Behind the Design:
Giraffa by Pablo Designs
Available in two exclusive-to-Lumens finishes, the Giraffa Table Lamp was born from a playful
experimentation with geometry, and developed a personality all its own.
Written by Megan Morgan
Pablo Designs has rapidly risen to incredible heights in modern design, known for an attention to detail and simple-yet-sophisticated designs that harmonize form and function. The studio’s latest design is the Giraffa Table Lamp, a petite and playful fixture that began with experimentation with cardboard tubes. San Francisco designer John August tells us more about how Giraffa was born.
Tell us about the Giraffa.
Giraffa was born from the playful experimentation with intersecting cardboard tubes. Along the way, the original goal of just mounting a light source in an efficient and creative fashion evolved toward something more personal and emotional.
Even though the initial exploration was about the geometric relationships between these tubes, and the interesting ways the tubes "mitered" together and positioned the light source, a distinct personality began to develop. The subtle changes in angle created corresponding changes in attitude and persona. After considerable experimentation with angle and proportion, Giraffa finally emerged.
From the very beginning of the design process the size of the lamp was also an important factor. The scale of the lamp certainly helped Giraffa to embody this sense of persona, but more importantly the practical aspects of creating a light source with a small footprint allowed for its very functional use in small spaces and personal environments.
You’re an accomplished craftsman and machinist. How do you approach a design’s aesthetics with its engineering? Does one always come first?
I was blessed with having an engineer for a grandfather and an artist for a grandmother. Out of the family members that followed, there have been many accomplished artists and engineers. Those two currents run deep in me and have always informed my sense of design. As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the unfolding harmonies of geometric forms as they are applied to sculpture and design.
As the idea of a circle takes on mass in the form of a sphere, a cylinder, or a tube, a physical form is realized. My designs revel in that translation from ideation to materialization and would be impossible without the grounding and practicality of good engineering. For me aesthetics and engineering always go hand-in-hand. I could be fascinated at first by either an interesting form or by a clever mechanism, but ultimately they depend on each other.
“My designs...would be impossible without the grounding and practicality of good engineering.”
As the designing process proceeds, the aesthetics asks the engineering, “Can this be done?”, and the engineering asks aesthetics, “Would you mind if we changed this line or curve so that it will function properly?” Hand-in-hand, back and forth it goes. A new design moves around from sketch to cardboard model to 3D computer model to machined prototype. Not especially in that order, and often repeating the steps several times as ideas either prove out or not. The process is challenging and fun. And hopefully at the end there is either a lamp or piece of furniture or some other useful object that previously did not exist, but now does. And if everything is really working well, it simultaneously seems to be brand new and timeless!
Are there any design "mistakes" that make you cringe?
Yes, probably several times a day I have “cringe” moments. I would be hard-pressed to make a list of “mistakes,” but if we were out and about together I could easily point to some and explain why. It is all about context. There are some design elements that can work so beautifully together, but in a different context or with a slightly different mix of elements the object loses that beauty.
When it’s working though, it will have a certain something that stops you in your tracks and all you can say is “yes!”
You live in San Francisco, also where Pablo Designs is based. What are some must-see/must-do things there for a design aficionado?
Well, we are lucky enough to have the freshly reopened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in which one could get lost for several days. Also, there is lots of interesting architecture, both modern and old, to study and of course the iconic Art Deco masterpiece: the Golden Gate Bridge. And when I need to recharge that which drives my creativity, I like to hike on beautiful Mt. Tamalpais which is just north of San Francisco. There are trails on Mt. Tam from which you can see the magnificent San Francisco skyline and at the same time peer out over the vast Pacific Ocean. Such transcendent beauty!
Is there anything you haven't designed that you'd like to?
Objects of every sort...who knows what opportunities might show up?