By Holger Dielenberg
Danielle Storm brings together insight, energy and disruption to an established world of tradition and factory mentalities. Dani’s designs break the mould of what we have come to expect from furniture and her work is receiving international interest. At Space Tank we celebrate brave emerging designers who challenge the status quo and support their drive to make the world a better and more interesting place to live in. Here we dive behind the scenes of Design By Storm and get a glimpse of what it’s like for an emerging designer to be different and how sticking to your guns can pay off commercially.
You have an interesting background, how would you describe yourself?
I grew up in South Africa in quite a religious Christian environment where girls were not supposed to get their hands dirty in a workshop. I always felt controlled and never felt that I could fit in. At the time I was in graphic design and in Africa there was no industrial design for men or women. Graphic design was an option that wasn’t too outlandish for my family to accept.
I lived and worked in America for some time and then came to Australia and I still feel like I am a bit out of the box because there is no one really working in the same design field that I am working in. So it’s really up to me to push myself. There’s not really any direct competition. I found in America that it was quite a challenging environment, but that if you worked hard you really would succeed. I feel that if I could succeed there then I can succeed here in Australia. There are so many opportunities here and Australia really welcomes change. People are excited with what I am doing here.
That’s a great outlook, does your experience translate into your work?
I think definitely designers translate the world they live in. My work is edgy, challenging and dynamic and I have a few experimental furniture pieces on the go. They all start off as prototypes. Some are optical illusions that I was told could not work because of the sheer mount of resin that was needed – and they worked. Another is a coffee table with lighting that responds to movement. Everybody told me that would also not work in a home setting but I don’t want it to stay in a lab so I’m pushing for that to be in a commercial setting. Denfair have responded favourably to showing it this year and I’ve already received an offer to have it in a bar in China. I think that people are ready for it but the challenges are that when you’re doing something new, there is a lot of pushback and I get used to people telling me it can’t be done. I find that a motivation in itself. That was the hardest part in the beginning because I’d never done work before that was so far outside of my comfort zone.
So what will visitors get to see at Denfair this year?
Denfair have voiced that they’re extremely excited to have us because they’ve never seen anything this bold at a trade fair. We will be showing the Stealth coffee table in a purpose built environment to offset ordinary square living spaces. The stealth range is designed to be counter intuitive and is made in different materials like timber, resin and steel. It’s a sea of grey at these high end furniture design shows so we’ll really stand out. I’m starting an experimental lighting design range with another member from Space Tank, Luke Neil from Old2New Designs. We’ll be showing those at Denfair as well. It’s been a really exciting journey developing new concepts together and it’s great to be designing and building lighting concepts with someone whose work also breaks out of the ordinary. We’re really thrilled to be showing at Denfair this year.
Given your work is unique, what are some of the manufacturing challenges that you’re facing?
The materials available to me like resin was a big challenge. I went and got advice from experts in the automotive industry and they all just laughed at me and told me I was crazy and that it wouldn’t work. So I just went back to Space Tank and did tests and realised that there is no reason that it couldn’t work. And it did work. Back then, I didn’t have all the skills with machines but everybody from the Space Tank community helped me learn those skills that I needed. They helped me figure it out for example, large format 5 axis milling machines that can handle hard wood are not really affordable for one off prototyping so I had to do this work by hand. The 2Pac painting was a challenge to figure out as well because I wanted to use transition paint that could compliment the design. Pretty much everything I do is out of the ordinary so practical and industry challenges are normal to me now.
As a designer you’re breaking the mould, do you find gender an issue?
I don’t find gender an issue, in fact being on the cutting edge and experimental area of design I think for me it’s an advantage. I think people are surprised by me. If my work can surprise you or I can surprise you, then I feel like am doing something right. I guess I feel like I am a work in progress. I’ve been really surprising myself at how strong and brave I can be. Growing up in a really conservative environment like Africa, I didn’t really get the chance to explore how you can take a chance in life. My work is really helping me to break out of the mould. I feel like a bit of a rebel or design alchemist. I thrive on doing things that no one else is doing and this really excites me.
Based on your successful prototypes, what sort of opportunities are opening up?
I’ve been invited to go to China to view a few big commercial office foyers and bars where my work will be displayed. That’s still in negotiation but there are also some opportunities there for investment and mass manufacturing of my designs. I’m also consulting on a new building development for an avant-garde design gallery in Gongguan China with a sustainability focus. But what I’m most interested in is the commercial and architectural opportunities like foyers of buildings, cafes restaurants and high end homes where people are looking for something unique.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing when dealing with large overseas developers?
I think the main challenge is you could spread out too much and loose the core of what you’re doing. So it’s about being really strong and firm about what you’re good at and your skill set and passion. That will attract the right opportunities. Opportunities like this will need you for so many areas but it’s really important to do the things you’re good at well.
Is business culture and massive learning curve when dealing with another country?
Everything is culture shock for me already because I come from South Africa. I’m used to everything always being different to where I come from so I’m finding that if you approach things with understanding and try to learn more then there’s less barrier.
What has it been like working out of Space Tank?
I’ve been at Space Tank for almost two years now and at the start I was still finding my feet in a new country and a new space. It was really challenging for me because manufacturing is such a masculine world compared to University but here I’ve experienced the complete opposite. It feels like home and the people at Space Tank are more family than my own family. I’ve never felt so much support to get my work made and get it out there. I feel this amazing energy of everybody else doing their work and seeing what it takes to bring a product out into the world is really inspiring. From the very beginning lots of different niche manufacturers at Space Tank helped me with wood working fabrication, welding and high end 2pac painting and resin casting techniques. I did the laser cutting course which helped me with prototyping early on and an electrical engineer who worked out of Space Tank collaborated with me on the creative technology side of things. The extended business community around Space Tank opens up to you as well. You find manufacturing or logistics and marketing solutions so quickly and that helps you build your repertoire and grow quicker than if were working alone.
What markets do you have your sights set on?
Right now I’m focused on Australia and everyone is warning me that’s a hard nut to crack but I really disagree. I think people use that as an excuse for work that isn’t selling. After Australia, I think presenting my work at some trade fairs in the States is next and then China.
What advice would you give emerging product developers?
Having a vision of where you’re going and wanting it so bad, makes the path to get there easier to travel. If you don’t have a vision, you’ll be lost and I guess also, don’t think that things are going to be put in your lap. You’ve got to chase every part of the journey and make it happen. If you’re afraid and think you can’t do it or sit around and wait for people to help you, it’s never going to happen. It’s never going to be easy or perfect, you’ve just gotta go do it yourself and put yourself out there.
Who are some of your greatest idols and mentors?
I definitely think Jessica Banks is number one on my list. She doesn’t come from a design background, she’s a roboticist and makes robotic furniture. I was lucky enough to meet her and she’s the only person I can think of who has managed to commercialise experimental design and run a successful business out of that. But that takes quite some doing, but when I met her she was the loveliest person ever. Her success did not compromise who she was at all. The other person is Peter Yaden who I interned with at Rhode Island School of Design. He works on very ambitious projects across architecture, sustainability, science, nanotech. His work ethic and professionalism drive all his projects that are always successful.