We sit in violation of about nineteen city ordinances, drinking Mexican beer on the street, talking about what first interested Zac Feltoon in design. Apparently, it all began with a spoon.
“In high school, I had the same ritual every morning: wake up, have breakfast, go back to sleep for 30 minutes, shower, and head off to school. One day, without thinking anything of it at first, I used a different spoon from our drawer than I usually did, and from the first bite, it made my experience of eating cereal better.
"Before that moment, I ate cereal every morning and it became a mundane ritual that I didn't pay any attention to. When I came downstairs this particular morning and used that spoon, it made me notice this major part of my day as if it was the first time. I think the most important moment was when I started to analyze the spoon: Deeper head, thinner neck, heavier handle... it just fit me better and the ratio of milk to cereal was better. Later that morning, I came downstairs for school and told my parents what happened, I knew something was important about it, and I asked, 'What does this mean?' and they said, 'We don't know.' So I went to school. When I got back, they had an answer for me.
"My parents—an architect and a photographer—had always encouraged me to go to different classes: glass blowing, pottery, sculpture... all of these different classes, but I never considered myself an artist like a lot of my friends at the time who were definitely artists. I still draw on the lessons i learned then in my work. When I got back from school that afternoon after encountering the spoon, my parents called me into the living room and said, 'We think what you're talking about is industrial design. If you can find a summer program to try it out, come back to us with some options and we can decide.'"
He ended up studying at University of the Arts in Philadelphia under Mike McAllister, then the following summer at RISD, then finally, as an undergrad at Pratt."This is funny: I thought, I had applied early admission, but it turns out I didn't. Looking back, I guess it's a good thing that I got in, I didn’t really have a backup plan. It made my guidance counselor crazy. She called me a bullshitter. In high school! I knew how serious the process was... maybe I didn’t show that to her."
Well, he's clearly done bullshitting. For a young professional, he's done quite a lot, including creating custom desks for an award-winning interior design project in Austin, helping a client receive a patent for a handle he crafted that aids emergency teams in hospitals, and doing retail design work for brands like Uniqlo. "It's a really, really wide range and I absolutely love that."
And yet, his first answer to my asking about what he's accomplished was, "Not enough." It's a drive that's apparent throughout our talk. He wants to try everything. "If I love woodworking or I love metalworking," he explains, "then I can love injection moulding. One of the things I love about what I've already done is I've built this ability to talk and understand and communicate a design intent to people that I've never met and in industries I haven't had any overlap with yet. If you can get really quickly to the thing that someone loves about what they do and what they're going to bring to the project, you can impart what you love and what you want to bring to the project, then no matter what the industry, no matter what the program, no matter what the medium, you now have a common ground on which to build. And I think that has brought me—who cares commercial—but at least personal fulfillment and a feeling of success in the work that I've done so far."
Here's what he brought to show us:
THE STANDBY – pilot razorpoint, papermate flair medium, pilot fineliner
"The old standby is now one of three black pens. And it's taken me—I know it sounds silly—but it's taken me years to find these pens. The first one is a Pilot Razorpoint and it's actually the pen that my dad uses as an architect. He always has one but he mashes them into the paper. I don't like to do that.
"I think it definitely has it's place: To get a really fine line. But, I think that it wears out too quickly. And the little yellow branding on it is a little… ostentatious, so I don't always like it. It's tertiary to the others.
"The second one is a Papermate Flair Medium. Do they make a large? I've never looked into it. I think this is the absolute best pen in the world. It's a felt tip. It wears down really well. It lasts for a while. It's cheap. You can buy 'em in the hundreds. There's something about it. You can go from thin to thick and it is always good.
"The final one is the Pilot Fineliner. I was only recently introduced to this pen by another designer and from the first time I used it, it has changed the way that I sketch."
THE SPECIALIST – makita 18-volt lithium-ion drill
"This is my favorite tool in the entire world. I don't remember where I bought it. I didn't do any research into the best drill or anything, but it was a moment where I had a big enough job that I needed the right drill and I went out and I knew I had the money for it. Up to that point, I always bought the thing that could get me by to the next thing and, as a product designer, that's really emotionally tumultuous. This, to me, represents the moment when I could buy exactly the thing that I wanted and it has proven to be exactly the tool that it promised to be.
"It came with two batteries, a fast charger, an amazing variable clutch, two speeds. It doesn't burn out, it's light, it's extremely well-made. It fits perfectly in my hand. It has an LED light, which isn't gimmicky. In this tool, which I don't get to use all the time because I'm no longer physically building or installing very many things (which is okay for the moment. Every once in a while, I get a chance to get back into the shop). I’m often really hard on a lot of products and I want them to be perfect. With this tool, I don't care if it gets banged up, I don't care if it gets dirty, I don't care if it gets scuffed—because it is designed to do exactly that."
THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – moleskine journal
"This has been with me since 2006. I got to school in 2004 and for whatever reason, I'd never had much experience with Moleskine and always thought that the pages were so thick that the work that I put in it needed to be at a certain level. I just never used them. I always used shitty notebooks because I knew I wasn't there yet. So when I bought this Moleskine—I think it had to be one of my first if it wasn't my first—it was a book that I knew I wanted to write in as a journal and it was a product that I knew I was going to live with for years.
"I'm about a quarter through, as it looks like from the dirt. Maybe a third. I used to write a lot more in it. I started it when I was traveling abroad. I got to study at the Bauhaus and then I went across Italy and Greece and I wrote in it every day. So my entire journey is in there. It's one of those things that when I need to work through something, when there's something that I can't just sit and think about, I go to this. To me, the way that I think about the product itself helps to reinforce that the ideas that I'm putting in here are at a certain level—that they're worth being in this book."
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