Martin Kastner is the founder and principal of Crucial Detail, a small multidisciplinary practice based in Chicago. Kastner, born in the Czech Republic, trained as a blacksmith and spent some time restoring historical metalworks at a castle in Western Bohemia before moving onto natural materials design, and sculpture. He founded Crucial Detail in 1998 shortly after his arrival in the US. He is best known for his Alinea serviceware concepts, which landed him on The Future Laboratory's list of 100 most influential individuals in 21st century design. Alinea book, which he designed in collaboration with Naissance Inc., was one of the winners of Communication Arts Best Book Design in 2009 and is included in Altitude's The Best of Cover Design. His work has been featured in numerous publications running the gamut from Gourmet to Fast Company.
How did you get into your field?
Fell into it. Design sits at an intersection between conceptual art, sculpture, reproduction and the making of things in general, all of which are areas of interest to me. I trained as a blacksmith, later pursued studies in design utilizing traditional natural materials, and then some more in art exploring body-space-object relationships. Design surfaced as an area naturally bridging a lot of those aspects. Plus I get easily frustrated with experiences and objects that don't fulfill my expectations - design is a way of addressing those frustrations.
What influences you work?
Everything and everyone I encounter offer something that has an influence on my point of view. I respond to things in negative terms so the biggest influences - the ones that make me do - are frustrations: things, places, and people that rub me the wrong way.
What role does design play in your work?
It's the subject.
What is one of the biggest challenges in your field?
Watching where we're stepping while keeping our eyes on the horizon. The challenge for design is that we now live in quicksand and everything from the marketplace to manufacturing to available tools is in an increasingly more dramatic flux. The necessary attention span as well as predictability of anything is shortening while I move as slow as ever.
How do you personally view design and it’s role in our lives today?
We've crossed the point of being able to define design, and its role, in a clean-cut way as is the case with many other areas of human activity. If we think of it as applied or focused creativity transforming our interactions with the world, and the world itself, then it's critical going forward. If we think of it in terms of designed objects then not so much.
Does location play a role in your work, why?
Of course. Design is contextual, to a degree it's a response to an environment, so location plays a big part in it.
What do you see as the future of retail?
Internet. Customization. Made-to-order.
What do you see the future of local manufacturing to be?
There is the long and short view. In terms of the short view we have pretty much reached the bottom and should slowly start to see a transformation happening thanks to lower entry points into manufacturing, higher productivity, appeal of 'local', and new marketing channels. It'll be exciting when 'local' becomes the practical option. In the long term I imagine the addition of mass customization and ever larger, faster turnaround, made-to-order technologies to help re-localize some production as well.
How do you see design contributing to the economy?
Design is one of its wheels.
What advice would you give to young designers?
I consider myself to be a young designer and the advice to myself that I often don't heed is people telling me what I should do differently. Be persistent. And use checklists.
What is a favorite object you own?
Currently a #2 pencil. I went for years without using one and only recently started getting reacquainted.