Scott Henderson talks powerful graphic images, travel and more


Scott Henderson is a leading industrial designer, creating product designs for global Fortune 500 clients. His studio, Scott Henderson Inc., is based in New York and specializes in industrial design, engineering, digital design, branding, intellectual property/patent generation, and manufacturing sourcing. Scott’s view is that design should achieve “intelligent freshness”. Clever, as in ingenuity combined with a sense of wit, and a freshness that evokes feelings of health and happiness. Over 90% of Scott’s designs have been mass-produced, a record few designers can claim. In addition to his world-renowned and award-winning work in industrial design, Scott also creates intellectual property. He currently holds a portfolio of over 50 patents in the United States and Europe for innovations in areas as diverse as housewares and home accessories, consumer medical products and electronics.

Scott often speaks about design, both nationally and internationally, and his work has given him opportunities in the design community. His work is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum, and the Alessi Museum. Scott serves as chairman of the IDSA International Design Conference, is a columnist for INNOVATION magazinewas named partner country designer and design ambassador representing the United States for the Messe Frankfurt Ambiente, and most recently at Henderson as a presenter and judge on CBS’ national primetime television series, America By Design.

Today, Scott Henderson joins us for friday five!

Scott Henderson

abstract green sculpture

Tony Cragg, Green Early Forms, 2003, edition of 6 Photo: Marian Goodman Gallery

1. Carvings

I love Tony Cragg’s sculptures. As an industrial designer, I find that our profession likes to downplay our role as shapers in favor of what is seen as the most desirable terrain of being problem solvers and innovators whose achievements result from empirical research. . However, much of what industrial design has always been about is giving form to functional objects, which can either make them more efficient or make them more enjoyable to use. Abstract sculpture is devoid of any functional and representational quality – so why does it even need to look good? We know these pieces look “right” or “resolved” because they reside in the world’s most prestigious institutions and millions of people flock to see them every year. For me, this proves that form is anything but superfluous and should never be minimized.

Artwork of man with scythe on horseback surrounded by destruction

The Merchant of Death, Frank Frazetta

2. The power of the graphic image

As a child, long before I heard of industrial design, I was, like most budding designers, passionate about drawing, sketching and art. Of all the artists I admired at this young age – including the work of Disney, Rockwell and Salvador Dali – I idolized the great master of fantasy art, Frank Frazetta. I studied other contemporaries of this genre just as hard, including the work of Boris Vallejo, Jeffrey Catherine Jones and others, but Frazetta’s work stood out because it was so powerfully crafted – which means his graphic compositions were incredibly impactful. It was my first exposure to the concept of what design brings to the table. This design has the power to transcend its immediate manifestation and inspire Lucas and Spielberg – which Frazetta’s art famously did – creating multi-billion dollar franchises. It was design, not technical or artistic skill, that made the difference in these images. To this day, I often approach a design problem with the question “how do I make this thing look amazing?”

illuminated public seats in the shape of tulip bulbs

Tulip public seats by Tulpi

3. Ingenuity + lightness in design

I love this tulip-shaped public seat in the Netherlands from the Dutch company Tulpi. Industrial design is a niche profession, and designers cling to its history and try to build on it to establish an architect-like credibility – meaning they idealize modernism and minimalism and designers like Sapper, Rams and Rietveld. If I had to assign keywords to this approach to contemporary design, I might find it serious, austere, cutting edge and no frills. In my own work, which often involves designing a consumer product for Target or Wal-Mart, my audience may not know or care much about the history of industrial design and architecture. Rather than taking the position that it is my job to educate them, I instead try to design for their true aspirations. People yearn for keywords like lightness, warmth, joy, happiness, love, success, and positivity. They don’t usually aspire to be cold, austere, serious and grey.

child standing in an arch looking at a building in india

Photo: Scott Henderson

4. Travel

One of my last major trips before the pandemic was to India to speak to industrial design students at Auro University in Surat, Gujarat. The best memories of my life are of trips I’ve taken around the world. India was so full of life and vitality that an electric energy could be felt in the air. I particularly enjoyed my stay at the Imperial New Delhi, a hotel with distinct flavors of the British Raj. Experiencing the rich diversity found across the world is essential to being a good designer, because it is only through this that you truly understand that all human beings have the same aspirations and are wired the same way. To understand what people really want is to become a great designer.

mountainside road

Upper Delaware Scenic Drive Photo: Dan Schenker

5. Road trips

As a designer, I let my brain loose on a task, mentally “chasing” it for a few weeks before the really good things start to emerge. As a young designer, I often got frustrated when those results didn’t come fast enough or got stuck. What I didn’t understand was that the information wasn’t in my head yet, and no amount of crumbling paper was going to make it magically appear. In the creative process, it’s important to remember to use diversionary tactics – to walk away and let your mind calm down. When you re-engage after these pauses, the blocks are replaced by the elusive flow state, which is exactly where you want to be. Driving along secluded roads with beautiful views, kitsch restaurants, and forgotten towns is a great diversion tactic for me.

Artwork by Scott Henderson:

Blue whale bath spout cover on white background

Moby spout cover

yellow dustpan and brush on white background

Shovel + Brush OXO

Armchair with wooden slats with upholstered seat on a white background

Slatted chair

Three white and blue thermometers in the shape of a spoon on a white background

Vicks Forehead Thermometer

Silver sculpture in the shape of a squid on a white background

Vulgar Sculpture

Kelly Beall is an editor at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based graphic designer and writer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember and enjoys sharing her discoveries with others. When she’s not distracted by great art and design, she can be found messing around in the kitchen, consuming as much information as she can, or on the couch with her three pets. Find her @designcrush on social media.

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