A Conversation with Stephen Bowen

May 24th, 2016  |  Published in May 2016

A Conversation with Stephen Bowen

Tim Karoleff


Stephen is one of the contemporary young design talents to know. His avant garde approach is as unique as it is exciting. Eliciting humor and delight in a variety of media, Stephen is adept at giving form to his surrounding impulses.


Stephen practices design professionally at both Kohler (www.kohler.com) and Ampersand (www.ampersandbrand.com) where his work is sold and published internationally. He earned his degree from the University of Cincinnati’s top-ranked school of industrial design, and has studied under celebrated talents Paul Loebach and the late, legendary Michael Graves.



Tim Karoleff:  What is design?


Stephen Bowen:  Too many things. The word is used so frequently nowadays that I often refrain from using it. Within my life though, design is always morphing its meaning depending on what I am doing and what is happening. I am always in the moment and so is design.


TK:  How might design help people?


SB:  Design has always helped people. We just didn’t have the fancy words for it. All that mumbo jumbo about design thinking and stuff – the cave people were doing it. Solving problems through an iterative process. It is not new or special. It is how we got here and how we will move forward. Also a lot of gravity is put on the word “help” it seems. Help is my bookshelf and my mug. Help is my blanket and my toilet.


TK:  How might people – the general public – contribute to better design?


SB:  Appreciating the things in their lives more – understanding that a lot of stuff happened to get that thing to them. A lot of people were involved. A lot of history was involved. A lot of earth was involved.


TK:  How would you describe your work/practice/ideologies?


SB:  Utterly bizarre and frustrating to most people. Consciously aloof. Obsessive. Urgent. Inaccessible. Kind of extreme. Very absurd.


TK:  What are your main drivers or tenets?


SB:  Catching people’s attention. Usually through humor. If it (the work) looks good, that’s always a plus.


TK:  What is the name of your -ism?


SB:  Serious Absurdism


TK:  What interests you about the world?


SB:  People shock me on a daily basis.


TK:  What are you trying to get people to understand with your work? Are you trying to affect them in a particular way?


SB:  I don’t necessarily need anyone to understand what I am understanding. Sometimes I don’t even understand. I am most content with automatic reactions. Laughs, gasps, blood pressure spikes, farts.


TK:  Why is it important to not understand what you’re doing sometimes?


SB:  It’s important to act on impulse as opposed to thinking so much about whether something is good or bad or ugly or beautiful. Don’t ask so many questions immediately. Do now and think later. Be impulsive. The problem I see with a lot of creative people is they overthink things.


TK:  What are your current interests?


SB:  I am always interested in having good fun with good people.


TK:  What aspect of culture is affecting your current work?


SB:  Music is always influencing me. It puts me in certain moods that dictate output. To that degree, I guess weather does the same thing.


TK:  What aspects of nature are currently intriguing you? Or none at all?


SB:  I am always intrigued by the fact that we have really messed things up, yet nature can react and even heal to some degree. I always feel bad about our presence on this planet. Nature would be better off without us. We are so ridiculous. I am always, continuously in awe of nature.


TK:  Any particular buildings you’ve been noticing a lot recently?


SB:  Rural Wisconsin silos.


TK:  What’s your current fashion?


SB:  Tucked in shirts with no belts. A mustache.


TK:  What artist(s) have you been into lately?


SB:  Always The Knife. Always William Morris.


TK:  Current book(s)?


SB:  Reading Perdido Street Station currently.


TK:  What have you been sketching lately?


SB:  Chains of dude profiles connected by tongues in each other’s ears.


TK:  What recent life event has had the most profound impact on you?


SB:  Everyday is impactful to me. The work I produce. The thoughts I have.


TK:  Why do you design?


SB:  It’s fun.




“A Conversation With” is an exploration of contemporary culture with an aim to discover the stylistic tendencies of our time.

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