Erik Spiekermann

Erik Spiekermann is one of the most well-known and creative thinkers in design. A type, information and graphic designer by trade, he began his career teaching at the London College of Printing in the 1970s. In 1979, Spiekermann co-founded MetaDesign in Berlin, and in the 1980s, at the cusp of the PC revolution, he co-founded FontShop, a distributor of electronic fonts. He has designed fonts such as Berliner Grotesk, ITC Officina, Nokia Sans and FF Meta. He is also the co-founder of design house Edenspiekermann. He divides his time between Berlin and the Bay Area.

Introduction

Erik Spiekermann has forgotten more things than most successful and creative people know in their lifetime. Now in his sixties (68), the German-born designer and typography guru remains as excited about the future as ever.

A few years ago a friend invited me to have dim sum at Hakkasan in San Francisco. The high-end Chinese spot is a particular weakness of mine, but what made the prospect even more delicious were the other guests: Erik Spiekermann and Susanna Dulkinys, his business partner who also happens to be his lovely bride.

The lunch and subsequent email exchanges led to an invitation to speak at one of my design conferences in San Francisco. Erik was interviewed by Jeff Veen, another modern-day design legend, and they ended up talking about a whole bunch of things, including why fonts on modern digital devices suck. Erik's plainspeak resonated with the audience and to date, it remains one of my most memorable moments as a conference host.

Since then we have become friends, though we don't see each other often. We have the ambient intimacy afforded by modern social platforms, with an occasional email and a rarer meal or a coffee. Last year it was on one such occasion that we ended up having this conversation. It was long, rambling and a lot of fun. I promise there will be a part two in the future!

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Jennifer Magnolfi

Jennifer Magnolfi is a trained architect and a design consultant in corporate real estate, and her applied research explores high-tech workspaces and startup environments. She is an expert on technology's impact on how we work, and she is the co-author of Always Building: the Programmable Environment. Previously she worked for Herman Miller R&D and was a Fulbright scholar at the Interactive Institute in Sweden, where she led research on the effects of digital programmability in physical space and networked environments. Italian by birth, Magnolfi now lives in New York City.

Introduction

Jennifer Magnolfi and I have a common interest: We both obsessively think about the future of work. I have a network-centric view of it: I believe that networks allow us more latitude in how we work, where we work and how much we work. I first had this idea in the early 2000s. One of my earliest attempts to understand this was the WebWorkerDaily blog, which focused on “digital nomads.” Now, almost sixteen years later, the network has upended the idea of work.

Jennifer thinks about the future of work from her own unique perspective — that of an architect. Born and raised in Italy, she has also spent a lot of time in North America exploring workspaces and what they mean in the context of society. She has worked with large web corporations and new workspace networks. She has also spent time working for Herman Miller, the iconic furniture company.

A few months back, the two of us sat down over coffee and discussed workspaces in this information-dense, postindustrial world. Our conversation is especially timely because even the old world is moving toward the WeWork model: The Wall Street Journal reports that boring old Citibank is redesigning its workspaces and saying sayonara to the cubicle. That's why I would like to conclude 2015 with this conversation about the future of the workspace.

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Yves Béhar

Yves Béhar is a Swiss-born designer and the founder of Fuseproject. He has worked on products from well-known companies such as Herman Miller, Apple, Puma, GE, SodaStream, Samsung, Issey Miyake, Prada and others. The 48-year-old is also the chief creative officer of August and Jawbone. Behar, who now lives in San Francisco, is a keen surfer who compares surfing to improvisational jazz.

Introduction

When Yves Béhar and I met about six years ago, we immediately got along, probably because we both love connectedness, technology, bags and watches. And design too. Or is it perhaps that I can get metaphysical and philosophical about these things when talking with Yves? Regardless, at many of my events, you could find busy Yves and me huddled together, chatting about our common interests.

Over the years, as I have sunk deeper into technology, it's become important for me to invest in some of the handmade, analog traditions that I value — fountain pens, sublime paper and mechanical watches. And yet I couldn’t help but buy the new Issey Miyake watch, Vue, designed by Yves. Despite its being powered by quartz movement (thus making it digital), the watch's sheer minimal beauty grabbed my attention. “Why do I need to see all twelve numbers when only one is needed?” Yves said.

He has a special bond with watches. “Watches are a great way to think about how products should be designed to last,” he told me a few years ago, because they “have to withstand constraints of life — water, dust, scratches.” That makes them a pinnacle of design. And thanks to Apple and its Apple Watch, the devices are back in conversation.

Earlier this year, Yves came out with his third watch: the Movado Edge. It too is not mechanical, and yet it is modern, minimal and iconic, much like the Movado Museum Dial watch designed by Nathan George Horwitt in 1947. Edge is a worthy descendant to the Dial, with no numbers except for a solitary gold dot at 12 o'clock, symbolizing the sun at high noon. When I saw the photos, I was full of admiration for the design, which moves away from the current highly detailed two-dimensional graphic designs of watch faces to a more subtle three-dimensional and yet recognizable design. I knew I had to talk to Yves about it. An email later, we were sitting across from each other, nerding out about the watch. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

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Liam Casey

Liam Casey is a 49-year-old Irish entrepreneur and the founder of PCH International, a contract manufacturing company with operations in China, Ireland and the United States. The company started Highway1, a hardware-focused accelerator based in San Francisco. Casey, an expert in contract manufacturing and supply chain logistics, recently acquired Fab.com and plans to revive the website as an online-only Colette for tech products. [Photos by Cliff Englert]

Introduction

Two dozen people over a period of three years tried to convince me that I should have coffee with Liam Casey, the 2007 Ernst & Young Irish Entrepreneur of the Year and the founder of PCH International. (PCH was named after the Pacific Coast Highway, the winding coastal highway in California.) I resisted, mostly because I was too busy doing, well, whatever I was doing. Every so often people told me that since we both love technology, design, fashion and the arcana of business, it would make sense for us to talk. Intros were made and emails were exchanged, but there wasn't any movement. And then one day I found myself at Front Cafe in San Francisco, which happens to be across from the PCH offices. While sipping on one of Front's fine espressos, I saw Liam sitting nearby with three iPhones. I went up to say hello, and we started to talk. We talked and talked. And we talked some more.

I met Liam a few more times in San Francisco and once or twice in New York. Through these conversations, I started to appreciate the depth of his knowledge of manufacturing and his journey as an entrepreneur. I took notes every time we spoke, which is perhaps why this feels more like a traditional interview than the conversations I usually include on Pi.co.

Here we explore the renaissance in hardware startups, the resurgence of tinkering by hand and the challenges that present themselves when experimenters become large companies. One of Liam's observations in particular stands out to me: Supply chains have become so streamlined that you can ship something from one part of the world to another almost instantaneously.

“There’s a convergence of trends,” he said. “These trends include crowdfunding, batch manufacturing, limited editions, live process tracking, visibility into multi-tier material production.” That means it is possible to run the supply chain in a much more controlled and sustainable manner. Software's success is measured not only by downloads but also by usage. Similarly, Liam thinks hardware’s success should be measured not by when it enters a wholesaler's warehouse but by when a consumer activates a product.

His insights has allowed him to cut some of the largest companies in the world. Apple lists the 3000-person company as a supplier. Fast growing startups like Pebble, 3DRobotics, Ringly and Drop are some of the companies who have leveraged Liam's platform.

Liam's insights would be useful for a lot of founders. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed talking to him.

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