First day at the design studio. I was told to be there between 9am and 10am, so at 9am I’m waiting at the foot of the Transamerica Pyramid across the road from the dark office with the locked doors. No one around so I wait in Transamerica Redwood park, sit in front of the fountain and look up at the redwoods and eucalypts a nice little reminder of home on Australia day (along with the Ugg poster and Crumpler store and the big Westfield in the middle of town). Four guys are seated nearby drinking coffee and something tells me they are designers. I am wearing a suit to make an impression on my first day- better to set the bar high and then go a more causal rather than arrive in tracksuit pants, thongs and a flannie if everyone else is wearing a tie. They look like wealthy foreign exchange students- they are wearing very fashionable, very casual and very expensive clothes, brands I have never seen before. I think to myself “they aren’t the people I’m going to be working with, they can’t possibly be the people I’m working with” and then they go over and unlock the doors and let themselves in.
So I wait a few moments and take a deep breath and walk in and introduce my self as the new intern. They have no idea who I am but welcome me anyway and they are all French! I feel like I’ve got of the plane at the wrong stop. You know that feeling you get when you start a new job and you are meeting your co-workers for the first time, sitting down at a new desk for the first time, working out where the printer and toilet is. I feel like I have chosen a random office somewhere in the world and have walked in pretending to be the new guy. They are all very nice and friendly and accept me at face value, surprisingly because the boss hasn’t arrived yet. They stop talking in French and start in English, which slowly dissolves into “Allo Allo” style franglish and eventually fully into French. No San Franciscans speaking English, just a room full of French guys.
They show me the work they have been doing, some research and sketches for an office task chair, and also two presentations they are doing for a client on Friday (a portable E.C.G. machine). Then after about half an hour the boss arrives, lots of hand-shaking and asking questions about my flight and where I am from and he see’s the photo of my family that I have on my laptop so more talk about kids and stuff, a nice welcome. My first assignment is to do some research on office chairs- he wants to put together a proposal for a chair manufacturer so I get to work and spend the rest of the day researching, gathering images, looking at the great work chairs in the studio, a Herman Miller Aeron, a Herman Miller Setu and a Knoll Generation (very nice, I’m sitting on it now, designed by Formway in New Zealand), and sketching ideas for a task chair based on the above. At the end of the day I showed him what I had done and to get feedback and he was quite happy. My sketching needs to improve. I’m OK with the standard of my ideation-style sketches, but my presentation sketches aren’t up to scratch.
The second day is still going on with chair sketches. I’ve moved onto a more ‘executive’ throne style- tall and skinny back that is quite thin in profile. The idea is that because of the success of outwardly ergonomic chairs (like the Aeron) that show all the mechanics of how they work (lots of levers and adjustment dials and toggles) all office/ task chairs now look like tractor cabins. I want to go less cluttered but with the same amount of adjustability.
The boss left early so it gave me a chance to speak to the French interns and ask what they thought of their internship. I asked them was it always this quiet and they said really only because they are four French guys and they feel it would be rude to speak in French in front of the boss and me. I started talking to them and they are very happy with the internship and especially with the boss who they rave about. This is apparently what he was working on just before their internship started:
I told them to feel free to speak in French in front of me because I’d prefer a chatty atmosphere rather than feeling like I’m in church. Now the studio is full of laughing and jokes and even a Gallic burp, so they’ve all loosened up a bit.