The Kuzco New York City Studio in Soho was established in 2019 with Lead Designer Ryan Pauly leading the team of industrial designers. The Kuzco Studio received instant accolades as their freshman launch as a team won the 2020 Red Dot Best of the Best, LIT Design Award for Best Chandelier, and many more prestigious design awards for their Magellan Collection. Now, they have struck gold again with the 2021 launch of the Serif, another Red Dot Product Design Award Winner. Inspiration and technology is at the heart of everything the Kuzco Studio produces. What is their inspiration? We spoke with Ryan Pauly, Cody Stonerock, and Hae-Jung Roe from our Studio to find out more.
How did you get started in Industrial Design?
“I kind of lucked into it” Cody Stonerock, Industrial Designer at the Kuzco Studio started. Stonerock goes on to illustrate how he was dead set on studying engineering in college until he sat in on a class. He immediately decided after that it wasn’t for him, but still wanted to innovate and create. Stonerock explains he was always interested in “art and tinkering around with things” so Industrial Design was the perfect fit for him. He began his professional design career designing homewares.
For Hae-Jung Roe, another talented Industrial Designer on the Kuzco Studio team says it was ceramics that first got her interested in product design. She knew from a young age that art was her passion and found through ceramics that three dimensional art was the target. She began her Industrial Design journey designing smart home appliances, where she began her passion for LED technologies.
Lead Designer Ryan Pauly’s path was a little more traveled but started at a young age with a curiosity for function. Pauly recalls re-designing at a young age by “turning a banana bike into a BMX bike because that was what all the kids wanted back then.” Later in young adulthood, Pauly was unsure of his passions and decided to start in business school. He quickly realized that was not for him and took a break from school to promote bands and clubs. He then took a turn towards design while working in building and construction when he saw a flyer for design school in San Francisco. The flyer was adorned with photos of design students’ projects re-designing fire hydrants and lamp posts. He then realized that, “You can take any mundane object from everyday life and design it to be more enjoyable.”
What is it about Lighting that interests you?
“A lot of industries are just looking for the ‘new version for next year’” Cody Stonerock began. His history of designing homewares was not the sustainable design career he was looking for. “Things were very destined for landfills.” Stonerock explains that the typical user of other décor and home items tends to change out their smaller items from year to year without thinking much about the environmental effects. Lighting, however, tends to be a staple in a home for a long time, spanning at least several years. He says he also loves designing lighting because “it is a dominant part of designing a home.” Stonerock goes on the explain that he enjoys that lighting get to be more sculptural and artistic in its design compared to other product design categories.
Hae-Jung Roe enjoys the expansiveness of lighting design. “It is both tangible and non-tangible design” she notes. She explains that lighting goes far beyond a sleek or ornate physical form. Lighting also creates a mood and ambiance with its illumination. She goes on to explain that lighting is not only a tool, but she likes how great lighting can affect a person’s mood and even psychology.
Ryan Pauly agrees with Roe, “It lives beyond its physical self. It illuminates, it changes from day to night, and it can change the mood of a room entirely.” Pauly also goes on to explain his love for lighting comes from the fast-paced movement of lighting technologies. Compared to other homewares, lighting technology moves fast, and designers must keep on top of the latest innovations to stay on the cutting edge. “Lighting in the course of my career has completely changed.” Each designer on Pauly’s team notes this as a huge positive, as they are all passionate about keeping Kuzco’s designs at the forefront of the LED lighting world.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Cody Stonerock begins explaining his methodology by saying “In the early stages I tend to try to avoid looking at lighting.” He says he prefers to look to fashion, architecture, and photography before looking for inspiration in his own industry. After the initial concept has got legs, that is when he will look to lighting design, past and present, to either be influenced to give nods to the greats, or steer in a new direction entirely.
Hae-Jung Roe begins her remarks by agreeing with Stonerock, she tends to steer away from lighting in the early stages of her process. She notes she’s recently been most inspired by tableware details. She also notes she looks for inspiration in natural materials, like wood.
“Anything that has a reason for being,” Ryan Pauly notes as his main go-to for inspiration. Pauly also tends to look for inspiration from nature and music to spark his latest design idea. “The ‘why’ of a design is also just as important as inspiration,” he adds. He explains that while inspiration can start the fire, the team also considers what the end user needs out of their lighting when it comes to creating great fixtures. “Challenges can be inspiration, too.” He explains that challenges such as sustainability and shipping materials can inspire the teams’ designs as they are always looking for more efficiency in the way lighting is created.
Has Inspiration ever struck you in an unsuspecting way?
“That’s a tricky one, what is ever really expected?” Ryan Pauly begins with a laugh. Cody Stonerock agrees. “Yes, especially when you are looking for inspiration everywhere with such a wide range of things.” Stonerock goes on to note a project he did while in school for Industrial Design. He designed the chair from a memory of a unique playground he remembered from his youth. This particular playground had many suspended ropes linking each slide and toy together, which gave the chair its unique suspended seating. “It was unexpected because I hadn’t even seen that playground for over a decade.”
Hae Jung Roe notes her most unsuspecting design idea came from taking a walk in South Korea. She was working on the early stages of Alora’s newly release Flora Collection.She wanted the design to truly mimic the flow of natural flora, so she began sketching right at the source.
Ryan Pauly goes on to note it is his favorite feeling when inspiration strikes and matches a project he has already begun. “When you say I saw this, or I thought this, or I felt this and then you see a project you are working on and say well these go together perfectly.” Pauly also notes he’s gotten inspiration to strike on nature walks and while taking trips to museums.
Favorite Project You’ve Worked on at Kuzco?
Cody Stonerock comes up with his answer quickly, “Motif.” The new Motif Collection features our own patented LED Filament Technology that makes the glow of every configuration unique. Stonerock notes he loves that Motif “…has a unique callback to much older filament lights.” He also notes that he enjoyed taking such a simple idea in so many different directions with this expansive new collection.
Hae-Jung Roe notes her favorite is the new Novel Collection. She notes that the challenge given to the team on this collection was to create a luminaire with the same diameter as the canopy. Rather than making the canopy an after thought, this collection was born from the idea of making the entire collection flow with it. She explains as the further explored and modeled this collection, they realized they could make the disks of illumination adjust for a wide range of uses, making it even more functional.
“I don’t think I can say I have a favorite, I mean we do so many projects” Ryan Pauly begins. “I like when it just makes sense,” he adds, “when you see you want to get close or walk around it, look at it.” Pauly is, of course, very proud of the designs the team has received accolades from international design figureheads. “Of course, Magellan, we won the Red Dot Best of the Best…” he notes, “That could take years for a team to get to that level, but we’ve been able to come together in our first season and have some really great success.”
What Makes Great Lighting?
“It has to accomplish being a beautiful object on its own, regardless of environment in a few different stages” Cody Stonerock continues, “like whether it is on or off.” He goes on to explain that great lighting is not just pretty but serves its function. “If the space is made better by the light, then I think you’ve accomplished that [great lighting].”
Hae-Jung Roe agrees with her teammate, great lighting must be beautiful as well as functional. She notes that if the lighting can enhance the environment around it, that is what makes the design truly great.
“It has to provide the function it is intended to do” Ryan Pauly begins. “For me its about using the absolute minimum amount of materials to what is proportionately right to the idea itself.” Pauly continues to explain that the best lighting is designed in a way in which it can have a long life. He adds to his answer a note on style, “Whether it be dramatic, or elegant…. the personality you want to convey needs to come through.”