written by:
January 6, 2010
Originally published in Make It New!

For years there’s been a divide between manufactured first-world luxury items and handmade third-world crafts, but industrial designer Stephen Burks believes that the future of design lies within that diminishing void.

stephen burks portrait studio

Since founding his New York studio, Readymade Projects, in 1997, he has developed ongoing projects with Aid to Artisans and the Nature Conservancy, imbuing commercial commissions for clients like Moroso and Cappellini with the cultural identities of the developing world.

Ideal working environment:
Relaxed, diverse, and energetic. A lot like Readymade Projects, but with a few more hands doing more work for more money.
When not designing:
Playing, and dreaming of designing.
Probably clichéd these days, but he should really be everyone’s hero: Here’s to President Barack Obama!
Highest compliment:
An interviewer in Cologne actually picked up a magazine with Obama on the cover and mistook him for me. His only recourse was to blurt out, “You’re like the Barack Obama of design!” I didn’t mind.
Lucky break:
Still waiting for the big one, but the year that Missoni retained my studio to design their exhibition, limited-edition vases, and fragrance was a good one.
Dream commission:
I’ve been preparing a documentary of my work in the developing world since 2005. If it becomes a reality, it would be both my lucky break and dream commission, supersized!
Eureka moment:
Every morning after a good dream and every afternoon after a good idea. If I have one a day, I’m a happy camper.
Irritating buzzword:
“Green” is so overexposed these days—everything is organic, sustainable, and eco-conscious—that it has lost nearly all its meaning. People are actually thinking of it as just a color again.
A book:
I used to get hours of entertainment from the most mundane catalogs, like McMaster-Carr, but when they went online they lost all of their random beauty. I’d read the Bible if it had great illustrations like that.
Worst-ever idea:
Facebook is both the best idea and the worst. Who wants to keep tabs on their friends via their computer?! Turns out we all do.
A film:
Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. The use of color and light was a real awakening for me; twilight never looked so good.
An album:
Fela Kuti’s 1975 album Expensive Shit. Nigerian authorities tried to plant dope on the musician, which he ate (and passed), then created the eponymous record.
Best seat in the house:
The front row.
I wish I had:
A million dollars.
Looking forward to:
Every day with my son, Anwar.
Best Advice:
Life is long. Live each day as if it’s your last. Live long and prosper…or something like that.

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