A young minimalist takes on the challenge of designing for everyday life
A kind of Shaker simplicity marks the work of Leon Ransmeier, a beauty that results when an object is exactly what it's meant to be and nothing more. A humidifier is a pristine bucket filled with water; an extension cord wraps itself neatly around a flat white spool.
Some designs are, in fact, so pure of purpose that they can stump those of us surrounded by less thoughtful objects. When we asked if it was possible to get money out of bubble piggy bank—little more than a clear globe with a slot in it—without smashing the whole thing to bits, Ransmeier reminded us, "They were designed to save money, not spend it."
In spite of being a fresh 31-years-old, Ransmeier has already had a long time to consider form and purpose. His father is a ceramicist, and the young Ransmeier spent his childhood in a studio watching clay morph from paste to art, while learning how to make objects on his own. Focused on furniture design, after graduating from RISD in 2001, Ransmeier moved to the Netherlands with design partner and former girlfriend Gwendolyn Floyd.
In Eindhoven he founded Ransmeier Inc., but it was only after he and Floyd moved to Rotterdam and started Ransmeier & Floyd in 2005 that they began attracting serious interest. A dishwasher rack comprised of pliable polypropylene nubs, arranged algorithmically in density to hold spoons, knives and plates, was included in the 2006 National Design Triennial at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. They created products for Droog among many others.
"I was influenced and inspired by the Dutch approach to design that emerged in the 1990s, and I still believe that this devious and conceptual approach to design is an important chapter in history," said Ransmeier, referring to that definitively quirky, minimalist concept still on display at internationally renowned design stores like Moooi. He was lured back to NYC after a providential set of circumstances—"My visa was long expired"—and the offer of the creative directorship of design firm DBA, a firm he founded with partners Erik Wysocan and Patrick Sarkissian.
The term "DBA" is meant in the legal sense, as a placeholder for the greater number of hats that each member of the company wears—not only that of a designer, but that of environmentalists and civically-minded individuals. One of DBA's current products, the 98 Pen, is a simple black roller ball made at a wind-powered facility; another, the Endless Notebook, is 100% post-consumer waste, comprised of folded booklets slipped into a slim envelope. Perhaps a compostable pen seems like a relatively small tweak—still, taking into account the many toxic, plastic ones strewn across desks all over the United States, it might make more of a difference than you'd think.
"The issue with a lot of 'sustainable design' is that the focus is predominantly on the sustainability of the product without a strong focus on innovation or creating timeless, beautiful objects," Ransmeier said. Utility, beauty and sustainability aren't mutually exclusive goals, and focusing on one goal above the others is to the detriment of them all. "Creating objects that can be immediately dated as being a part of the 'sustainability trend' quickly makes them obsolete and inherently unsustainable."
In addition to designing, Ransmeier now takes time to teach—"At the moment I'm finishing up a semester at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, teaching an undergraduate industrial design class"—occasionally commuting from his NYC home to do so. “It's important to realize that industry and the man-made environment are not separate from what people perceive as 'nature', but are interdependent and inherently connected,” he continued. And simply and beautifully so, if Ransmeier had his way.
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