By Regina Connell.
Fashion industry talent and brain Caroline Priebe recently came up with one of my new favorite phrases: curating a life. It came up in the context of a conversation about how people in the creative and making professions have to be as creative in the way they make their livings as the way they make their work.
And that, sometimes (often, really) means managing a portfolio of jobs. The juggling is sometimes maddening, often frustrating, and always exhausting. But it can be magical as well, if you can create synergy between the projects. Because real creativity springs from the synergy, from the hyphens, from the spaces between the projects and the disciplines if you figure out a way to make your own luck.
Need a little inspiration? Just try a little Knowhow. They seem to know how to take those creative spaces and make magic out of them.
LA-based architects-designers-makers-entrepreneurs-connected community builders Joshua Howell, Justin Rice and Kagan Taylor are the masterminds (and energy) behind a very of-the-moment series of businesses that make sense individually, but make even more sense together.
At the core of their business(es) is a love and a talent for design, a burning passion (and a knack) for making things happen, and an abiding belief in the power of creative collaboration.
Though trained as architects, says Josh, they became frustrated with many of the constraints of the profession, and all the compromises that take place. So they work with architects, putting their design and making skills to work on product design and furniture projects. (While many of their collaborations with architects start with fabrication, several have moved into outright design collaborations that give our design heroes room to really create.)
They also design under their own name, working on anything from products to public installations. Their workshop–which blends solid traditional tools with state-of-the-art technology–allows them to work (mostly) in wood (Kagan has traditional wood working skills while Justin and Josh bring digital fabrication to the table) to bring to life designs that are modern and light, often employing a splash of humor.
All good but we’ve heard that story before.
What’s smarter about their model is that they’ve opened up their workshop for use by other young designers and architects to build what they want, offering memberships that some people use full time, and others use on a drop-in basis to bring their ideas to life. Some of their members use it as a testing ground to create prototypes, while others create full-fledged products there. Who comes? Everyone from a guy who makes magic tricks to architects who do woodworking.
But we’ve kind of heard that story before, too. Knowhow, afterall, is part of the DIY making trendlet, the one that has “come in and use our shop tools” places (like the super hot Tech Shop in the Bay Area) sprouting up everywhere from the Silicon Valley to Detroit to Brooklyn.
No, the secret sauce to the Knowhow model is what these guys do to juice collaboration.
First, there’s the spontaneous collaboration that inevitably happens when people work in a studio, watch each other (surreptitiously or openly), get inspired, barter skills, and finally, meld skills. Knowhow’s role: gently curating the membership by bringing together multi-disciplinary talent that’s likely to be amenable to collaboration.
There’s also a more purposeful type of juicing that’s turned Knowhow from a casual creative incubator into a real creative collective. Josh provides an example. “A friend of ours wanted to make a chrome garden gnome but didn’t know how to actually build it (though he could create digital models). He learned through us how to fabricate the base, and we found someone to do the chrome plating and make the molds. Next step: getting a distribution network in place. That’s a great case study for how we want to operate in the future.”
But why now? Why is creative collaboration so hot these days?
It could be all part of the zeitgeist, this overall embrace of collaboration in a tough economy, or simply a search for something different.
But there’s something deeper, too. Design (and the craft that underlies it and brings it to life) has become more interdisciplinary. Membranes between traditional disciplines such as architecture and fashion and furnishings are daily becoming more porous, afterall.
But thoughtful Josh also ascribes this to technology, specifically software. “It creates a common language in terms of the forms and materials that are being used across different design. And that makes it easier to collaborate.”
And since the studio space makes for awesome party space, the disciplines can mix and mingle on a regular basis. (They’re part of the NE Los Angeles Open Gallery scene, sometimes host Happy Hours, and sometimes full-on events like their recent Garden Show, which showcased the talents of friends and members of the Knowhow community.)
To keep the juices flowing, they’re committed to keeping things intimate. “We really want to be able to keep this more small scale,” says Josh. “If we have 100 members then we open a new shop. We’re more interested in the partnerships between people…we want to be more than just tools and workspace.”
There you have it: life portfolio management 101. What are you doing to curate your life, and manage your portfolio?