Please Be Original

As 2015 comes to a close, Contract presents our December issue, with a selection of product highlights of the year as well as our annual Brand Report survey in which you, the readers, tell us your favorite brands across a variety of product types. Over the course of the year, as we reviewed a multitude of product introductions in person—from NeoCon in Chicago to ICFF in New York to Salone in Milan to Cersaie in Bologna, and everywhere in-between—we became even more conscious of the need to support originality in design today. And this heightened awareness was coupled with the growing profile of the nascent Be Original Americas, an organization advocating for original design and the specification and purchase of original products. 

Contract is pleased to be a Media Sponsor of Be Original Americas, and to back its mission of “informing, educating, and influencing manufacturers, design professionals, and individuals on the economic, ethical, and environmental value of authentic design while preserving and investing in its future.” We want all of our readers—designers, manufacturers, and related professionals—to be advocates for original design and to know Be Original Americas. The organization raises awareness through an extensive program of lectures, workshops, and roundtable discussions in various cities across the country.

As a Media Sponsor, Contract moderated two Be Original Americas panel discussions this year, one on each coast, and both with a mix of designers and leading product manufacturers. Managing Editor Murrye Bernard moderated a discussion at Gensler in Los Angeles, and I led the other one at Herman Miller’s showroom in New York. Rebecca Dorris-Steiger, the 2014–2015 president of IIDA New York who is an associate partner at ZGF Architects, was a panelist at the event that I had moderated. She shared her thoughts, through the lens of a design practitioner, on the stakes of the issue today: “I believe that it is our job as design professionals to create bespoke design solutions for our clients. Providing original design options, for any type of design, requires an investment of time, research, and money. Copying the work of others and specifying knockoff products devalues that whole process, stifles innovation, and often pushes dangerous, irresponsible products into the market.”

For product designers who are developing sought-after original offerings and bringing them to market globally, the problems with knockoffs can be far-reaching. In April at Salone in Milan, I met with Tom Dixon, who has seen multiple knockoffs of his own designs of lighting, furniture, and accessories. I asked Dixon how his company pursues its battle against the fakes. He said it comes down to five key steps that his studio must take proactively: (1) more money spent on tooling with unique connections and features, (2) industrialized components that cannot be easily replicated, (3) legal action when necessary, (4) be fastest to market, and (5) communicate the values and qualities of the products.

For interior designers and architects individually specifying products, you know the advantages of choosing original products and the consequences of selecting cheaper knockoffs. But, not all of your colleagues share the same level of awareness. For more significant, wide-scale impact, I urge large firms to establish firmwide policy for their designers to specify original products. In addition, dealers and others involved in the process must be accountable to maintain the original specification, and ongoing conversations with clients and project partners are needed. That communication will help prevent, for example, clients from taking custom designs to a third party to be “copied” and fabricated—damaging the original designer’s integrity and ongoing business. A multi-pronged approach involving every person related to a project is necessary.

Visit to learn more, and to even see images of knockoffs compared to originals. Be Original Americas will be ramping up its activities in 2016 with more sessions in various cities, and an annual member meeting planned for February 4 in New York. In the big picture, education and advocacy efforts must continue. Respecting the originators—and investing in original design—will ultimately value you as a designer, and support your design profession and industry integrity.


John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA
Editor in Chief