Alumnus Richard Clarkson (MFA 2014 Products of Design) recently gave a lecture at the College’s Visible Futures Lab on his trajectory from SVA graduate student to thriving designer and entrepreneur. Clarkson’s most well-known product to date is a cloud-shaped lamp that changes in color, emits sounds, and responds to noise and movement (depending on the model). Aptly named The Cloud, Clarkson’s interactive product began as a “tiny wee little fluff ball with three LED lights,” he said.
One of the premises of Clarkson’s lecture was combining “opportunity and inspiration.” In the case of The Cloud, inspiration arrived when Hurricane Sandy struck soon after Clarkson was assigned to make “a plush nightlight” for Becky Stern’s Making Studio course. Following department Chair Allan Chochinov’s advice to “put your work out there,” Clarkson photographed his product, and blogs like Core 77 began covering the lamp. Soon afterward, City Bakery commissioned Clarkson to create six Clouds and another round of publicity and coverage ensued. The Cloud soon evolved, becoming more and more user friendly and more efficient for Clarkson and his team to make. By the time Clarkson graduated from SVA, the art and design blog Colossal had featured his work and news of The Cloud went viral online.
During the lecture, Clarkson discussed some of the more exciting elements of entrepreneurship—establishing your own studio, creating your own brand, and managing high demand—while also covering less romantic aspects—shipping difficulties and fielding late-night calls from the other side of the globe. Clarkson gave his own formula for pricing, giving students and audience members an honest look at how a design becomes a product with a monetary value.
Throughout the talk, Clarkson credited the influence of SVA. In his “Ten Somewhat Un-obvious Things” a SVA student might need to know, he cited that day-to-day professional work is “more similar to school than you might think.” Preparing for client presentations, for example, he compared to preparing for critiques. Clarkson’s own studio also has many of the same tools as those he once used in the Visible Futures Lab.
Beyond sharing business-related tips, Clarkson also encouraged those involved in design to nurture their creativity and give their products time to grow and evolve. When he created his first version of The Cloud, he said he didn’t think, “This is going to be amazing.”
“You never know with these weird little products and prototypes,” he said. “Give them a chance to become something. Part of that is sharing [your product] out in the world, seeing what other people think.”