Design Encounter/ A Talk with Pharrell

Pharrell speaking with Craig Robins

Pharrell Williams has mastered many spheres of visual and sonic media; he’s created an empire based on his work in hip hop and R&B, collaborated with visual artists on installations, and is the co-founder of fashion brands Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream Clothing. Today’s talk with Pharrell and Craig Robins – a developer, collector and leading figure in Miami’s art and design scene – had the largest attendance of any Design Talk to date. Pharrell exposed himself as a humble, curious individual who was quick to give credit to collaborators and express his enthusiasm for all types of creative enterprise.

Pharrell spoke in earnest about the creative process and the threads that run through all the different types of work that he does. He made comparisons between design and music, saying that “making a chair is not really different from making a song.” Where furniture makers have legs, a seat, and screws – musicians have a verse and chorus and chord structure. Pharrell’s synesthetic brain makes connections that are naturally cross-disciplinary, and he effortlessly went between subjects as varied as color, economics, and design history.

Pharrell: Places and Spaces I've Been

They spoke at length about his new book, titled “Pharrell: Places and Spaces I’ve Been,” a collection of interviews and collaborations with designers, artists, and those of hip hop royalty. “If I was gonna do a book, I didn’t wanna do it about me – I wanted to do it about who and what inspires me.”

Pharrell came off as extremely grateful for those he’s worked with – on the book and on other projects – and emphasized the importance of learning from others. “Outside of music, what I really like to do is collaborate with people that have different skills, people who I can learn from.”

Pharrell speaking about his favorite works at Design Miami/ 2012

Robins asked Pharrell about his favorite works at Design Miami/2012, and Pharrell spoke coolly and at length about a number of designers that he admired. He called out Giò Ponti‘s classic red-topped desk from 1956 and said that Ponti was “trying to make the office life fun. When you choose a color for something, it opens a person up and you can see it from their perspective.”

They spoke on a range of subjects: from Pharrell’s artistic collaboration with Takashi Murakami, to the process of making music, to his love for Miami. His talent for all-things-creative is grounded in a deep respect for learning from one’s mentors, taking on new vernaculars and then being able to communicate what one has absorbed – something he recognized even further in the process of writing his new book.

Pharrell speaking with Kanye West

Kanye West – who worked with Pharrell on the book – made a surprise appearance at the very end of the talk to ask Pharrell a question. The ecstatic audience stood to listen as Kanye asked Pharrell about having made an impact on art and design – an impact that is absolutely undeniable and manifest in every single creative effort that Pharrell takes on.

Hearing Pharrell speak though, one wouldn’t get the sense that he’s aware or cares much for all the praise and accolades. He instead seems intensely focused on the work at hand – and getting it out to as many people as possible. As he said, “Too much attention on artists can cause them to veer off from their path.”

After all, “Art is about dissemintating great taste to everybody.”

One of the largest crowds to ever attend a Design Talk. Photos by World Red Eye

- Rob Goyanes

Categories / Craig Robins, Design Talks, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams