Cardboard light by Graypants

Scraplight by Graypants. Photo: Graypants

How does one make a beautiful object? What’s the source of the beauty? Is it the physically pristine product, or does it have more to do with the user’s reaction? Graypants was created as a responsible design studio out of a simple but very focused effort to return to the joy of crafting with our hands, and we found that the latest technologies actually support an organic and craft-based design process surprisingly well. We’ve learned to embrace the notion that beauty can come from nothing, or as Brian Eno so eloquently put it, “Beautiful things grow out of shit.” Some of the most beautiful sculptural objects and buildings come from seemingly arbitrary seeds of inspiration or references to nature. Is this a result of function, form, process, technology, material or magic? Truly embracing these unexpected forces becomes the soul of our design process and thus the final product, and one of the greatest lessons learned through allowing Graypants to evolve is to above all support and encourage discovery.

Go on a treasure hunt. Furniture designer John Reeves moved to Vietnam where he began collecting old scooter engine blocks. He melts them down to create cast-aluminum furniture. It’s a filthy process recognizable in the final product through the almost-charred, industrial textures left behind, and yet his chair gleamed like a diamond in the rough at New York’s bustling ICFF trade show this last summer. If you’ve yet to discover that life-changing design moment during a focus group or over the plastic-water-bottlelittered conference table (damage done within the sixty minutes allotted for the meeting), look elsewhere. Ideas are free, and there are trillions of them floating all around us at any given moment. Reach out and grab one from the sandbox out back, the dusty box in the attic or a dream.

Cardboard lights by Graypants

Photo: Graypants

Scribble, too. Scribbling is about sharing. Whether with crayons on the wall or a stick in the mud, it’s really fun and the process of designing is much more enlightening when messy and organic. We try to share our ideas almost immediately. It’s okay to shout them out loud and fling them across boundaries where they have more opportunity and a chance to evolve. Sir Ken Robinson speaks of a more agricultural approach to education, where we simply create conditions in which we think an individual could flourish. Instead of providing a linear path of bullet-pointed goals, an opportunity of discovery is gifted early on. Our cardboard Scraplights were born out of an experiment in which we created one-offs of a single chair design using as many random household materials as possible. We used Stranger newspapers, cardboard, plywood scraps, pallet slip-sheets and at some point had to deal with containing a disastrous concoction of trash bags, glue and expanding foam. After all that, we woke up the morning of the gallery exhibition featuring the chairs and said, “Let’s make a lamp super quickly to hang above the chairs—we can pull it off.” There’s a willingness to expose one’s self, possibly fail, and then fail harder that is encouraged by this kind of process, and we think many of us now recognize this and take it to heart.

Finally, blur all the lines together. The best advice is usually unexpected, and we’ve found that it comes in random waves from the mailman or a next-door neighbor. Why not have a local chef or musician critique your architectural design? There’s a grassroots level of collaboration available that is often overlooked that many times exposes critical points within a design process. I can consult my seven-year-old niece for design advice via a video call from my regular Seattle bus route. We can share sketches, and while I’m often instructed to “make it pink” or “add flowers,” I always leave inspired and with a new perspective. We may never reach a state of final completion on a particular project, but approaching it from as many angles as possible does help us spot the magical moments where the pieces align beautifully. These moments are wonderful gifts. When this happens, take a snapshot and share it with the world!

We have no recipe for creating beauty, but through collaboration and a readiness to create and maintain an inspiring environment, we do know that it can be encouraged and harvested along the way. Most of all, we like to sum up our collective approach with a quote from the Persian poet Rumi: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”