Editor’s Note: I met Alan Pepin, a freelance product designer, at a recent trend talk I gave at LightStyle of Orlando. Pepin has his own design studio, Red Dog Run Design, and works with a variety of retail and manufacturing clients in the categories of home decor, lighting, furniture and textiles. He is the design mind behind the home decor products of several popular retail brands. I want to take you behind the scenes for an up-close look at the creative process of one of the most prolific designers in the business. In my interview with Alan, he shares his creative process that gets products from the page to the store shelves
First a bit about his background: Alan started designing products in 1997 at Marshall Field’s department store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He created technical illustrations for ready-to-wear which led to designing for the home division creating products for Frank Lloyd Wright Gallery and Thomas O’Brien. Later, Alan moved to the product development team at Target Stores, where he continued to design for the home division.
Please describe your creative process. Give us a peek inside your “Design Mind”
When it comes to product design, I begin by collecting information. I need to understand my client’s particular niche and what their goals are. Then I need to take a deep look at the marketplace they are in (or want to enter). My thinking here is to look for missed opportunities or gaps, and where my clients may gain an advantage.
I’m constantly looking at new products, as well as emerging finishes and materials. At the same time, I’ve been taught by some of the best designers it is critical to have a good grasp of the classics, and what makes great design so timeless.
What are your muses in the creative and design process?
That’s an interesting question. My first love has always been fine art. Painting, drawing, sculpture. At a young age, I learned that art presented the opportunity to share what really moved me.
Over the years I’ve learned there isn’t much difference between art and design. Sometimes the product is useful and solves a particular problem, and sometimes it’s simply decoration. Regardless, in order for people to feel compelled to buy, they must be moved in some thoughtful or inspiring way.
What are the latest design trends driving products for the home since this is part of your expertise?
We live in such a dynamic time! We’re living so fast and overwhelmed with constant choices. The continuous move towards minimalism, clean lines and nature are still strong. People need their spaces to feel like a retreat from all the noise. Some folks have said that minimalism is falling away and maximalism is the “it” look, but I’m not seeing much of that. The materials are a bit more luxurious; beautifully grained woods, seeded and plated metallic glass finishes and colors that are a bit more deep and rich.
Looking forward, any emerging trends of note?
As of late, the world outside seems more chaotic and divisive. Whether it’s politics or socially, it just feels heavy and darker. I’m seeing more stories and design that centers on creating a space that invites the positive and the peaceful. It’s not only about minimalism, it’s personal. It’s reflective and inspiring. Maybe somewhat spiritual? I’ve been looking back at Ilse Crawford’s classic book Sensual Home for inspiration.
The design world is experiencing seen a return to craftsmanship and traditional artisan techniques with an emphasis on the handmade. Does this influence how and what you design?
I recently interviewed local designer, Angela Neel, for a project and asked her thoughts on craftsmanship and attention to detail. She said, “You may not be aware of the crown moulding in a room, but you feel it.”
A really insightful observation in my view, and I think people in general are awakening to this. You may not be aware of the exact construction of a given item, whether it’s an acacia wooden chair or a basket woven from seagrass, but you feel it. It’s weight and texture. The depth of its finish. You really feel these things.
Are there any individuals in the creative world, past or present, you admire and seek to emulate or who elevate the bar for your work?
Wow, there are many. Personally, I’ve always admired Eva Zeisel, Gerald Thurston, and Mathieu Matégot’s work. A few contemporary designers I really admire are Kelly Wearstler, Ilse Crawford and Lake and Wells founders, Mark Kinsley and Tamera Leigh Staten.
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