For three young blokes who haven’t been in business long, Daniel Kamp, James McNab and Samuel Griffin have made impressive progress. The trio, who met at Wellington’s Victoria University where they each completed a Bachelor of Design Innovation, started their first company, Y.S Collective, in December 2012. Under its umbrella, they collaborate on furniture – the Profile and Collar stool collections, the Fold chair, several lights and limited-edition pieces – that has been lauded by design aficionados and nominated for Best Awards.
In mid-2014, the three men decided to diversify with Think & Shift, a consultancy from which they design products, spaces and experiences for clients.
“We hadn’t expected to be consultants; we expected to work on our own pieces,” says Kamp of the new venture. “Our training was quite broad and so furniture ended up being where we started but we can work to different scales. And we re-evaluated. We asked, ‘What’s the best thing we’re doing?’ and it turned out to be the consulting we were being asked to do for others.”
The growth of the business – and the flexibility of its principals – has also prompted a change in location. In November 2014, the men, who had lived and worked together in Mount Maunganui for two years, moved to Auckland. Kamp, 23, and his partner are now resident in a converted garage in St. Mary’s Bay, while McNab, 24, and Griffin, 23, have found flats. They chatted to Urbis about their burgeoning careers, living in the big smoke and how they want to see design develop in New Zealand.
Urbis: You started your business in Mount Maunganui rather than Auckland or Wellington. Why?
Samuel Griffin: I’m Tauranga born and bred and spent my teenage years surfing in Mount Maunganui. Basing ourselves there was strategic.
Daniel Kamp: Sam and I had family there, which gave us a bit of security. It was a really awesome place for us to start – close to the action but more affordable.
James McNab: The Mount’s also a place in which you get to meet a lot of the local creatives; there are a lot of people at the top of their game and everyone’s so collaborative.
DK: But more and more, our work was outside Tauranga.
And Auckland is where the creative scene is.
U: How would you describe the aesthetic of Y.S Collective’s furniture?
DK: Y.S Collective is our own, self-initiated products, produced and sold by us. It’s relatively pared-back and simple. It’s not functionless but it’s also not embellished. It would be nice to think refined was a word people used.
U: Tell us about splitting the business into two separate entities last year.
DK: The two brands run in parallel – Y.S Collective is the brand in which we play around with furniture. All the knowledge that comes from Y.S Collective is then fed back into Think & Shift, our design contracting and consulting brand, under which we design products, spaces and experiences for commercial clients.
SG: We realised that people were recognising our design style and we wanted a brand that would reflect what our target market was looking for. We may be a little naïve in areas but that can be a strength; we don’t get stuck in small scale.
JM: A lot of people come to us for a fresh perspective.
U: What have you been commissioned to create since starting Think & Shift?
DK: We’ve worked with clients in the realms of retail, hospitality, childcare and education, furniture and manufacturing. We’ve done a lot of design and innovation consulting for The Comfort Group (owner of Sleepyhead and Sleepmaker), helping the company explore new ideas for products, retail strategies and retail design. We helped design a concept for a city-wide system of way-finding signage for Auckland City pedestrians and cyclists. We recently designed and fitted out a creative studio for a motion-graphics company in Auckland. We’re working with an international student accommodation provider, Campus Living Villages, on the design of a student events space. It is a first for the company and will hopefully set the scene for similar spaces to open up all around the world.
SG: With that, our age, our connection to university students, has been really beneficial.
U: What’s happening with Y. S Collective?
JM: The Future of Craft is our latest piece. It’s about the relationship between old and new manufacturing. We are using a 3-D printer and woodwork to create a piece of furniture that incorporates the two.
DK: It’s a large coffee table. This project is focused on combining New Zealand’s most modern manufacturing process – titanium laser sintering – with traditional woodcraft to try to redefine the way we think of craft. The piece uses a form language that we would like to think is completely new to New Zealand, and hopefully the world.
U: How do the three of you tend to work?
JM: Traditionally, we start at 8.30am and work through to 5pm but, some days, 5pm becomes midnight.
DK: Our business model is built on simplicity and agility. With just the three of us working in the business, we can focus on design, not management. It also means we can turn on a dime, work from anywhere and explore new ideas, without the pressure of running a larger studio.
SG: We tend to do the really enjoyable work things on the weekend. At the moment, I lead our spatial design, James is in charge of product design and Dan is creative director. But we all work on each project.
DK: Specialising, for us, is relatively new. It’s taken working together for this long to identify whose strengths lie where. We’ve worked together in a studio for over two years now and we know it works but we decided not to get a shared studio space when we moved to Auckland. Instead, we are testing a new form of working where the three of us work separately in different spaces, coming together for meetings, brainstorming sessions and collaborative work only. We’re really interested in experimenting with this concept we have of being design nomads.
U: Do you ever argue?
JM: Yes but it’s not always the same person that disagrees. We’ll push each other until we find a middle ground.
SG: We’ve got each other’s trust.
U: Who in the design world inspires you?
JM: Nendo has to be top of the list. They are leading the way.
DK: Jamie McLellan too.
SG: We got to meet Jamie the other day; what a great guy.
U: Would you like to venture overseas with your brands?
JM: There’s so much potential here in New Zealand. Because it’s so small, you get contact with the key players.
SG: We see a huge amount of design opportunity right here in New Zealand – in Auckland, with the rebuild of Christchurch and everywhere in between – so why not create something great here?
DK: Our ambition is to play a large part in making New Zealand a world-respected, design-led nation. We love working with New Zealand-based companies, particularly those manufacturing here, as we want to build a culture of design and innovation right here.
U: So what does the future hold? Is there a master plan?
DK: Right now, we are particularly interested in working with clients that are in industries that directly impact culture. Fashion, food and music are three areas we’d really like to explore further. In five years, we’d like to be collaborating with our design peers, rather than competing with them, and showing the rest of the world what this country’s design scene has to offer.