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Behind the Products We Know: Tile


February 20, 2017

With tile, a designer can create a mood in a space or a focal point in a room. The variety of colors, textures and shapes tiles available guarantees an endless supply of creativity for kitchen and bath designers and a limitless range of innovation for product designers.

This week, KBB looks at tile designers and how they find their muse, face their challenges and create the products we love.

A Day in the Life of a Product Designer
“As a product designer, it is my job to create innovative, unique and differentiated product lines for Ann Sacks. This may mean that I design a collection and find a vendor to create it for us, but there is a great deal of curating and editing that happens in my job as well. Not every product line needs to be designed from scratch; often I select from product lines already designed, and perhaps we are just tweaking the palette or changing the format. So having the ability to curate the best option from hundreds of choices is a skill that is extremely important.”

– DeeDee Gundberg, director of product development for ANN SACKS

A designer’s job is to constantly create products that are revolutionary and innovative for the market. When designing new products, I explore the archives of surfaces, design, architecture and art history to find timeless patterns rooted in antiquity that could be reinterpreted for today’s aesthetic.”

Nancy Epstein, founder, CEO and top product designer for Artistic Tile

“I oversee the development of new products from inspiration and conception to production. My role is deeply rooted in a foundational understanding of design. It’s my job to pay attention to current and emerging trends and use my expertise to design product styles for the Dal-Tile portfolio of brands that our customers will love.”

– Shelly Halbert, director of product design for Dal-Tile Corp.

From Daltile, Halbert’s favorite is the newest stone-look collection, Marble Attaché. The collection includes a number of different marble looks in both polished and satin finishes.

Challenges of Design and Branding
“Often people automatically think we are too expensive and don’t think they can afford to come to Ann Sacks. Over the past several years, we’ve focused development on product lines that are under $15.00 retail but that are also differentiated and still have an Ann Sacks point of view.

-DeeDee Gundberg, director of product development for ANN SACKS

“Great designs take significant time and energy to plan and perfect. Today, with the prevalence of the Internet and the speed of communication, it only takes about six months before another company copies your original designs and sells a lower-quality imitation for less money. Ten years ago, launching five new products in a year would have been a real accomplishment. Today, you’ve got to innovate on a constant basis and take a forward-thinking approach to remain a leader in the field.”

Nancy Epstein, founder, CEO and top product designer for Artistic Tile

“We are always looking forward to what’s on the horizon, but the average consumer takes a bit longer to adjust to shifting styles. However, we’re able to introduce some newer trends into the commercial market since it tends to be more on the leading edge of the style curve.”

Shelly Halbert, director of product design for Dal-Tile Corp.

Designed by Victor Horta, the Horta Waterjet pattern from Artistic Tile speaks personally to Epstein. The design touches on both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements with its curvilinear design.

Finding Inspiration
“A beautifully designed room is a great way to get inspired. I study the scale of the furniture, the textures on the fabrics, the patterns on the walls, the materials and mediums used and how it all comes together in a perfectly orchestrated space. I also find inspiration in nature, fashion and architecture.”

– DeeDee Gundberg, director of product development for ANN SACKS

“I’m a huge history buff. If I was not a designer and CEO, maybe I would have been an archaeologist! Most of Artistic Tile’s proprietary designs were inspired by the architecture and design details of historic monuments and palaces from all over the world. Even the tiniest markings or remnants of a floor mosaic I can find inside an ancient ruin could influence a new tile pattern.

When I’m touring abroad, I’m frequently looking to the ground, stairwells, windows and corners for very old mosaics and decorative details that could be reimagined for a modern look. Mosaic tiles in particular have a greater chance of surviving destruction from war or from shifts in the Earth, because many tiny pieces can shift more fluidly than larger blocks of tile.”

Nancy Epstein, founder, CEO and top product designer for Artistic Tile 

“It’s a combination of being inspired by our customers’ needs and seeking inspiration from the environments around me. Keeping the customer in mind at all times, we’re able to find inspiration through their eyes.”        

-Shelly Halbert, director of product design for Dal-Tile Corp.

Designed by Gundberg, the Modern by Made Collection is developed with Ann Sacks’ signature stoneware body and incorporates crisp geometry and simple details.

The Influence of Technology and the Internet
“Brands define themselves on quality, and it is extremely important to us as a luxury brand. In particular, it’s fascinating to watch technology drive forward in porcelain flooring. The surface image and texture of porcelain flooring can mimic almost any surface (wood, marble, concrete), and when it’s done right it’s difficult to tell porcelain from the real thing. Sizing has also been affected by technology, with 5-ft. by 10-ft. porcelain slabs now commonplace in the market.”

– DeeDee Gundberg, director of product development for ANN SACKS 

“We grow and innovate through vigorous sampling and resampling of the product until it meets our rigorous quality-control standards. Before any of our products are released to the market, we work tirelessly to make sure they meet all of the Tile Council of North America guidelines. Additionally, before launch we first confirm for our customers where their materials are suitable for use and the proper methods for installing, protecting and maintaining the products. And finally, once we bring the products into inventory, we have a senior executive examine them again – so our quality control is beyond strict.”

Nancy Epstein, founder, CEO and top product designer for Artistic Tile

“When it comes to quality, the most durable, stylish and easily maintained is always the standard. We approach each task with a customer lens, and the first step is always identifying a solution that is stylish yet durable and easy to clean.”

-Shelly Halbert, director of product design for Dal-Tile Corp.

Job Perks
“The creative process is definitely my favorite part of the job, but watching designers interact with newly launched products is really rewarding. I love when I can give creative people something to get excited about, and I love seeing how our products are used in ways that I never imagined.”

– DeeDee Gundberg, director of product development for ANN SACKS

My favorite part of my job is easily traveling.”

Nancy Epstein, founder, CEO and top product designer for Artistic Tile

“I’m very right brained and always coming up with new ideas, so I feel very lucky that my job provides so many outlets to use my creativity.”

-Shelly Halbert, director of product design for Dal-Tile Corp.