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.
- Substrata: 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.
- Art Donovan: 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