I feature a lot of designer-makers on patternbooth, those talented folk producing beautiful products and patterns in their studios, and garage workshops. But I don't feature as many pattern designers who produce their designs using CAD and then license or sell their patterns on.
I know that it's an area of work a lot of you are interested in because I had a great response to the interview with Molly, from Ditto Repeats, that I posted a few months ago. So I'm pleased to introduce Karen Harris, a US based designer who is making her way in the world of surface pattern design, with her business izeondesign, and a growing portfolio of licensing deals.
patternbooth: When did you start pattern designing?
karen: I started designing patterns about three years ago. I started manipulating my pen & ink drawings from my sketchbook. I really liked coming up with unique motifs and silhouettes. I love anything graphic and I am just as interested in the form of the negative space as I am the motifs themselves. I have always adored the classic houndstooth pattern and vowed to come up with an iconic motif like that one day.
patternbooth: Before the patterns you trained as an architect and then set up your own product design company specialising in home furnishings. Tell us about the that.
karen: I love all things Bauhaus. There was a wonderful time when architecture, graphic design, textiles and craft were all so synonymous with each other AND all taught under the same roof. What many don’t realize is that early architecture training begins with studies in two-dimensional design, creating collages that study composition, scale, contrast, texture, form, shape, proportion, hierarchy, the list goes on. We later begin to translate those principles to three dimensional space through path, juxtaposition. It is so interesting and fun!
That foundation is what I draw on in my design work. When I graduated from college, I discovered this world of architectural interiors and made my career there. So, working with interiors gave me plenty of access to contract products. When I began really focusing on the design for my own home, I struggled to find what I was looking for, so I drew on all those experiences and came up with ideas of my own.
I started my business back in 2004 as a product design studio specializing in contemporary home furnishings and decorative accessories. I designed a series of area rugs for Momeni New York, initially, and developed and launched a line of contemporary throw pillows.
patternbooth: What did you learn from that first business?
karen: I will probably always be developing my own product in some way, shape or form; but probably from a much smaller scale. I learned that it is very difficult to manage the balance between inventory, distribution and fulfillment for a small business. The licensing route is a happier space for me because it frees me up more to do what I love….design.
It felt a natural evolution to pattern design. So many designers that I admire have gone that same route and I love the effect that results in product and textiles from architectural influence…people like Alexander Girard, Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ettore Sottsass, and Eileen Gray.
patternbooth: Tell us about izeondesign.
karen: The reference to our visual sense is apparent but -ize has an even deeper meaning still. Simply put...-ize is a suffix that turns a noun into a verb. In that same spirit, -ize on design is a lifestyle design studio that designs contemporary finishing touches that bring life and energy to objects & environments. My designs are characterized by unique motifs, usually abstract or geometric, that originate from my freehand ink drawings. I love the interplay between positive and negative space and strive to use color in a vibrant and deliberate way to create designs that are sophisticated and relevant yet fun and relaxed.
patternbooth: You have some great licensing deals already. How did that happen?
karen: I exhibited at my first Surtex show in 2012. It was a game changing experience in that it really forced me to elevate the level of my portfolio and really focus on how I wanted to portray my brand. Most of the partnerships I have developed came directly from networking and approaching potential partners that I think are a good fit.
patternbooth: What advice would you give someone wanting to get into licensing?
karen: For me good design is like the proverbial tree in the woods that does or does not make a sound. If nobody knows it exists, it's not good design. Sometimes, if you find someone you want to work with, you just have to ask. And keep asking.
Find manufacturers that others have not worked with yet. Licensing is such a great way for manufacturers to keep things new and fresh. Maybe there is someone out there that is not licensing now, but might learn the benefits from you.
Giving up is not an option if it is truly your passion. Make your work relevant. Picture it in a room, on a garment, whatever category that resonates with your aesthetic. Make your motifs unique and picture everything you design as a pattern that will become iconic like Houndstooth. Stay true to yourself and come up with descriptive words for your style. Then ask yourself if each and every piece you design passes the test. If it doesn’t, save it, until you can tweak it and make it work.
patternbooth: Who is your dream client?
karen: IKEA! I still think they are the best out there in terms of style relevance. My dream client would be a large department store or chain who wants to partner with me and develop a private label collection of home furnishings, textiles and product.
I am picturing a whole “-ize on Target” or “-ize on Macy’s” campaign. That would be my ultimate dream. I also would love to work with a woven textile company like Maharam, Donghia, UnikaVaev, Architex or DesignTex. These are all the products that I used to specify and I feel that my aesthetic would be a great compliment to their product offerings.
patternbooth: What is next?
karen: What’s next for me is to sign my next licensee. I would like to continue to build my list of licensees to develop the –ize brand, including developing and distributing some products of my own.