Nylon magazine named publisher/ad man/brand manager/clothing designer/retailer Jeff Ng (aka Jeff Staple), The Guru. They interviewed him about his sneaker collection – which in 2009 had hit over 450 pairs. Last month he was heralded as a tastemaker by photographer William Yan (who also calls him a genius and a workaholic). But the man behind creative agency Staple Design doesn’t like the term tastemaker. Let’s find out why.
First tell me about Staple Design. You don’t like to be called a tastemaker. What do you like to be called? Staple Design operates in a few different types of businesses. First off we’re a creative agency and we work with some really great brands all across the world. We work in many different mediums. From product design [the shoe below is Staple's latest design for Airwalk] to graphic design to multimedia to marketing to overall brand consultation. Second, we have a full menswear collection that is sold to some of the best shops all across the world.
Speaking of shops, we also have our own shop called Reed Space with locations in NYC and Tokyo. Not only is Reed Space a lifestyle boutique, it is also an art gallery showcasing work of some of the best artists around the world. Reed Space also produces a quarterly print magazine called Reed Pages. That’s not everything. But it’s the main things. Yes. I really dislike the term “tastemaker”. How about just “hard worker”?
Hard worker sounds right! Describe your workspace for us. How does it impact the work that you do? Enormously. My workplace—both the office and the home are very important. I kind of believe in this idea of “feng shui”. I don’t get all weird about it. But I do believe that the way you set up your space affects the moods of everyone who enters that space. I also believe there is no scientific way to analyze this. You either sense it…or you don’t. And once you walk into a space that does NOT make good use of space, furniture and layout, you know it right away don’t you? I often get comments about the office [Jeff, seated, is pictured below in the design studio] and Reed Space where people say, “it just feels good…can’t explain it…but just feels right in there.” That to me is the feng shui working.
I believe in an open space environment. Sure, there are times when privacy is necessary. But I think the positives for an open office far outweigh the negatives. Things happen quicker and more spontaneously. Also, everyone knows a little bit of what’s going on in other departments of the company even if it doesn’t directly concern them.
What is your favorite part of the workday? What’s a typical workday for you? I have to say, even though I love my job, I still look forward to the END of my workday. The great thing about my job is that there is no typical workday. We do some many things at Staple and Reed Space that each hour is completely different than the last. Our spheres of culture also span so many different worlds, we get to meet and interact with all sorts of characters. It makes for an exciting environment.
What piece of home office furniture can’t you do without? A good task chair is key. I realized this when I started to travel a lot. I’ll stay in some really nice hotels where they give me some really plush cushy chair to work in and it sucks! I was a long time Aeron chair user and then I was one of the first people to get my butt into an Embody chair – which I absolutely love. At home, I use a Knoll Chadwick chair. It’s great because it’s lightweight and has a smaller footprint, which is less obtrusive in the home. I also happen to be obsessed with small desk objects like letter openers and such. I have way too many for one desk. I recently posted on my blog a sampling of them and the story behind each piece. [The BuckyBalls below are a favorite desk toy].
Herman Miller is concerned with authenticity and so are you at Staple Design. How do you define authenticity? How does that concept manifest itself in your work? Quite simple and obvious really. Authenticity is the ability to make yourself happy, isn’t it? If you’re doing things that DON’T make you happy and you’re maybe doing them repeatedly, things simply can’t be authentic in my opinion. That’s not to say things can’t be successful though. Success and authenticity are two different things. Usually, things like money, semantics or obligations get in the way of authenticity.
Mac or PC? Mac all the way. Also proud to say we just switched our POS and inventory systems to Mac as well. Traditionally, these were things that were better on a PC, but we couldn’t be happier that we have these working off a Mac now.
How do you organize your day? Like most people, I use a planner. I use iCal which syncs to my iPhone and iPad. Yes that’s me; an iSlave. I absolutely hate being late for appointments and I hate it even more when it happens to me. People often say to me, “you must be so busy…you’re doing so many different things.” But I actually think to myself and say, “I’m not that busy.” I think I manage my time quite well. There’s a big difference between being busy, and being incapable of keeping a schedule. [Below is Jeff's sneaker collection with a polaroid attached to each box for easy identification. You can read more about his collection here.]
What inspires you? People. Different people. Not just creative people or hard-working people or noble people. All people. I draw inspiration from everyone I interact with. I even draw from people I observe and never actually meet. The more people I meet the more I feel inspired. And because of that, I travel. I travel a lot. But travel is just a means to meeting more people.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? I think at its core, design is simply problem solving. So my design aesthetic addresses that first and foremost. Work that comes out of our studio doesn’t have a distinctive style. We don’t try and apply “our thing” to projects. Other creatives have a signature look and clients may want to buy into that look. But what happens when your look is not trending? That’s a scary thing. Clients call creative/design studios because they have a problem. We do what’s necessary to solve that problem. So I make sure to resolve the problem first and then if there’s room for expression, sure, we can add our flavor.