ILE Talks is a series of one-on-one conversations with individuals from multidisciplinary backgrounds to discuss ideas and innovative approaches. This time our focus is Lauryn Menard.
Lauryn, Co-founder + Design Director at PROWL Studios, is a furniture designer, an industrial designer, and a design strategist with a focus on environmentalism and human well-being.
Lauryn, where does your interest in design come from?
I spent my childhood in the woods on my parents’ land just messing around, ripping bark off of trees, and catching frogs with my hands, so the tangible world always fascinated me. When I was around 6 or 7, my parents recognized that I was a pretty restless kid but also that I tended to calm down and focus when I had a pad and paper, so they started bringing me to this little after school art program that was on the 2nd floor above the downtown coffee shop in our town. It was in high school when I started combining my love for designing with materials when I learned to sew; this opened up the 3-dimensional world to me. That satisfaction of moving through an idea from pencil on paper to a living, tangible, functional object hooked me - and I haven’t really strayed far from that ever since.
What are your goals with PROWL?
My main priority with PROWL is to work with people who are as driven toward positive change as I am. I want PROWL to act as a resource for brands and organizations who are looking to take steps toward a net-positive impact, but maybe don’t know where to start. It’s not that I, or my business partner, Baillie, have all of the answers, but it’s more about putting in the work to get there.
How do you go about transforming an idea into a physical piece? What part of this process is your favorite?
I generally always start with a material swatch and my notebook, which is where I spend the majority of my time — iterating, iterating, and sometimes drawing the same thing 50 times and not noticing until after. Once I feel like I’ve gotten an idea to a solid spot and it feels good to imagine it coming to life, I’ll jump into small, crude, scaled models. I’m not one of those people that can easily jump straight into CAD; for me, there’s something about having to draw something from a bunch of angles that helps me understand how it is going to work and what it is going to look like. Once I’m in Rhino pushing pixels, that usually means that the bulk of the design is complete and I’m probably more in detail work or engineering.
What made you venture into designing furniture? What made you venture into designing clothes/shoes?
When I lived in New York, I got a job working as a Communications assistant at Dwell magazine. At the time I got the job, I whole-heartedly thought that I wanted to pursue a job in graphic design. I had done the whole fashion school grind for a little while and was looking for something on the opposite end of the spectrum.
While I was there, I just fell in love with everyone we were featuring in the magazine; I had the privilege to meet amazing folks like David Weeks, the guys at Uhuru, Rich Brilliant Willing.. the list went on. Every single person I met that was in the furniture world seemed to be living a lifestyle that I aspired to have. My exposure to their work also opened my eyes to the fact that furniture really is not all that different from fashion — it just takes a different set of skills.
What I love about working in furniture is how open-ended it can be. It’s the combination of designing for human behavior and having the option to work with hard and soft materials interchangeably that drives me. Once you dive into these buckets, it’s hard to go to another industry, because you realize how constrained everything else is in comparison.
A lot of people will disagree with me, but designing footwear and furniture are so so similar. They both use rigid and soft materials, they are designed around the human anatomy and proportions, and they interface with the ground. The materials world and studies around human behavior and wellness are shifting so often that there is never any room to get bored in either of these industries.
The array of textures displayed on your Instagram is striking, what role does texture play in your design?
Oh, man. Texture is everything. Because so much of my work zooms really far out to macro, systemic research and forecasting, my brain tends to want to zoom way way back in almost to a macro level when it gets the chance.
I’m also really attracted to textures that show evidence of events that have happened before - something that has manipulated a surface into something else because of constant use or abuse. That character is something I find myself being drawn to often.
Do you have a preference when it comes to texture?
Not really. I guess it changes with whatever I’m interested in at the moment. For example, right now, I’m really into super fine metal meshes. Last month I was exploring composites made from recycled textiles .. my preferences change every day haha.
Which one of your creations best encapsulates your design ethos? Why?
Definitely the furniture collection we are showing in Malone for Salone del Mobile this year. We started the design process of these pieces by first considering what we wish the end-of-life of a piece of furniture could look like. We used only stainless steel and 3D knit by ByBorre and nothing else. From there, we created something that feels like it speaks to my personal aesthetics, but also my design methodologies. Oooph! I can’t wait for everyone to sit in the chair.
What do you do when you are struggling creatively?
I get on my bike. I used to think this was almost a bad habit because this didn’t mesh well in the corporate world where you’re expected to have your butt in the seat from 9-5; but that’s why working for myself has really brought my work to another level. Because I have the freedom to take off on a ride, I tend to work through my ideas faster and with more ease than I would otherwise. There’s something about the combination of trying hard, going fast, and being in tune with your machine that just allows me to think more clearly. I’m sure there’s some study on this somewhere but I haven’t seen it — and if no-one has studied this, then they should!
How did you first get involved in cycling?
Sort of a classic Bay Area story, I moved here from Brooklyn, I had no car, and I knew no-one. I bought my first bike as an adult within the first week of being here because I needed a way to get around and, let’s face it, the public transit here sucks. I bought a speedy little aluminum Bianchi road bike at one of those Valencia street shops. I told one of the chicks that worked at the shop at the time that I didn’t have anyone to ride with, so she invited me out on some tours and rides with her and her friends. I was a long distance runner at the time but started to convert to cycling after just one or two tours with them.
Were there any individuals that helped guide you when you started the sport?
Not so much when I started the sport, but definitely as I started to convert to dirt. The majority of the people I rode with, and still ride with, got into riding dirt around the same time. We all started getting fatter, knobbier tires, which eventually turned into gravel bikes, and then into full suspension. My partner, Eric, and I were kind of on that journey together. When we first started dating, we would meet up in Golden Gate park and ride as many of the muddy trails as we could after work before the sun went down. Now, 7 or so years later, we almost never ride road.
If you could give someone new to cycling one piece of advice, what would it be?
To not be intimidated by the culture of it all. When you first get into cycling, it can be really easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the gear and also intimated by the scene of it all. Once you break through that barrier, you realize that 1. It doesn’t really matter what you ride on or with, as long as you’re enjoying yourself and spending your time in the saddle in beautiful places and 2. The cycling community can be super welcoming. All you have to do is force yourself to show up, get out, and the community will open itself up to you. I’ve met some of my best friends just in passing while out on a ride.
What connection, if any at all, does cycling and design have for you?
I’d say cycling is one of the fuels for my design. If I don’t get out and ride regularly, even just around town, I can feel myself getting fatigued. When I’m tired and cranky, I design like garbage. Before cycling, it was the same with running. The connection is in moving my body and letting my brain have a little recess so that I can get back to focused creative work back in the studio.
Tell me about your role in Women in Design?
I’m currently the Co-Chair of WIDSF, which essentially means that I work with our leadership group, which is this badass group of women, to create a thriving femme-identifying design community in the Bay Area. Our group creates educational resources, holds unfiltered panel discussions, and facilitates a yearly mentorship program for women who are established in their design careers to help guide those who are just getting started or looking to make a pivot. It’s truly such a great group of people and I’m super thankful that Ti Chang from Love Crave had the foresight and vision to create it.
What do you think are the biggest barriers to achieving equity in the design industry?
I could go on about this for hours, but I’ll try and keep this short.
The whole bro culture of the design world, specifically industrial design, has been a problem for a long time. There is this machismo that has always come with the territory — dudes want to draw and make things that look strong and go fast, which is why so much of the world around us looks the way it does — masculine. Because men have dominated the space for so long, it’s been difficult for women to be given a seat at the table because they’re stereotyped to be better at the ‘softer’ work, like design research or interiors (not dissing either of these industries or professions because they are VERY important, but they tend to be more female-dominated). Most women end up dropping out of the industry entirely before they even get a job in industrial design.
I do think this is changing, though. There is a lot more education these days around why having a more diverse and balanced workforce is beneficial for society as a whole, and even better for a company’s profitability! We are sort of in a moment of reckoning and I think we will continue to see a change. Will it happen as quickly as Id’ like it to? Probably not. But, hey! Progress is progress.