One of the most interesting things about interviewing makers is learning how the folks who create some of our favorite products got started. Take Andy Johnson, the man behind Ample and today's featured maker. Although he studied mechanical engineering at Princeton, he's a self taught furniture designer and woodworker who is inspired by functional problems around the home. Name:
Andy Johnson, Ample
Location: Seattle, Washington
Where did you grow up? I grew up in the East, in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Where did you study/train? I went to Princeton and studied mechanical engineering, which was my entry into product development and design. A few years ago I got an MBA. As a furniture designer and a woodworker, I'm basically self-taught.
What was the first thing you made and sold? Well, technically, it was a dining table set (including chairs and a bench) that I designed for myself when my wife and I were living in Uganda. I hired some local craftsmen to make it, and it got delivered on a bicycle. Before we returned home I sold it to a Ugandan medical student for the equivalent of about $10. He was really excited. With Ample, the first piece I sold was a Solstice Floor Lamp.
Who is your design idol? Among many, I might have to say Dieter Rams. His designs are timeless, and I relate to his notion of "Weniger, aber besser," or "Less, but better." For me, that's a design philosophy as well as a remedy for our culture of over-consumption.
Where do you find inspiration? I'm a problem-solver by nature, and I tend to be inspired by functional problems you see around the home. For example, my Hip Pocket Table has a space for magazines to help control clutter in the living room. The basic furniture archetypes haven't changed in thousands of years - a chair is still a chair, a table is still a table - but there are opportunities here and there to think about how a piece can be a little more useful.
What's one thing you wish YOU had made or designed? I'm not sure there will ever be a design more elegant that the bicycle. It is efficient, versatile, and beautiful. And riding one makes me feel free.
What's your advice for a designer/maker just starting out? I recently heard this wonderful quote from Ira Glass:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take awhile. It's normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through.
Check out more of Andy's designs at Ample.
(Images: Ample and Nataworry Photography)
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Meet the Maker