers creating new kinds of design programs and product collections. My mobile studio network looks to combine the strengths of complimentary groups to build new linkages, new cultures and new ideas. Below is a shot of my studio in Guadeloupe.
“ Love, Freedom, Flow” at ICFF this year was the international debut of the
New Caribbean Design initiative (her Jamaica workspace is below). The developing world is one of the next design frontiers, producing goods that fuse quality with creativity beyond just low cost. For a long time, design in these places has been relegated to handicrafts and regional products. There is no point in artisans and craft production factories in the Caribbean competing with mass-produced goods. They can instead compete on the strengths of the product, by focusing on the upper end of the market through high quality materials, detailing, production and design.
A focus on producing unique regional hybrids that combine craft tradition and contemporary design process is the aim of New Caribbean Design. Through the push and pull of cross-cultural collaboration the group has balanced traditional cultural practice in the Caribbean and forward-looking design solutions. In contrast with the familiar presentations of Caribbean culture – souvenirs and resort experience – this collection presents something much more dynamic: a living breathing culture with a critical role in the global design marketplace. The pots below are part of the collection we launched at ICFF. They are designed by Stella Hackett for Hamilton’s Pottery in St Thomas, Barbados.
Describe your style? How would you define your aesthetic? Well, I would say that when I was a young designer I was inspired by and had a distinctly modernist aesthetic. Over time though, the real, messy world pushed its way into my pure and untouchable world. And I’m happier for it. I work collaboratively and inclusively with other designers, manufacturers both craft and otherwise, and, sometimes even with government agencies and development banks. Trying to answer all these diverse needs while creating products with integrity is sometimes a messy and uncertain business but I’ve found that this process produces very rich results. And, my austere and reduced aesthetic still manages to sneak in there too!
As a designer and curator of a mobile design studio how do you keep your office organized? I’m thinking here of the physical space but also your computer. Are there any particular programs you find really useful? Hmm. Good question. Frankly, I rely heavily on the search function on both my computers. It does seem that computers are not equipped to organize files in the traditional office sense and I have long given up trying to rationally organize things. And like most people now my computer files are a mash of the personal, the creative and the commercial.
What is a desk accessory you can’t do without? Konstanin Grcic’s May Day Lamp and Sharpie Fine Line Pens.
What would you change about your own workspace? I’m quite happy with the current set up both at home and away. I like the flexibility of it – I’m available for both work and family – which is a juggling act at the best of times. If I could change anything I think it would be to build permanent design spaces in the places I work as a resource for the people that I work with.
What do you most love about your space? I love the mobility of my studio and I love that I can work in many spaces with many different people. Although difficult at times it has enriched my work and had a profound impact on how I think about design. I learned that people-centred design has a middle component, living between ethnography and interface. Hand manufacturing is the reality in much of the world, and designers, sitting at their desks sending off PDFs to unknown destinations, may be a modern paradigm, but ultimately a hollow one. I encourage designers to go and visit where their products are made, and, especially, with the people who make them!
What inspires you? Oh, just about everything. I love that the collisions of culture that are the basis of my work can strike a new balance between redundancy and relevance and explore the friction between the “preservationist” view of the handmade as intangible heritage and its real status as living tradition, and therefore, inherently and constantly innovating and adapting. And, I love the resourcefulness that you find in the most difficult and poorest of places and circumstances, and, that creativity still flourishes there.