The Design Office: RI’s Creative Collaborative

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


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In 2007 John Caserta (pictured below) founded the Design Office as a communal space, a professional resource, and source of inspiration for designers in Providence.  “It’s a place where individuals work together,” Caserta says slowly, emphasizing individuals and together.

Currently, the Design Office has four full-time members, who each have a large desk in the sun-soaked office that they share on the fourth floor of a downtown Providence building. The generous windows overlook an array of landmarks: the old Providence Journal building, the glowing red Biltmore sign.

A collaborative, break-even model

The Design Office operates under a break-even model: the designers pay relatively small dues for the space, utilities, printers, and equipment.  Some of their collaborative projects—like the neatly-type-faced

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COFFEE/TEA mugs—also generate revenue.    

The four full-time members of the Office work independently on design projects for their clients, but they also collaborate on artistic installations, products, and each other’s work.  “There is so much creativity and ideas in here,” Caserta says, that even without clients, “we could feed off each other for months.” 

Caserta, who also teaches at RISD in addition to creating his projects, says that the Design Office is run as part collective and part organization. Caserta says there are “group homes for designers” in other cities, but this is the only one in Providence.   

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Even in a new economy, the desire for an old-fashioned office

These designers came together because they wanted a physical office. Sarah Rainwater, one of the Design Office team, said that when she worked at home, she found herself doing dishes or laundry rather than working.  The office keeps her focused.  “Here, I’m more creative,” she says. “You feel like you have to work, but it’s fun.  And it’s nice to have companionship of working with other people around.” 

In addition to the good people and better work ethic, there are a lot of practical bonuses to teaming up with a group of other people in a similar field.  “This is a good-size town to run your own business,” says Caserta, “but it’s difficult to take an investment of an office space, or a nice printer. A lot of times designers work at home, and then they need to meet clients in coffee shops.”  The Design Office gives this group the independence to work alone combined with a professional space. 

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Design on the Web, on Westminster

At they same time they needed a physical office, they a lot of their most innovative work has been Web-based.  Rainwater writes for the popular interior design Web site, Apartment Therapy, and Caserta’s latest project, Flatfile, is an innovative site that allows artists, museums, or universities with large catalogs of fine art to display them easily on the Web.

In addition to products or projects for clients, the group sometimes works together just to create something beautiful.  Last fall, the Design Office created an installation of a 25-foot long poem falling from their fourth-floor window on Westminster Street (left).  First, Caserta said they called for text submissions on their attractive and enimgmatic Web site.  They received a small poem that could be repeated infinitely—“Leaves Falls After Leaves Fall”—from a Brazilian poet in San Paolo.  The group collected leaves and choose colors that moved from bright grey to ghostly white.  Next, the Design Office team set up their large, four-foot long print by the window, and began to print. Then they connected to the writer in Brazil on i-Phone FaceTime. This project might summarize their aesthetic most clearly: site-specific, Internet-oriented, simple, and beautiful.

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