The employees of Schoolhouse are at the heart of what we do. From our shipping team to our factory, we have so many talented and hardworking individuals who sweat the details and bring their best, day in and day out to our Portland headquarters. To us, it's important to give credit where credit’s due, which is why we wanted to spend some time spotlighting employees who often work behind-the-scenes at Schoolhouse.
Enter Bo, our Lighting Designer & Developer. When we first met Bo, the first thing that stood out was the amount of knowledge he possessed around the arts, which is why it came as no surprise when we learned that he had dedicated nearly his entire life to studying design and its global contribution. The newest member of our Product Team, Bo has already taken our products to creative new heights. We spent some time with him to learn more about his beginnings, grad school adventures in Norway, and what a typical day looks like as a Lighting Designer.
Tell us a little about your background! Have you always been drawn to design?
Design wasn’t on my radar until my junior year of high school when a friend of mine told me he had plans to study Industrial Design in college. I was immediately interested in learning more, so I enrolled in evening graphic design courses at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. These courses began to validate my newfound interest in design. After graduating high school, I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, to start my undergraduate studies at the Rhode Island School of Design.
I learned to appreciate the importance of iterative thinking and creative problem-solving
During my four years at RISD, I learned to appreciate the importance of iterative thinking and creative problem-solving. I’m grateful to have been a part of the Furniture Design Department, where I learned from a community of designers and makers who valued a hands-on approach. After graduating, I began working as an Industrial Designer in New York City, where I developed housewares for a diverse spectrum of companies, from independent design studios to larger mass-market retailers. Most recently, I’ve returned to Portland after completing a Master’s in Furniture Design and Interior Architecture from the University of Bergen in Norway.
What does your role as Lighting Designer & Developer entail?
My role as a Lighting Designer and Developer is to provide Schoolhouse with new designs that speak directly to the brand’s core values. As a member of the Product Team, I’m always eager to collaborate with others to find opportunities for our current lighting assortment, whether that means building on an existing family of lighting or developing new collections from the ground up.
I also work closely with our New Product Introduction Team to develop prototypes, engineer components, and track samples for upcoming product launches. We all work in sync to ensure that every detail is thoughtfully considered to achieve an heirloom quality product.
Could you take us through what a typical day looks like?
Each day at Schoolhouse is different! I always start by reviewing my project tracker, which outlines each development per upcoming launch. Once I have a solid to-do list, I take time to respond to emails in my inbox.
On days that our team works in the office, we designate time to review new products and share status updates. In between meetings, I spend time researching, sketching, and model-making to move each development forward. There are many moving parts, but it's always exciting to see our sketches and ideas transform into real, tangible products.
As you design products, what questions are you asking yourself?
There are plenty of design considerations that go into each Schoolhouse product. When designing a new product, there are a few immediate questions I ask myself to begin building the product’s character:
How will this product exist within a customer’s home?
What must be included, and what can be omitted?
What is the history of products with a similar utility?
Which traditions are associated with these products?
What design decisions can I make to extend the lifespan of this product?
How does our version of this product challenge existing versions on the market?
What makes this product uniquely Schoolhouse?
I like to start broad and create multiple iterations of an idea (in the form of sketches, physical models, or digital renderings). It’s critical to zoom out and get fresh eyes on these rough ideas, so I am constantly reviewing concepts with my team throughout the process. Once early design decisions are made, I create options that are viable within our production capabilities.
I try not to fall in love with the first idea that comes to mind
The design process at Schoolhouse is most exciting when our team identifies opportunities for pushing the boundaries of materials and manufacturing. At this stage, I work alongside our NPI (New Product Introduction) team to build prototypes and troubleshoot any potential issues attributed to sourcing, engineering, cost, or production. In the end, I’m always gathering insights to find ways to improve upon my design process.
Form study (paper model of a column), Joint study (of white ash wood)
Do you have any secret skills or hobbies that help fuel your days?
Growing up in Portland, I was a part of a youth rock climbing and mountaineering group called Post 58. My passion for the outdoors, rock climbing, and bouldering continue to this day!
You mentioned you spent some time in Norway prior to returning to Portland. If you could pinpoint one key learning during this time, what would it be?
Studying at the University of Bergen was an incredible experience that has greatly influenced my design practice. My thesis led me to work with researchers from other departments to find opportunities for environmentally sustainable manufacturing in Norway. Through establishing an ongoing dialogue with professors of aquaculture, marine biology, and material science, I developed a value chain for transforming organic marine byproducts into a bio-based additive for improving ocean plastics collected along the coast of Norway.
Photos captured by Bo while living in Norway
The project has stretched far beyond my graduate studies. The material samples of ocean plastics are currently being tested by a research group in Oslo. Overall, managing this ongoing project has taught me the importance of interdisciplinary partnerships, which continue to be an integral component of my practice. Collaboration is key when developing big ideas into realized solutions.
A photo taken by Bo at the Noguchi Museum in New York
Do you have a design philosophy or quote you live/work by?
The philosophy that immediately comes to mind is more of a concept or observation that I’ve understood recently. In its simplest form, it can be summarized as “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” I believe that there’s immense pressure put on designers to try and create groundbreaking solutions for the world’s largest problems, especially within many academic institutions and startup companies.
There's no need to reinvent the wheel
Although I’m a proponent of thinking big and chasing innovation, the ways in which we innovate should consider what has already been created. Many solutions can be built through utilizing existing technologies, and it’s possible to restructure existing systems to create new solutions. History can serve as a great resource for this method of philosophy, especially when referring to sustainable building materials.
A few of Bo's favorite things include family heirlooms and thrifted treasures.
Where do you draw inspiration from these days?
Most recently, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of admiring Soviet Era lighting produced during the 1960s and 70s made in former Czechoslovakia. The combination of clean utilitarian forms with bold colors and textures is so well done!
Soviet 1970s Square Pendant, Soviet 1970s Globe Pendant – Unknown Designers
We talk a lot about thoughtful design here at Schoolhouse. What defines good design to you?
It’s hard not to borrow from the Ten Principles of Good Design by German industrial designer Dieter Rams. The two principles that speak the most to my design practice are honest and long-lasting, both of which are values shared by Schoolhouse. My idea of what is considered “good design” has shifted over the years, but honest and long-lasting have become most important in my work.
Pavel Grus Lamp
What are a few of your favorite Schoolhouse products?
Last but not least, if you had to use five words or less to sum up your year, what would it be?
Growth through challenges and beginnings.