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December 19, 2013

Be Original event: Why care about original design?


As advocates of authentic modern design, DWR and Be Original Americas recently hosted a discussion at our Miami Design District Studio about why authenticity matters. Be Original was founded last year to promote the preservation of authentic design and its future.

The panel comprised a lineup of influential figures in the world of original design, who commented on topics ranging from what causes knockoff culture to how we can foster original design today. To read Dave Pinter’s review of the discussion and to see great photos of the panel and Studio, click here.


Design Within Reach is proud to join the founding members of Be Original Americas – including Cassina, Flos, Fritz Hansen, Herman Miller®, Vitra and others – in helping to combat counterfeit design. Being a member means that we’ve been vetted to be a retailer of authentic goods.


I really appreciate original design and I'm glad DWR offers originals. But at the same time, I think knock-offs have their place. First, knock offs are often a lot more affordable and many people simply can't afford the high prices of original design. I can now that my career is well established, but I couldn't afford originals when I was in my 20s. I don't think attractive furniture should be exclusively available to the upper middle classes. Two, even though I can afford expensive furniture today, knock-offs still serve a purpose. If I see a reasonably well-made knock off of a classic piece at $400 but I know the "official" version is asking $2,500, that tells me something. Is the price difference really due to a quality difference? is there some extremely high markup on the original? Et cetera. Or maybe there is a quality difference that justifies the price difference. Or maybe the "story" behind the product justifies the price difference? At a minimum, retailers should be able to provide me a good explanation.

I prefer licensed pieces. I think there are many at a reasonable price -- HermanMiller and Knoll aren't cheap but they are worth it in my book (although I suspect that the price of some products has increased more than inflation and/or increased production costs alone would suggest). At the same time, while I prefer licensed pieces, I do not expect to pay a high premium for a product of no better quality than a generic product merely because the product has an authentic "designer" name.

I have a serious problem with knock-offs that are such blatant copies of the original that they are designed to confuse the consumer. Knock offs that say they are "inspired by a Mies" design, or "our version of this design..." are one thing, but attempts to confuse the naive consumer are grossly unethical.

I prefer to avoid knock offs, but all products have their pros and cons. I'm glad I can chose. Those who sell "original designs" must offer a reasonable value for their customers, or they will find that their only customers are the ultra-rich. And I think DWR is aiming at an upper middle class buyer, not the ultra-ultra rich, anyhow.

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