2019 SEGD Arrow Award: Designtex
The SEGD Arrow Award recognizes exemplary service or dedication to advancing technologies and manufacturing in experiential graphic design, and striving to provide the highest quality in products and services to the field. Recipients of the SEGD Arrow Award have advanced new manufacturing processes, led the development of innovative new products, and championed sustainable practices and materials. Past winners include SH Immersive Environments, 3M, Neiman & Company, CREO Industrial Arts, Matthews Paint and Nova Polymers.
Designtex, part of the Steelcase family, was founded in 1962 as a commercial textile company driven by a simple desire to create better environments through better designed textiles. Now a leader in the design and manufacturing for the built environment with a catalog of over 8,000 materials, Designtex is known for its rigorous and dedicated approach to research and development of textiles and wallcoverings with reduced environmental impact.
Susan Lyons is the President of Designtex. Previously, Lyons was the Executive Vice President of Design and Marketing for Designtex, leaving in 2002 to start a collaborative studio focused on sustainable product development. Lyons’ work in sustainable product development began in 1993, when she approached William McDonough to collaborate on a project to develop the first cradle-to-cradle product—a collection of compostable contract textiles. Their work together has been recognized globally as a model of sustainable business development and has been chronicled in case studies used by UVA’s Darden School of Business and Harvard Business School. The project and resulting products won the highest honors for the Design Museum in London.
David Siegel, Director of Surface Imaging for Designtex, has 25 years of experience working in the graphic design, large format printing and commercial interiors industries. Raised in his father’s print shop, and later, advertising agency, David developed an early passion for the mechanical and digital making of images to decorate, inform, or to just experiment. This interest carried through his career as he worked in the early days of large format printing for fine art and photographic reproduction which led to Designtex, where he’s works with clients to help them realize what’s possible when you combine material science with digital printing technology.
We caught up with Siegel and Lyons to discuss what makes Designtex a success with the SEGD community.
Tell us a little about your company, and what sets it apart from the competition.
SL: When Designtex began, we were strictly a textile company. Today, I feel we are a design company that makes and manufactures many different types of materials for the built environment. I believe the A&D community is looking for new materials to solve new problems and to deliver new experiences; thus, the opportunity to bring new applied materials to market is very exciting right now.
How did the company come into being?
DS: Designtex was founded in 1962 as a commercial textile company driven by a simple desire to create better environments through better-designed textiles. After acquiring a wallcovering company in the late 1990s, Designtex purchased our digital printing factory in Portland, Maine in 2012.
How did your relationship with SEGD begin?
DS: Our relationship with SEGD grew out of our acquisition of the digital printing firm Portland Color, in Portland Maine in 2011, who had joined as an industry member. Soon after Designtex became heavily involved with the New York chapter and at the national level as we sought to support the community more broadly. Today we have had several years of national sponsorship as well as annual sponsorship of three local chapters.
What role does participation in SEGD play in your company?
DS: As Designtex has evolved our digital printing capabilities to embellish architectural materials, our audience of designers naturally grew to include practitioners in the SEGD field. By talking, and then working with these designers, we better understood the role these designers in this unique profession play in specifying high performance, elegant material solutions. We actively refine and expand the range of material solutions we can supply to designers from different disciplines. It’s this cross disciplinary exploration that occurs through some of our material solutions that is most inspiring and helps drive our product development.
What is the company culture like at Designtex?
SL: Many digital printing shops come out of the advertising and retail marketing industries, but in Portland particularly, we are a team of artists, makers, photographers and mentors.Our facility is run by artists so we have talented eyes and hands on the quality of the file and color management and the fidelity of the printing. Our shop started by producing museum quality photographic prints and that history of rigorous quality standards can be seen in our work today.
What are a few projects that have been pivotal to your company, and why?
DS: As our portfolio of material solutions has grown, materials like CeramicSteel and Casper as well as the advances ion the digital printing process itself.
Lexington/Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center started as a need to create durable walls for a high risk healthcare setting. Through consultation and discussion, digitally printed ceramic steel with an integrated hardware system for cladding the walls meant we were able to help create a supportive healing environment using a material that is as cleanable and durable as materials used in surgical suites.
We also a set of graphic wallcovering standards with Kaiser Permanente for the IT and other administrative facilities. This included a process of developing a set of graphic standards that used visual elements of nature paired with data visualizations and patterning. We then created a menu system and the ability for local offices to customize the themes to their local environments.
What is something you wish designers knew about your company, products or services?
DS: We are humble veterans regarding our environmental commitment—from our cradle to cradle textile introductions back in 1993, to our current celebration of reaching 10 years as a carbon neutral company—it is part of who we are. Our facility in Portland, Maine has been certified by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership since 2009.
We have also achieved SCS Indoor Advantage Gold Certification for low emissions on all our Digital Wallcoverings printed at Portland. We welcome the continuous-improvement required to innovate a more sustainable path forward. We see the results in our workplace environment, the products we produce, and the recycling and reuse programs we have initiated.
What is the best part of working with experiential graphic design professionals?
DS: We love to collaborate and co-create design solutions. Their discipline challenges us to do that on every single project; the profession is focused on delivering a better experience within a space and we are eager to support that type of work.
What is the hardest part of what you do?
DS: From a textiles perspective, the contraction of the material supply base. As many local mills and spinners are going out of business, the supply chain is limited and less diverse. Part of what makes Designtex successful is how we collaborate with our producers, much like EGD professionals do with their fabricators.
Regarding our custom products, meeting the designer and client’s expectations is a regular challenge. But, it’s also one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
What is the most rewarding thing?
DS: The ability to help create environments that are designed to for better user experiences. Our products don’t just look pretty, they are an active part of placemaking.
Digital printing allows for endless possibility and there is an exciting spontaneity that comes with that. Perhaps also when we first explore a new material solution, such as Casper Cloaking Technology, requiring us to hone our skills and process.
What technology, materials, or methods for fabrication are you developing now?
DS: We’re always exploring material waste reduction, and lately we’re focused on new sensory material experiences: In the past year we previewed both Active Textile and Celliant. The year before that, it was Casper Cloaking Technology.
Active Textile is a collaboration between Designtex, Steelcase and Self Assembly Lab MIT. This design was installed in the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, showcasing programmable materials. The design utilizes laser cut textiles, without robotic mechanisms, that could respond to bright sunlight. Upon exposure, the perforations in the textile could open and close.
This year, we are launching a Celliant textile collection, which will include Gamut Celliant. Gamut is a standard ground cloth we print on in our Portland facility, when paired with our Celliant backing and applied as upholstery, the textile can increase the user’s local blood flow by 8 to 10 percent. This proven boost in blood circulation provides benefits to the user such as increased energy, improved muscle recovery and increased thermo-regulation to help keep the user’s body at an optimal temperature.
Casper Cloaking Technology is an architectural film for glass walls that obscures digital screens to outside view. It acts as a smart shield to ensure data privacy while providing the peace of mind to collaborate freely in any working environment. This is a breakthrough that will unleash space design in the networked modern world. The Casper product offering also includes a suite of graphic patterns that provide an additional layer of subtle visual privacy—all printed in our Portland facility. Our cloaking technology can either be used on its own or combined with one of these patterns to dial in the perfect balance of privacy and openness.
What do you see as the future of your field or for your business?
DS: As environments change and new needs arise, we will continue to expand and refine our materials portfolio to create simple and elegant solutions. Drivers such as customization, personalization, branding, privacy/transparency, acoustics and biophilia all challenge our design teams to solve through innovative materials.
>>> More about David Siegel, Susan Lyonsand Designtex.
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