Mr. Stephen Burks is a industrial design maverick which his eponymous studio reflects. Savvy clients tap his expertise for interior design for retail applications, packaging, lighting, furniture and home accessories. His socially conscious voice expressed in authentic fashion from production to actual materials. The nucleus of his and his team’s work is to ensure that multiple cultural voices are present, properly and authentically represented and all objects are thoughtfully produced with a focus on socially conscious initiatives.
His mission is to engage a variety of voices in the global design conversation that explore the use of space and handmaking of objects that enhance it as well as create an atmosphere. As an industrial designer and architect (product design at IIT in Chicago and architecture at Columbia University), Stephen travels that world to collaborate with local artisans on behalf of a select group of international high-end brand and nonprofits including Aid to Artisans, Artesanias de Colombia, Design Network Africa the Nature Conservancy and more. As such, his role provides him the freedom of location and time from Peru to Africa to Europe and Asia
These global relationships have opened the door in the contemporary industry to include more people outside of the usual, controlling forces. The luxury design industry has been one of exclusivity from client access to brands as well as little to no diversity in design voices of products and sales representation. Stephen and his team of artisans are addressing and answering questions that speak to solutions to this restriction state. For instance, they are addressing how to engage the other 90 percent of the population or the majority world in communicating by design. They are also contemplating how to incorporate today’s industrial manufacturing process with handcrafted techniques without losing the soulful act and essence of handcrafted objects. Industry innovators and high-design houses such as Boffi, Cappellini, Parachilna, and Roche Bobois are taking note and participating in this design-development-manufacturing ecosystem.
Product designs begin with an ideation process that includes addressing any challenges of objects that can enrich lives and speak to how people are using space. The next steps include sketches, then illustrations and finally drawings that include materials and details of the handmaking process. According to Burks, “the result is a body of work that consists of refreshingly crossbred, slightly off-kilter solutions.”
When a product is produced, the market responds with overwhelming applause, orders and more collaborations. Fun, bright colors are hallmarks of his creations. However, his intricate designs, sophisticated textures and the nuances that blend old-world and contemporary technique make the products truly magnificent.
This level of excellence is why the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Museum of Art & Design (MAD) have exhibited his pieces. In 2015, Burks was awarded the National Design Award in product design and in 2018, the Harvard Loeb Fellowship. In 2020, he continues to pursue solutions to diversity in design while creating exquisite contemporary products.
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