The Banner Post
October 31, 2007
What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘industrial design’? A line of cars being assembled in a factory? Someone drawing pictures in the sand with a metal stick? Have a chat with Tyler Vreeling and those words open doors to a fascinating career of creating products and services that optimize function, social and cultural values, environmental concerns, human factors and even the unique attributes of the user. (Perhaps you’re looking at your couch a little differently now?)
Vreeling is the Principal Designer and owner of Fat Crow Design Inc., a firm in which a whole smack of items from graphics to architecture can be designed, from the practical – collapsible bread trays that could be compacted when they’re not in use, for example – to gorgeous and at the same time comfortable furniture. There’s an incredible amount of creativity required in such a career and it seems Vreeling was surrounded by it when he grew up on a farm in Hawk Hills.
“Farmers are the best designers,” Vreeling said. “If something breaks down, they’ve got to use whatever they have sitting around to make it happen. I have a lot of respect and thanks for being raised on a farm. I feel it’s an advantage to have in the design industry.
“Dad (Doug) ran a successful grain farm for many, many years,” Vreeling said. “Mom (Karen) ran a successful floral business for many years. My brother Travis continues to run a thriving Hydro-Dig franchise. These individuals… have supported me in countless ways through the years. Without them the dreams that I am now realizing would have remained as nothing more than dreams.”
Fat Crow Design Inc. is just getting started; Vreeling completed the four-year Industrial Design Program at the University of Alberta just five months ago. But long before that, he saw a space that needed filling.
“There’s a lack of actual design firms in Edmonton and manufacturing doesn’t happen there very much,” Vreeling said. “I decided to set up my own design firm.” A couple of years ago while he was still in university, Vreeling registered the company, and listed it in the Yellow Pages.
With his university training complete, Vreeling is working on establishing a list of clients for Fat Crow Design Inc. Fat Crow team members include Joel Harding, Mark Oswald, Joanna Goszczynski, and Vreeling’s sister, Kendel. One of the moves is to promote the company so people ‘out there’ can understand what Fat Crow Design does and how it can be integrated into companies’ business plans.
The innovative Vreeling got on with the job. He acted as his own client and created a line of furniture with a strong directive. And so the ‘White Moose’ brand of furniture was born. “It’s modern Canadian furniture”, Vreeling said. The materials are strong and solid: stainless steel, aluminum, glass, leather and three types of wood – cherry, maple and walnut. The esthetic references the modern movement that’s been going around in the last century. It also references a little bit of Canadiana.
One of the White Moose objects is a room divider. In conferring with a Fat Crow team member about the design, Vreeling asked for a stand of spruce. “The key words I gave him were ‘digital Group of Seven’,” he said. “Another product is coasters with a wood core, vinyl on top (with images of) moose, beaver, duck, goose and a polar bear. It’s our interpretation of Canada.”
So far, prototypes have been made and in November production of a few pieces of furniture will start.
The name itself is catchy. “There’re three things”, explained Vreeling. “Number one: it’s a homage to the north. Number two: when crows are fat things are good. Mother Nature is taking care of things. Number three: A fat crow is different from a skinny crow. It knows how to find food. It’s smarter than a skinny crow; it’s not just attracted to things that are shiny. Actually, there’s a fourth point – I like to push limits. I thought this was a good way to attract attention. I’m trying to make people question the word ‘fat’. Why is there a stigma? It’s time to get over it.”
“It’s more about systems and how people interact,” he said. “One of the biggest examples .. is Windows versus MacIntosh systems; MacIntosh has spent millions to design their products – IPODs for example. Ergonomics, esthetics – everything – it’s all inclusive.”
Vreeling talked about another facet of industrial design: ‘Design for Disability’, or ‘Universal Design’. “They go hand in hand. It’s helping people interact with objects at the same level that able-bodied people can, from people with arthritis to those who have lost their limbs,” he explained.
Recently, a group of U of A students: three designers (including Vreeling) and two occupational therapists, received an award for a sink, designed for use by the aging population – but it can b e used by all ages, by the way.
“We submitted our design to Canadian Interiors magazine, and won an annual competition”, Vreeling said. “We were one of three winners in the Student Design Category, called the Best of Canada Design Competition”. The team was notified in May of this year, and Vreeling flew out to Toronto to accept the award on behalf of the group, Sept. 26. Being the clever entrepreneur he is, Vreeling used that time to check out manufacturers in Toronto and Montreal.
Vreeling was also part of a group from the University of Alberta that traveled to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City in May. “We were the first Canadian school to be selected to participate,” Vreeling said. “We were one of six chosen.”
He said it’s the number one show in North America for contemporary furniture design, in the top five in the world, in fact. At the show, Vreeling soaked it all in. “I kept quiet and observed,” he said. “There’s a huge Italian contingent; that’s where design of manufactured goods started. It’s the best quality by far.”
New York itself “was amazing, incredible. I’m a farm kid; it was crazy. I can see why they call it ‘Zoo York’,” he smiled.
Vreeling also went to the World Market Centre in Las Vegas in July, a semi-annual industry show geared for the furniture industry. In a just under-the-wire scenario, Vreeling left Edmonton at 11 a.m. July 25 – the show was held July 31, with just enough time to pick up recently-made company catalogues. “It went well,” he said. “Everything came together. The response was good. I made some very good contacts. I have some people interested in buying our products.”
That’s good news.
Article written by J. McQuarrie-Salter
The Banner Post
Wednesday, October 31, 2007