This is North American Design 2024

Launching today, Dezeen’s North American Design 2024 series will define the state of independent design in North America, providing a cross-section of a different city each week. US editor Ben Dreith explains more.

Dezeen has zeroed in on cities across Canada, Mexico and the United States, selecting independent furniture and product designers from each who are pushing the boundaries of materials and forms.

Each week over the next months we will feature a different city, presenting a hand-picked selection of designers working in small studios.

We’ve chosen designers who live and work in these cities, who are committed to innovative forms and materials, and who are involved in their local design communities.

Given the limits of visibility in web searches and competitions, we took a two-pronged approach when choosing the members for these lists.

Each designer was asked to recommend a few others, and from these recommendations, we noted repeat mentions and the networks that exist between designers operating as competitors in a market but also as friends, colleagues and collaborators.

The city was a guiding factor

While there are plenty of designers working outside of cities, we took the metropole as the guiding factor in this series, as the city remains a place of gathering and community development and a place of industry. In some cases, we looked outside of the immediate bounds of the city.

Each city has a unique material tradition and economic history that influences the processes at work – and our series is a rare survey of the whole North American continent.

Rather than a ranking, the lists are meant to serve as a cross-section, highlighting the work of independent design studios as they navigate the concerns and materiality of a changing world in their local contexts.

Both emerging and well-established designers will be showcased. While many of the studios included are small in size, some of the practitioners have been operating for decades.

Thirty years after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) united the economies and morphed the industries of the three countries in unique ways, designers are tarrying with the pressure of the market and the movement of materials.

Over the years, designers have mentioned how the international markets and styles coming out of Europe put pressure on them to conform. The designers in this list work under those conditions but also embrace the unique history, economic and material conditions of their locale.

“There is a market for good design,” American designer George Nelson once said after taking the helm at American furniture brand Herman Miller.

But designers know that this is not all there is.

Designers realise that there can and should be a balance of orienting one’s craft towards the massive international furniture market while being mindful of the rich heritage of traditional and modern designs that exist locally, as well as the problems of waste implicit in the furniture industry.

Focus on creative and problem-solving aspects of design

Throughout the research, we found designers who are using local materials, ideas and modes of production to limit their supply chain and in some way push back against the cycle of trends and waste that define so much of the world economy.

Whether embracing ideas from Indigenous or folk traditions or reckoning with de-industrialisation and monopolization, the creative and problem-solving work of design goes on.

That can mean utilising 3D printing technologies in Montreal, salvaging materials from crumbling buildings in Detroit or reaching into the material vocabularies obscured during colonialism and industrialization.

The series is being carried out in partnership with London-based company Universal Design Studio, which recently opened in the US, and its sister studio MAP Project Office.

“Last month, we opened our new studio space in Soho, New York, which we now share as part of The New Standard,” said Universal Design Studio creative director Satoshi Isono.

“Our partnership with Dezeen on its North American Design Series is borne out of a desire to celebrate the unsung talents of other creatives across cities in the US, whom we also look to for inspiration and who are creating impactful change through the lens of design.”

Keep an eye out each week as we highlight design in North America.

North America Design illustrationNorth America Design illustration
Illustration by Alex Mellon

North American Design 2024

This article is part of Dezeen’s North American Design 2024 series selecting independent furniture and product design studios from cities across Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The first edition of this series is created in partnership with Universal Design Studio and Map Project Office, award-winning design studios based in London and now in New York. Their expansion into the US is part of The New Standard, a collective formed with Made Thought.

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