Exclusive Interview: Dean Heckler
Trends & Events
Excuse us if we sound a bit like rabid fans in this post, but we are so, so into the creations of Heckler Design. Helmed by the brilliant Dean Heckler, these are the sorts of products that we’ve needed for a long, long time. More than just good-looking, his products are filling in the blanks and meeting the needs of consumers today–and we’re loving every shiny, boldly-colored bit of it.
It all started with OneLessDesk. See, back when we had lots of paper to spread out or giant 1980s monitors…we needed huge, bulky, giant desks and tabletops. But with sleek laptops, monitors and keyboards that hardly look like they can work they’re so small, the need for desks that take up your whole home office (and whole life) just doesn’t exist.
Following on the success of OneLessDesk, Dean listened to customer feedback and created products for other needs in the home office, like OneLessStand (for printers) and OneLessFile (“the last file drawer you will ever own”), all to create a streamlined office that fits today’s needs. What else is super cool about him? He “gets” how things work today–for his idea of OneLessDrop, an innovative way to keep your power cords from slipping off your desks and tables–he enlisted the help of backers on the popular website Kickstarter to help figure out how to get this product off the ground (and showcase the behind-the-scenes production of his pieces).
We interviewed Dean about his background (surprising!), how he chose his innovative materials for his products and what’s in store for us lucky consumers (you’re going to want to hear about his upcoming ideas!):
Our podcast music is “Dropping out of School” by Brad Sucks, licensed for use
under Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
Want a transcript? Of course we’ve got one! And you want to download the podcast for yourself? Oh you bet: 2Modern Dean Heckler Interview
2M: We’re talking with Dean Heckler today; he’s the designer behind the smart and modern OneLessDesk as well as a ton of other really cool stuff. Thanks for being here!
DH: Thanks for having me
2M: I find it pretty fascinating that someone who created one of the coolest desk designs in the past decade did not start out in furniture design. You were a software designer, correct?
DH: Correct. Graduated college in ’96 and being a technology buff I had no other choice but to go into software. And [where] the desk came from is just sitting at a computer desk for 10 years and designing a lot of previous desks for myself. And just learning from the features that I used and the features that ended up collecting a pile of papers. So I had a very clear idea of what I needed and didn’t need by the time I designed that desk. I had designed some other furniture for myself…I just grew up in an engineering office. I thought I was going to be an architect, so even in college when I veered off and did business instead of architecture; I still took every single elective they would allow me to take in the architecture school and the design school.
2M: So what about some of these things you were building before this whole business came along? What were the things you were designing for yourself?
DH: All my living room furniture. It was just one of those things where I couldn’t find what I liked, had a clear idea of what I wanted, found a local company that built upholstered furniture. When I had the software business, all the furniture in the office I designed and built myself. The desk I had at home before I designed OneLessDesk was another one of my designs.
2M: So at what point did you decide to do this full time?
DH: Once the first the couple of desks were made for myself, so many people just kept saying they wanted one and where could they get one. So I put it up on the web, and before we ever went in production, I had a lot of orders for it.
2M: So let’s talk about the OneLessDesk, because I remember when this hit. It was just so revolutionary because it’s been like the first desk that actually addressed the needs of people who are using desks today.
DH: A previous desk that I had made for myself was a table. A standard table height desk with pipe legs I had built it myself, and it was going to be used as a computer desk. So after building the table myself, I had to go out and buy a $200 after-market, ergonomic keyboard tray to bolt to the bottom of it. Then I had to buy another $200 monitor arm to bolt to the other side of the desk—after 6 years, the tabletop is piled six inches high with garbage. You know—disorganized papers and random things—so I never really used the tabletop surface. When I shut down the software company and I was working from home, I had this huge desk at home; I just wanted the room back. It took up an entire room. So I thought okay, if I’m going to start a new desk, I really just need something to hold the keyboard area off the ground and I need something to keep the monitor off the ground and I really don’t need much else.
2M: Material choices. Did you start out in wood, because I think that’s what a lot of people start out with, or did you always…because these are made out of powder-coated steel, right?
DH: Right. Every single material choice was considered. Bent plywood was a material choice considered…but when the goal was for myself, let me find a vendor in town who can do that. And dozens of phone calls later and inquiries later, trying to find a good bent plywood fabricator, didn’t pay off. Plus, the further I designed it, tolerances became an issue, like the clearance…the more I designed it the more tolerance became an issue, like if the wood was a half an inch thick, some of the design elements just wouldn’t work, like the way the lower deck sits over your lap ergonomically, and the clearance between the lower deck and the shelf beneath the upper deck. If any of these grew from you know an 1/8th of an inch thick…an 1/8th of an inch steel, to an inch of wood, it just wouldn’t work. The original desk was stainless steel so that it could have a nice brushed finish, then the cost of stainless steel doubled—so I quickly went to plan B. So I had them made out of cold-rolled steel and powder-coated, and people love that, because now I can offer it in different colors, different finishes, every year switch them out for new colors.
2M: So what is a typical day for you like? Do you get to do as much design work as you like?
DH: For the last few months it’s been a good mix. One of the reasons I stopped doing software design—because I love software design—was I would look back on a year of my life and realize I got to design software for about 2 weeks out of the year. So I’m much more conscious of it with this business, to make sure I’m delegating. I just took on an employee, and she does all the customer communication; she’s front line on that. And that’s because I was noticing so much of my day was that. A typical day…is usually a couple hours of design in, and then visiting venders, making a lot of phone calls, making sure things are on track, and there’s also a lot of customer communication, which I really enjoy.
2M: You’ve been using Kickstarter to raise funds for and get people involved and excited, what made you decide to go that route with OneLessDrop?
DH: Well OneLessDrop was something I designed 14 or 16 months ago, and figuring out how it would be made; you just realize there’s going to be a nice little start-up investment on that product. And right about that time I had to refocus on the office—I did a slight redesign and refinement of all the office products—I developed that product through prototyping, got it all framed up and ready for production, and just got focused on other things. And then the iPad came out and I had an iStand concept in my mind so introduced that product last year. And then you see Kickstarter and it’s just perfect, not only as a way to get funds for a project that was shelved and wouldn’t otherwise be made, but it’s a nice marketing campaign, if you put it out there and it’s not a success, you know that’s good feedback. When you pledge for the product on Kickstarter, not only do they get the product, but they also get to see the process. I know the process is something I’m very interested in. I often think it’s a shame that only I get to see that, get to go over to the vender and see these things getting made, and I’ll film it, you know I’ve made “making of” videos in the past for the office suite, because I like watching that stuff so much.
2M: What else is up next for 2011?
DH: Um, well, I try to stay focused. The TV Stand will be most complex project, product that Heckler Design has done. I’m a stickler for the details, but the whole thing about designing not just the object but the packaging and the disassembly and the assembly to make sure that who ever owns these things, that it will be flawless. That’s what people expect from my company. That we obsessively focus on these details.
2M: Well hey! Thanks for talking with us today it’s been fun.
DH: Thanks for having me.
2M: Be sure to visit hecklerdesign.com for more information. You’ve been listening to a 2modern designer interview. For more fun podcasts, inspiring design posts and design advice, check out the blog at 2modern.com