Photo-Illustration: Lined; Photo: Courtesy of Airsign
New YorkThe “21 questions” of are back with an eye on New York creatives. joseph war, the founder of studio Guerra Office, is an industrial designer frequently tapped by direct-to-consumer brands like Misen, Lalo, Dims and Cleancult. In March, he launched his own company DTC, airsignwhich makes a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner now available at the MoMA Design Shop.
Last name: joseph war
Piece: Hill Clinton
What’s hanging above your couch?
What was the first job you had in New York?
I was an industrial designer at Quirky Inc., where I worked on creating new categories like educational toys, fitness products, and pet accessories.
What color are you always drawn to?
The Italian red you see on a Vespa or a Ducati or Olivetti Valentine typewriter. It is an optimistic color from a futuristic design era, which meant novelty and modernity. Your eye is always drawn to her.
What work of art or artefact are you most surprised to own?
I was blown away to find a Dieter Rams table lighter — it’s like a machined stainless steel cylinder with a giant button on it — in a French flea market, in perfect condition, for 30 euros. It still works, but I’ve never used it.
Which New Yorker would you like to date?
Mile Davis. He was the quintessential New Yorker: a creative force frustrated and obsessed with everything the city had to offer.
What’s the last thing you did with your hands?
We simulate a lot of the products we design in cardboard and foam, and I created a foam model of a muscle roller you would use after a workout.
Is there something you have multiple versions of?
I have many Eames Aluminum Group Executive Chairs. As we need to add chairs to the office, we always buy them, and they have subtle variations. Most of them have five legs, but the one I have at home has four, and they are different colors. I like the silhouette and think the cast aluminum parts are all very well made.
Which museum in New York do you always go to?
I often go to the Noguchi Museum. It’s like part museum, part garden, and you don’t feel like you’re in New York when you’re there.
What do you always have next to your computer?
I keep lots of stuff around my desk. One is a granite stone I found in Alaska, it’s a smooth, perfect little ellipse. I use it as a paperweight.
Where is the best view in town?
The best I’ve personally experienced is at Artsy’s headquarters at 401 Broadway. I was there often because it was one of our first customers; we made them desks and shelves. There’s a 360 view and you can see what I call the “hills of Manhattan” where it drops into Chinatown and Soho and picks up towards downtown.
What building or object do you want to redraw each time you see it?
A printer because it is widely used hardware that has not been perfected. There is universal frustration with a product that does not improve. We print a lot of things in the office and we always seem to struggle with these machines. I was talking to an engineer about this one day and he told me that the reason printers don’t work is because paper is a chaotic material. It’s organic and constantly releases dust into the machine.
What is one thing you would change in your field?
I want industrial design to be reprioritized in the world of brands and start-ups. Every company has a time when they release a product that isn’t perfect. This is usually due to a reduced budget or shortened deadlines or the need for publication now. This leads to products that don’t fully serve the user, and to uglier products. If we invested a little more in industrial design at the beginning, we would get better results.
If you could live anywhere in New York, where would it be?
The West Village. It’s a beautiful neighborhood and looks like what you want New York to look like: small, tree-lined, brownstone streets that always end in a really good cafe, restaurant or bar.
What would you do in reserve if it ceased to be produced?
Glue gun sticks. For me, nothing replaces a glue gun when I make a cardboard model.
What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
I travel to reset and receive another kind of visual stimulation. I like to look at the details of a city I visit: bollards, fences, balustrades and door handles. All of these things are different in every country, which is fascinating. They are not even “designed”; they have always existed that way because of the thought in the culture. I went to Japan a few years ago for a reset and admired those water weights that were used everywhere. They were large rectangular jugs, and I adapted them as a door stopper.
Where was your first apartment in New York and how much was the rent?
It was in Bushwick for $700 a month. I shared it with a roommate who never left his room, smoked cigarettes all day, and had a cat he never cared for, so I would. It was kind of a sad experience in New York that I loved.
Where in the city do you go to be alone?
I run to Prospect Park. You may find yourself alone on some of the trails that criss-cross the park in the early morning.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever received?
To become commercially successful, people advised me to become more corporate, grow, become a branding studio, and expand to do all types of design work, no questions asked. I pushed against that and always wanted a middle path where I can be more selective about what projects I work on.
What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?
I used to have a little feeling of James Rosenquist that I had at a wedding. I am friends with his daughters, and there were details of his marriage and a figurative watercolor. I lent it to someone to decorate their apartment with the caveat that I would want it back at some point, but it hasn’t been returned.
What is your favorite restaurant in NYC and do you order regularly?
Cafe Gitane, which is beautiful inside and has a French New Wave look. This is one of the only restaurants where I’m comfortable eating alone. I get the Moroccan couscous, which is big and generous.
What descriptive phrase do you want on your obituary?
“Clever designer behind some of your favorite products.”