A Culture of Design
"We see design as the means and the end. Design is a powerful process that can yield performance value and align to a user’s functional needs. Design is also the end result, with tremendous potential to deliver enriching benefits such as beauty, a connection to materials, and a sense of calm—qualitative experiences that we think are incredibly relevant today."
-Dave Simon, Partner, Memo Furniture
Memo is a Seattle-based design company founded by a team with roots at Brandrud, Herman Miller and Nemschoff. They work with accomplished designers around the world to create furniture for shared and transitional interior spaces that exist across work and life.
We chatted with two of the founding partners, Dave Simon and Gary Cruce about their inspiration for this new venture, and their vision for the brand.
You worked together at Brandrud and after its acquisition, on the Herman Miller and Nemschoff design teams. What inspired you to leave a major manufacturer and venture into this new chapter, to found Memo?
Dave: We felt as designers and creatives that we had more to offer, and we wanted the opportunity to get back to the basics. In a large corporation, the scale of programs are often large, and require a rigor and process that can be encumbered by procedural demands, conflicting opinions, and organizational shifts. With Memo, we have purview to our entire business. It's just us making the decisions, we’re clear about our strategy, team, and constraints, and we can move projects forward quickly. We’re also working within a culture of design that enables us to engage with designers and the design process, with the spirit of ensuring that the design thinking—in its most authentic form—persists from beginning to end.
How do your decades of product development for Herman Miller, Brandrud and Nemschoff inform the design, comfort and durability of the products you create with Memo?
Gary: So much of the contract furniture industry in North America seems to be performance-driven, focused on metrics and data. This approach doesn’t always account for the inherent value in good design. But we think there is still room for really great design. The chair we just introduced, Penna, is really good design-work. Will it make you more productive in a teaming situation? I don’t know! <laughing> It’s not scientific. We’re not getting into the weeds defining comfort and ergonomics; it’s more intuitive, the basic idea is that we want to make a chair that’s beautiful and comfortable.
Dave: We’re interested in design, not just as the means to create a product, but as the means AND the end. Design is a powerful process that can yield performance value and align to a user’s functional needs. Design however is also the end result, with tremendous potential to deliver enriching benefits such as beauty, a connection to materials, and a sense of calm—qualitative experiences that we think are incredibly relevant today. Our day to day experiences are full of inbound information and noise, and people are looking for an antidote to that, whether it’s a walk in the woods, or -we think- sitting with a beautiful product. We strive to produce designs that don’t have a lot of complex visual information coming at you—they are refined and simple, and you can actually benefit from those nuanced characteristics.
Functionally, our strategy is to focus on the essentials and execute them well. This may seem simple, but it can be difficult to achieve. Essential performance characteristics, like comfort and structural integrity, are always going to be included—and will always challenge us!
How do you work with designers on new products? Do you start with a product goal and then search for a good partner, or approach a partner and see what ideas develop?
Gary: We’re a team of trained industrial designers, but for most projects we do opt to work with outside designers because we’re seeking diverse and unique points of view. It’s perhaps even more about relationships and collaborative partnering where their ideas and ours come together. Through communicating and connecting with them—you just feel it.
We aren’t looking for existing work that is seeking a home. We’re more likely to approach designers with a project brief for something we want to develop. Unlike in our previous companies, when we’re writing project briefs we’re purposely leaving them open to a lot of interpretation, because we want to embrace the point of view of the designers. In that we have an author-editor type of collaborative relationship.
Dave: It starts with the relationship, and finding designers who have the right sensibilities, working style, and experience, then digging deeper and considering what project could be a good fit, and a direction emerges. And, as a small company we can make decisions quickly and honor the spirit of the design in an unencumbered way, and that is powerful.
We’re huge fans of Laura Guido-Clark, who worked with you to develop Memo’s powdercoat color story. How did that partnership come about?
Gary: We’ve worked with Laura off and on over the last 20 years, whether at Metro, Brandrud, Nemschoff, or Herman Miller. She’s tremendously talented and supportive. A benefit to reaching this chapter in our careers is the background, experience, relationships we have with suppliers and designers—knowing who to reach to for things. When it came to the color palette for Memo, we had total faith in Laura’s expertise.
There are a lot of brands in the contract market vying for attention, for A+D to specify their product. What sets Memo apart?
Dave: Parallel to our product development efforts is innovating on the service side—and we think this will set us apart. We want to provide innovative services that are compelling and that streamline the specification process. We’re developing digital tools to access information, visualize and price products easily—so it’s efficient to do business with Memo.
What’s next for Memo?
Dave: We’re sharpening our sales tool system and asset plan for every launch and investing in digital tools to make pricing and specifying easy. We’ve built a robust product development and design engine, and we’re building a backlog of design work. In January we will launch a new collection from Studio Gorm, and in the Spring another new Lounge product from Zurich-based designer Lukas Scherrer. We’re intent on growing our portfolio while preserving the integrity of being a service oriented, customer focused, and design centered business. These are values that make a great brand—and a great place to work.