You have probably used one of Scot Herbst’s products before. Not just admired it in a gallery but really used it. Reclining on garden furniture, riding a bike, cutting open a box, perhaps you even pulled your kids around on one of his wagons. Unfortunately, we do not always notice an object when it works well. It is recognized only when something doesn’t work right, and that frustration you feel is poor design. Product design is all about solving problems and making our lives better. It is easy to take advice from the calm, tousle-haired Herbst. His demeanor is zen-like, relaxed. And why not? He has managed to successfully create a business and a studio, Herbst Produkt, and center it all around his family life. The spelling reflects the company’s German and Swedish heritage and uncluttered design. “It’s easy to become a big design firm with large space but to me design is an organic extension of my life and I don’t like to make a distinction between my professional world and my personal world.”
Having the studio adjacent to his house means working until midnight is no longer a problem, because he is only a thirty-second commute from home. Simplification and dedication to sustainable living that drives his company. “Problem-solving gets us excited… there’s no shortage to what you can learn. Everyday I shut the door to my office and I am smarter than when I opened it in the morning.” His two children made “the best focus subjects on the planet” to inspire a redesign of a toy wagon for a side company, Kaiku Design, that Herbst and his wife began to focus on everyday objects. The results was the Zen Wagon which won the Product of the Year award in 2009. Herbst admitted to a few “white-knuckle times when you are pulling your kids around on a wagon and you don’t know if the axle is going to fall apart,” but the process made the family closer.
Herbst Produkt is taking risks. Their approach is unconventional. By connecting themselves directly to the retail process. Herbst explained, “our clients are often not paying us for our design services but paying royalties based on how well our products perform. We have to feel very strongly about what we are working on to justify devoting that kind of energy.” He confessed that the whole operation is a bit of a dark art because there is no exact formula that two weeks work will net you a certain amount of dollars. That uncertainty has honed his intuition. But this process has liberated Herbst from high overheads and allowed him the freedom to explore new ideas and approach companies directly. “I went to a large fortune 500 company to give a pitch. I didn’t send our business development guy, it was just me. Hands-on is critical. If it is going to have my signature on it, then I am going to be involved with it.” But the payoff is intensified, “without a doubt, when we see a big shelf filled with our products. That’s topped only by watching someone purchase what you designed.” Urban planning has now caught Herbst’s interest because of his young family.
While he appreciates the combination of arts and entertainment with residential space, he would like to see San Jose rethink the metropolitan area without automobiles and much more green space. He is also intrigued by possibilities created by the intersection of digital devices with the way we design our living spaces. He wonders, “would we ever get to the place where Design Within Reach would carry a really cool looking television? Or would you ever find a piece of modern well-designed furniture at a consumer electronics store?” He grins widely as he outlines possibilities for hybrid sofa full of recharge sockets for the your laptop. His products seem to come from that happy place. He is able to spend time with his family and devote energy to his professional passion. And he wants to continue creating useful and beautiful objects. “For us, I get fired up every day when I get out of bed and I am stoked to come in here and do what I.