Furniture is such an integral part of our everyday living that many people don’t stop to consider it very often. But there is a large and multinational industry present to support design, manufacture, production, distribution and sales. The furniture industry itself spans a wide range of price points and needs. This makes the job of furniture designer an interesting one as there are many directions one can take in the field.
On the surface, many think of furniture design in the realm of household furnishings and this is indeed a large aspect of the industry. As the needs of humans evolve, so must the home and the pieces that fill the empty walls. Household furniture designers must not only create functional pieces, but focus heavily on the design aesthetic to be successful. For those with a flair for design, home furniture design can be a rewarding career.
Another large aspect of furniture design is for the business and office market. This area is more focused on functionality and in recent decades creating complete office environments has been the emphasis. An interest in human factors and the way people perform tasks is an important trait to have to be successful. Office furniture and systems that enable work to be done more efficiently and ergonomically is the constant challenge.
There are primarily two main tracts to becoming a furniture designer, although unlike some professions like the law or medicine, there is no prescribed route. One tract is a more artistic/design path the other more focused on architecture/engineering. Either can lead to success and many of the most famous furniture designers such as Van Der Rohe, Eames, Saarinen, LeCourbusier also had success in industrial design, architecture, sculpture, art, photography and film.
If more artistically inclined, design school is a good route. This will provide training in symmetry, composition and universal design principles, along with instruction on rendering one’s vision on paper or screen. This is an important aspect of furniture design as the designer’s vision must be translatable to production and creation.
The other route is a bit more technical, emphasizing on engineering and math. This focus provides one with the concepts of construction and how structures bare weight and resist force. This too is an important aspect of furniture design and creation as ultimately furniture is functional and must be designed with human use in mind.
Both routes will also provide training in understanding materials – both structural and aesthetic – that are used in furniture. An understanding of current manufacturing processes is also important, as well as the study of human dynamics and movement. The most successful furniture designers are curious about the way humans live and work and interact. Careful observation of life is what often brings true insight into the design process.
After education the logical next step is to put one’s training into practice and get a job. This is probably one of the most intimidating aspects of any career. For furniture design (in fact just about any design career) one typically starts as a junior associate, assisting more senior and experienced designers with projects. This is often termed “paying one’s dues” before working more independently on projects. Another route is to work on one’s own designs and attempt to sell them directly to manufacturers. This can be highly rewarding but difficult.
In either case, furniture designers have a unique profession that combines artistry and design with function and practicality. It is also fulfilling to see one’s vision being put to use by people in their everyday lives.