Interview Series With Designers — Fini

Earlier this year, I ventured to a dozen design studios in San Diego County and interviewed them for the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego. We wanted to put San Diego in terms of design on the map and feature our local talent. Actually, there is an interim solution. The interviews were a team effort, caught on tape and became reeling round and perfect. I enjoyed the visits and conversations so much that I was compelled to dig deeper and do more. In the coming weeks, find words of wisdom from my fellow designers or creatives here for you.

Stefanie “Fini” Orlamuende — getting things done!

First comes Fini, an inspiring fellow German creative of mine. She graduated with a degree in architecture from the Technische Universität München. She also is a relentless idealist with a big vision for sustainable urban design — a house is never stand-alone but has to fit into its environment. Then also, Fini does magic as a maker — she crochets witty baby toys and home goods, while being conscious, detail-oriented, and style driven. Just check out her Shortyfresh store.

In our in person conversation, I asked her as a design thinker, tinkerer and maker about a few things that are dear to me. Let’s hear from her:

JL: What is your professional role and line of work?

FO: I am an architect, I am a visionary entrepreneur and a maker.

JL: What do you make?

FO: I make everything from baby toys to jewelry to home projects, and some crafting.

JL: It sounds as an architect you are operating on a large scale yet as a maker you are making things on a smaller scale?

FO: Yeah

JL: What is design for you?

FO: I think design is like a way to put your creativity in a frame, like taming creativity.

JL: Can you tell me more.

FO: As a designer generally, you have a lot of ideas. You cannot have no ideas. And then you can become overwhelmed with our own creativity. And then you need to eventually put it into something, and put it into an object that you are crafting, into .. like an architectural building something. Or make it into a choreography, or picture.

JL: So you are defining design as managing ideas as well as transforming them into the objects big and small. Is everyone a designer?

FO: No. Everybody is creative. Not everybody is a designer. I think everybody can be a designer, but it requires a lot of — you need to know how to put things together, and you need to find a new way, or reinvent a way of what has not been there before. You need to be able to see the quality. I think only designers can actually make it into something.

JL: That’s a good point. I have not heard it from anyone like this. What are typical tasks or challenges in your day to day? When you make something?

FO: It is actually finishing a project. Like I said before, you have always have ideas. But to actually make them from finish to the end. Because while you are making something, you already come up with the next. That is a little difficult. Because you are so motivated and you make things that are being liked. Then especially as a mom, other things come in between. There are all these started projects that you wanna finish. And that can become a challenge.

JL: So you have to have a good at process. You have to become good at finishing. It is not just the idea, it is the execution. In your day to day, how do you manage that?

FO: I don’t [giggles]. I do, for example for today, I make a list of what I want to accomplish. This this and this. And I‘ll try to finish these things. And also at the end of the day, I reflect. I didn’t do anything today. And i then reflect, and then realize I actually finished this. Add this keeps you on track. But also, you have to have a list of all these ideas. And you need to cross things off, like “This is not gonna happen.”

JL: So it is being adaptive, on a day to day?

FO: Yeah, you have to be realistic. You are not a single person on earth living on earth. You have other responsibilities. And in your design doesn’t fit into this, you have a problem. I think you have to kind of make this. You have to be your own project manager.

JL: To what extent do you enjoy working by yourself or with others?

FO: I like working with others, if they are just as motivated as I am. And it does not matter if it is a different design type or field, or if they have a different opinion. The only thing that is hard, if they are just not as motivated.

JL: What if they aren’t?

FO: Then I have to take lead.Then I have to make this project the priority and that’s just gonna make me upset?

JL: So it stalls your process?

FO: Yeah.

JL: Do you think gender makes a difference in design?

FO: There are fields where you do not get as much respect as you should. Architecture is such a field, it is very complex. A lot of times men are most successful in it. You have to make it like a full-time career to do it. And a lot of times women cannot do that because they have kids and families. And they made that their priority. But also, with architecture more women study it than men and yet it is a man-dominated job for some reason. It’s weird.

JL: So you say gender makes a difference, it plays a role, it is visible that more women study it, and yet men take it further.

FO: Yeah.

JL: You said you are a design, visual entrepreneur, maker. How does being a female and woman play a role in that.

FO: I think it is harder. Especially if you are a maker, if you have your own product that you want to promote. It is harder such as when you meet another maker or business owner, a male, it is always kind of like, a weird relationship, between a man and a woman. Between women, you can be focused on the subject. But with men, there is always this kind of semi.. This weird relationship.

JL: Because it is just not about the product? Because there are different rules of conduct? Flirting?

FO: Men can just be straightforward with each other. And men and women cannot. For some reason, that’s my experience.

JL: Do you have a concrete example?

FO: For example when I got contacted by somebody else who has a business, he really liked my products and wanted to sell them at his store. Throughout the conversation, I realized that he wanted more than my stuff in his store. And then the whole business relationship fell apart. So of course, now, if everybody contacts me, I ask myself “What do they really want from me?” And that is really difficult part. And between men, they do not necessarily have that. So if a guy calls, he knows he is just interested in my product.

JL: There is no courtship, or no potential courtship. What stereotypes about men and women in design come to you mind?

FO: I think men risk more. And therefore more successful. Like a man — when I go to markets, men come up with ideas where they make something into something. It may not look that special but it becomes special, because they took the risk. Where women often think “Who would buy that? Who would want that?”

JL: As a woman, you have more stifling thoughts?

FO: I don’t think things small. Women just wanna be successful but they do think about things more. Men just risk them. And that’s why we have a feeling that men automatically are more successful because they use things that are not all that special yet they make it big because they took the risk!

JL: How did they come to operate this way?

FO: Maybe it goes way back to evolution. Women had to hold their household together, and men had to take a risk. Men also fail, but then they risk the next thing. They just try again or do it anyway. But as a women, you may be like “Yeah, you are right. I should not do that.”

JL: Where do you see some easy solutions for these issues?

FO: I don’t know. Not everything has to be equal. We have to acknowledge one another. Men have to get how women think, and women can get inspired from men. I don’t think it is a problem.

JL: Do you have message for men and women in design?

FO: Just finish the project! When you start something, finish it! Then go to the next! I have to tell myself that everyday. If you wanna be successful, that’s what you have to do (or get a secretary).

JL: Thank you!


Here you have a wonderful interview including these powerful points:

Design: While design is ubiquitous and many people are creative, only designers have certain design skills to (re-)invent new outcomes. This is a critical note just to not dilute the profession and understanding of design. Interestingly, Fini believes that men are more willing to take risks in trying out new things where women are more cautious or considerate.

Courtship: A very honest point about using or abusing attraction in creative work. Just as Fini had a bad experience with a business owner who crossed a line by flirting where it was unwelcome, I am sure there are instances where attraction can fuel creative collaborative work. I’ve seen PR managers dress more alluringly than I do for date nights, and men having sales conversation with a voice hat could melt all VC money. It sounded as if Fini got burnt and is thus cautious. What to do about that?

Design Process: Just how 1% is genius and 99% hard work, a lot about the design that we admire is due to incredible product management. Even if you completed 50% of your project, it won’t matter until you show it and have it come to life. So just finish your projects (or invest in a secretary)!

Just some of the products that Shorty Fresh (Fini Orlamuende) finished
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