5 Questions Joe Paine

By Nicholas Nesbitt

Hi! Im Nicholas Nesbitt a Johannesburg based creative specialising in Illustration, Digital Design and Sound Design. I sat down with Johannesburg based “Designer Maker” Joe Paine and asked him 5 questions about his creative process. Enjoy :)

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1. How would you describe the work you do?

I design, manufacture and realise products for retail and custom clients. I do some interior design too, basically anything that is product based.

It’s a new thing, this designer maker. The industrial design industry is mostly mass production and you need to have a big factory and business behind you to make a decent product. I trained as an industrial designer but I moved away from that corporate arena as it was very formulaic and a bit boring.

I was lucky when I left the corporate world that new technologies in laser cutting, bent steel, small manufacture, wood, ceramics were being developed. These new technologies have made things cheaper to produce. This makes it easier for a one man operation to exist in an industry dominated by mass production.

I don’t really do this for the money. There is no career goal and it’s not about the big orders although I do strive for them. It’s more about having fun.

My aim is to build a bread-and-butter range that helps me make the products that are pushing the boundaries, the fun stuff, the stuff that matters and maybe nobody else is doing.


2. A day in your life?

70% of it is pretty mundane stuff. Wake up, collect materials, do a quality control at a supplier that might not go so well. So you might have to go and find another supplier…It’s lots of hunting.

I do everything myself; accounting, marketing, business administration, assembly and packaging. That all has to be be squeezed into a portion of the day. Otherwise it’s mostly emailing clients.

Designing is huge! A large portion has to be dedicated to the fun stuff which I tend to do in the evenings, usually designing something cool over a bottle of wine.

Being creative has to be fun, it can’t be a chore. There is a small window that something great comes from. The saying ‘make hay while the sun shines’ comes to mind. You never know when the inspiration will come. When I feel the inspiration I try hit it urgently. When inspiration is not there I try to be strict with myself and do something else, like go have a beer.


3. Your work plays with the boundaries of usability and art… Would you agree?

For me the user experience and then the aesthetic are the most important things. Sometimes I will have an epiphany that will send me on a specific path. It might be a question like ‘why can’t we use use this object like this?’. It’s an emotional connection to how someone might use an object. An emotional connection will realise itself in a 3-dimensional way and from there I will style and play with the shape of the object.

A lot of designers will design from first the aesthetic, then the practical and only then a user’s perspective. This a problem as the finished product will not really connect with the user. From an aesthetic perspective they might think it’s great and that it looks amazing but it’s actually a backwards way of seeing things. I really like to play with the user experience first… e.g. What is a table? Can we rethink it? Does a table need lights and maybe a drinks holder? Thinking about how the user will use and interact with this object before I style it, is very important and critical to my process.

If you just start designing something you often have a preconceived idea in your head and subconsciously you are actually making something that has been done before. You should be thinking about how something works before you start designing. How can we push the existing model or perception into a new way. I guess it’s a very western paradigm to think about certain objects, like a chair and why it’s form is so unchallenged.

Would I say that I play with the boundaries of usability and art… I don’t really know… I found that teaching helps me put my process down into words. The way I think of my work is always changing. I think it’s good to be fickle… A designer’s philosophy should never remain unchanged. If you believe one thing one week and remain unchanged for the next year you are in trouble.

Eight years ago I had the most ridiculous ideas. I was very unflinching about them, but that’s all changed now and I think that is ok and even necessary. It’s ok to be untruthful… I make up many different stories with my products. Stories that are false about the way it was conceptualised and formalised, that were perhaps true at one point in time, but have now changed. People need a story and maybe I need a story to make up. We are not saving lives here and it’s ok to invent stuff… you don’t have to be a puritan pariah.

Confidence comes with age I guess, but doubt is always there. I have learned to just go with the process and not be so hard on myself. I am constantly rewriting my stories, failing as I go along, learning and adapting.

4. Has the internet influenced your work?

I believe the internet has actually fucked things. Think about how the Japanese design… their tools are ancient but their design is super modern and inherently functional. The technology that they used was a means to an end. Technology should never be the centre of your production.

I find the internet has made all concepts available and at hand, at all times. We have a preconceived idea of what something looks like and we are bombarded by media and it’s influencing us in a negative way. Design is all becoming a hack. Designers are struggling to come up with something original. Manufacturing techniques have improved but, in terms of creativity, I think it’s seriously hindered us.

I believe that the internet is a blank page and it reflects the good and bad of humanity. I feel that it’s reflecting more of our negativity. Design can’t be created in a vacuum but we need to check ourselves and be thinking more.

The Japanese have one word… Kanso. Simplicity or elimination of clutter. Things are expressed in a plain, simple and natural manner.

This reminds us to think not in terms of decoration but, in terms of clarity; a kind of clarity that may be achieved through omission or exclusion of the non-essential.


5. What is your favourite object?

An ancient 25 000 year old stone hand axe I found in the bush. One of the first products ever made I found near Adams Calendar — an amazing place in Mpumalanga. I was missioning through the bush and I suddenly noticed it lying on the floor. My friend found an even bigger axe a few meters away.

It is a complete artwork but the beauty of it is arrived from it’s function and how it’s made. It’s flint locked and this gives it its shape and characteristics. It subtly fits into a human palm. It’s super smooth and ergonomic. You could skin an animal with it or chop something using the edge of it.

The most amazing thing is that where we found the object must have been the place the ancient human owner died. He disappeared but his objects stayed behind. The objects we surround ourselves with are very important. One might even say they are our legacy.


Check out Joe’s work here www.joepaine.com

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