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Observing the Built World around Me: Jeff Miller

Born 1968 in New York City and studied in Pittsburgh in Carnegie Mellon University, where he graduated 1990. Jeff Miller is an American designer who specializes in industrial design. He designs product, furniture and interior design for clients all over the world.


The Interview:

1. Why did you take interest in design?

As a kid I always wanted to be a designer - I just didn't know that was something you could be. I knew I was good at art but I didn't want to paint or make sculpture. So I thought architecture would better suit me, but what really intrigued me were products and things more than buildings. Ultimately I found a book about Raymond Loewy in my high school library and found out about industrial design.

2. Do you take inspiration from other cultures? For instance one of your Obo Modular Shelving looks like the Japanese kaidan tansu, was that the thought?

I travel a lot (for work mostly) and I like nothing more than observing new places. Like most of my work, I'm less effective at actively incorporating what I see, than letting it unconsciously and serendipitously show up [sometimes years] later. The Obo's were more about playing with a skewed form with folded paper until it yielded the modular component, than kaidan tansu, which I never thought about until you mentioned it. But who knows - maybe it was stuck in my head and fell out without knowing it.

3. How do you get inspiration?

Most effectively by observing the built world around me, and not by appropriating from similar products on the market.

4. You have received many awards, which one were you most happy about and why?

Recently a couple of my pieces for Cerruti Baleri have been nominated for the Compasso D'oro. I would be most happy and honored to be included in such a prestigious roster; I hope I've not just jinxed it.

5. Who has influenced you the most in design?

The memphis-milano movement was happening at the time I went to design school, It taught me that things could be, and ought to be radically revised to the point of almost discomfort, in order to move the status quo fwd. 20 years later I'm jaded and burdened by the baggage of my professional experience. So I don't think I retain the attitude enough frankly, but I keep in mind as the ideal to reach for.

6. What is the most challenging part of your profession?

The mercurial possibility that technology provides today so that an individual with a laptop can accomplish much of what it took a 10 person design firm with a substantial budget to realize 2 decades ago. But that puts a stressful imposition on the individual, because everyone else is just as capable and motivated too.

7. What advice do you have for an aspiring designer?

Never underestimate what's already been done and never underestimate what has yet to be done.

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