When you think of tech designers, you might imagine Jonathan Ive crafting ever-slimmer laptops for Apple or Dieter Rams making clocks for Braun. Despite the corporate presence associated with most tech products, there are designers who work alone or in small, tight-knit groups. These renegade creators are able to tinker with prototypes, experiment with materials, and innovate in a way that larger tech companies who have to worry about mass-consumer appeal can't.
Devin Barrette and Mike Giles of Furni
These two designers started Furni in 2005 as a custom-woodworking studio, but when their clocks and watches caught on, they hired interns and found ways to scale their production up. Their studio is based in Montreal.
Joe Mansfield and Ken Tomita of Grove
This Portland-based pair designed a bamboo iPhone case that recently blew up. Even better, the packaging — made from remnant bamboo left over from the carving process — can be used as a picture frame after un-boxing.
Karl Zahn of Boiler Design Office
The Brooklyn-based designer has a website (OBoiler.com) where he features his protoypes and sells a few that are in production. One of the threads running through his work is a fascination with power outlets and the psychology behind them.
Gauri Nanda of Nanda Home
She invented Clocky (the popular jump-up-and-shake-you-out-of-bed alarm clock) during an industrial design course at MIT. The product was a hit, and she's since founded Nanda Home, where she continues to sell unconventional clocks.
This independent design studio in Portland, Oregon, makes tech cases and furniture from wood. Their iPad and iPhone accessories have popped up a lot in the press — the Portland crew sells them nationally through the Substrata webshop.
Alicia Cornwell and Tony Bevilacqua of Chroma Lab
This Boston-based couple makes clocks by hand in a spectrum of bright, super-saturated colors. They use birch plywood as a base, then paint or screenprint the designs onto the clocks using low-VOC materials.
One of the leaders of the Steampunk scene, Art Donovan combines art, technology, and craft in his sculptural lighting, which has been exhibited in museums around the world. His studio — Donovan Design — is based in Southampton, New York.
Joel Scilley of Audiowood Turntables
From his studio in Grand Ridge, Florida, Joel Scilley makes burlwood-based turntables. Think George Nakashima meets Dieter Rams. The pieces combine vintage turntables, new parts, and handmade sculptural wood bases.
Photo: Wall Cleats by Karl Zahn