2018 Keynote Speaker in Grand Rapids
Markus McKenna, Global Design Director at Steelcase

See video of his full presentation here:






An Interview with a Designer – APMM Speaks with Markus McKenna


As a design professional, Markus McKenna feels that prototypes are critically important to his creative process. He says he spends a great deal of time on a computer, which he considers wonderful, virtual models are not wonderful for judging scale.

“Without a physical model, it is very difficult to experience the mechanisms that many of our products include,” McKenna says.

Growing up on a farm in the middle of Illinois, McKenna was accustomed to having the ubiquitous John Deere tractor around. In fact, the tractor was his first thoughtful encounter with Industrial Design. He says he’s always been drawn to objects – particularly people-sized objects.

As the Global Design Director at Steelcase, McKenna says he tends not to be a process-y person when it comes to designing objects. “When I think about ideas, I work with a large team of designers and model makers. We think a lot about where the ideas come from, and what conditions surround them, he explains.” In the office furniture and office space design business, conditions like repetitive physical motion and reclining posture are vital to the success of a product.

“Sometimes our ideas come out fully formed,” he says. “But they must fester and cause sores” in order to be fruitful. First they sketch, but then “model making is the quickest way to actualize an idea.” He believes strongly that the best results come from a group of talented people each doing what they do best.

“It affects me profoundly,” explains McKenna, “are that there ought to be a reason why we bother to make something. The product ought to be really good or meaningful.” He says sometimes the product incorporates new materials and processes, but often new materials and processes inspire new products.

“We try to incorporate new materials or processes,” he says. “We ask the process what it needs.” As an example, he asks, “What would 3D printing want to do?”

McKenna believes that “Design is user-centered, but that’s only one way to innovate.” One product line in the Turnstone corral is the Bassline table frame, allowing customers to add their own table top. McKenna says, “The subversive thing about Bassline is that it requires our customers to co-design with us.” That surfboard in the garage, the barn door you salvaged? It becomes the unique coffee table in your office space. Now, that’s meaningful.



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