Shop Talk with Jonas Damon Vol. 11



For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, designer Jonas Damon goes in depth about developing Highline, RBW’s latest collection.

Damon, founder of the New York-based consultancy Office for Design, worked side-by-side with RBW to develop Highline as a unique hybrid fixture, combining the practical, flexible functions of track lighting with the visual appeal of a decorative pendant. Highline’s slim, suspended beam pairs with three distinct fixture options, in addition to a linear uplight that casts a diffuse glow. Below, Damon reflects on the new collection’s distinct capabilities, the perks of collaboration, and the importance of play in his own unique practice.

A Distinct Approach

In your consulting agency, Office for Design, you’ve worked with companies ranging from small startups to major brands, including Google, Assembly OSM, and Malin+Goetz. How does your job vary from client to client?

I like working with a range of clients because they provide very different kinds of work. At startups, I work on everything from strategy and delivery to the actual design work itself, and at that scale, design can have a real impact on the business. But my work at larger companies is much more tailored. Because they have more resources and more people, tasks are more specialized.

Highline 4' (2 head) with Cone Light Pendant w. Felt Shade, Uplight, and Cone Light Pendant

What led you to start your own company?

This is actually the second incarnation of Office for Design, which I relaunched in 2018. The first iteration started in 2001, after I had spent a few years in London working for Tom Dixon and Habitat. When I came to New York, I couldn’t find work in-house, so I struck out on my own for 12 or 13 years. Sometime during that period I decided to go back to a bigger company as well and joined Frog Design, a very established, global consultancy. After about a decade there, I moved to Starbucks Concept Studio, and started its first internal industrial design team.

I liked this cycle of smaller company, larger company, smaller company, larger company, because there were so many experiences to be had. What excited me about Starbucks was the scale of its impact: about 60 million customers a week, the only barrier to entry is the price of a cup of coffee. My role was about looking at consumer trends and emerging technologies and building café experiences around that. But after working at one of the world's largest design agencies, then one of the largest corporations, I wanted to go small again, and so doing my own thing made sense.

Jonas Damon reviewing globe forms with RBW

Highline 8' (5 heads) with Spotlight, Cone Pendant w. Felt Shade, and Cone Pendant

As a designer, do you have guiding principles that define your practice? What would you say distinguishes your approach from that of other designers?

This is always a hard question. I do try to stay away from repeating myself or falling into tropes. I don’t want to do just one thing, or repeat something that’s already out there. I love experimenting and prototyping—having an idea, building it, testing it, pushing it until it doesn’t work anymore, then trying a different way—it’s a key part of my design process. And while I was at Frog, I pivoted my approach to design: design is not about form or beauty in and of itself, it’s about creating an outcome or output that serves to make the human experience better and businesses successful. t Hopefully, when you address those things well, you end up with something that is beautiful.

Highline 4' (2 heads) with Cone Pendant, and Highline 8' (4 heads) with Spotlight

Highline 4' (2 heads) with Cone Pendant, and Highline 8' (4 heads) with Spotlight

A Bright Idea

You initially brought the concept to RBW, and then together, you both brought the concept to completion. What initially inspired the collaboration? And over the course of the design process, were there specific strengths you each brought to the table?

I had an idea that was sort of based on the warm, informal qualities of a string light, and RBW was the first company I thought of to bring it to fruition. I’ve actually known Theo, Alex and Charles since before they formed RBW. I love working with friends, but the reason I love their company is that it really embraced LEDs early on. As lighting manufacturers, their domain expertise is on the market and the technical know-how. My compliment is understanding how to design spaces, what the gaps in the market are, and the environments other designers are trying to create. So on one hand, when RBW gets deep into mechanical solutions, the engineering sometimes gets away of the core idea. My role is redirecting their work back to that core idea. It’s very much like a ping pong game.

Do you recall specific conversations you had during the process? And as far as marrying concept to reality, what kinds of compromises did you each have to make along the way?

Nothing changed more than the hook attachments, which is how the pendants attach to the beam. The hook is in the shape of an L, but at one point, it was really just a vertical stem that plugged into the track. Without that L, it looked much more like a conventional track light, which we were trying to get away from. The L really creates a sense of play. We chose not to curve that hook like a J because we didn’t want it to look like a caricature. Balance is really about expressing the essence of an idea.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by a sense of play?

Most people don't ever really think about design, but when you play with something, you engage with it, you interact with it, you manipulate it. There’s a notion of design in that.To me, designing something so that it’s interactive properties are made visible is exposing the ability to play with our environment. To bring that back to Highline, you can look at those L-shaped attachments and intuitively understand what they do. You realize, “Oh, these hook onto the beam like an umbrella over a railing. I can easily take this fixture, move it around, and snap it back on.”

We describe Highline as a linear pendant system, a term most people haven’t heard before. What would you say are its most distinct features?

Highline is a hybrid fixture of two different typologies. There’s the track system, which gives you the freedom to adjust the focal points of the lighting, and then there’s the pendants, which we tend to choose for their decorative qualities, and which generally create ambient lighting. We combined these two to give us a highly functional, technical, adjustable system with a lot of character. There are three options for visible track heads—a spotlight, a conical globe, and a felt shade—which create points of interest, plus a linear uplight recessed into the track, which fills the room with light. It’s a fantastic combination of indirect and direct lighting in one fixture, which I’m pretty excited about.

Jonas Damon

Partner at Office for Design

Jonas Damon, RBW collaborator and founder of the New York City-based Office for Design, has worked with the best of the best, including Google, Malin + Goetz, and Areaware. His sense of optimism and emphasis on human engagement distinguishes his approach to design, spanning physical, digital and service platforms.

Virtual Rendering

More Stories

Shop Talk


Shop Talk with Dutch East Design Vol. 10

For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, RBW and Dieter Cartwright, Founding Partner of the Brooklyn-based firm Dutch East Design, discuss the transformation of a Marcel Breuer-designed office building into an inviting, contemporary hotel.



2023 B Corp Month

Every March, the global community of Certified B Corporations comes together to celebrate our commitment to using business as a force for good. B Corp Month is a time to recognize the growing movement of businesses that prioritize social and environmental impact alongside profit, and celebrate the positive impact we are making in our communities and around the world.

Shop Talk


Shop Talk with Sylvain Willenz Vol. 7

Shop Talk is the interview series where RBW’s friends and collaborators discuss the ideas, discoveries, and inspirations that drive their design processes. For this edition, RBW co-founder Theo Richardson and award-winning, Brussels-based designer Sylvain Willenz discuss the creation of Print, their newly launched, collaborative collection.