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Features

The Reinventors

Bruce Sienkowski of 2B Studio, Inc.

Bruce Sienkowski of 2B Studio, Inc.

Bruce Sienkowski of 2B Studio, Inc.

Designers and engineers of 2B Studio powow on a new  product.

Will Oltman of 2B Studio, Inc.

The designers, innovators, and self-described citizens of the world at 2B Studio are quietly creating versatile products that are impacting the way Grand Rapids does business. Aesthetics meets sustainability in the firm’s holistic approach, giving clients an edge in the marketplace. The primary focus of 2B Studio is to create product design development for small companies and start-ups, and proving along the way that great design can do more than simply catch the eye, it can bolster business and improve the functionality of an object.
 
"One of the things that prevent innovation is being risk averse," says Bruce Sienkowski, principal designer at 2B Studio. The Chicago native and graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design has been at the helm of the modestly staffed 2B Studio for about 20 years. Formally trained in furniture design, Sienkowski has a passion for industrial design, which he describes as including anything that is made by industry (not industrial products). Sienkowski and his team of four, plus one to two interns, are often brought in to create furniture and more often than not, specialized seating. The work goes far beyond what the end result will look like. “[When] people are willing to take a risk, say I am starting from scratch, I’m going to stick my neck out there and create something completely unique,” he says.
 
Often, clients approach the company with a concept created by an interior designer. But, the brains behind 2B prefer working from the ground up, incorporating a deep knowledge of raw materials like plastics, types of metal, and even foliage along with the inner workings of basic construction details. “They have a dream of a goal to create a product that will make their company grow,” says Sienkowski.

A large part of the work they do is background exploration before even putting pen to paper. “It’s a concept sell. If it doesn’t look like it’s comfortable, whether it is or isn’t, it’s not going to sell…We prefer to do conceptual design work and carry the project all the way from the beginning to the end.”
 
Sienkowski named dropped a few household figures like Dyson Vacuums and Apple products, saying that “America has come a long way on design” and as a whole has grown more savvy thanks in part to the unique approach of both those companies which shook up the way those respective products were manufactured and utilized. “[Aesthetics have] become so important to the product, it has driven design to a higher level of concern.”
 
Beyond working with clients to create a hot new product that will ratchet up business, 2B Studio has its hands in a variety of jobs either in current production or pet projects that address ecologically friendly design. “Our audience has been educated in the area of sustainability,” says Sienkowski. Grand Rapids proudly houses many LEED certified buildings, some of which are the first of their kind in the U.S., like the Grand Rapids Art Museum. “Buildings are the second highest consumers of energy,” he says. “If you can reduce your operating costs by 10 or 15 percent, that is a huge energy savings. That is part of what is behind LEED.”
 
2B worked closely with landscape architects Erik Cronk and Jeremiah Johnson to bring to fruition green roof ideas the pair formed in graduate school at Michigan State University. The design team worked to incorporate the science and implement the criteria that Cronk and Johnson sought to make a reality. The endeavor and end results were recently covered here at Rapids Growth Media, detailing the substantial innovations that provided a successful new product that serves a myriad of purposes. “We do what we can to use the best practices and give our customers the advantage of the marketplace,” says Sienkowski. “We make every effort to make a product as sustainable as we can within reason. That within reason comes up more from a point of view when we are working with companies that are smaller. We do it as a normal course of business, just being citizens of the earth, to not make it any worse.”
 
Sustainability goes beyond whether materials are earth friendly, Sienkowski explains, saying that products with planned obsolescence go against those goals. An easy example is tech gadgets, like cell phones, where companies launch new and improved, must-have versions long before the former models truly need replacement. Or, he noted, the simple question of whether a concept is economically sustainable.
 
In 2012, 2B competed in a Design Quest competition that featured a live seating challenge. “We saw a lot of open urban space that was not being utilized [like commercial lots for sale]. Our idea was to make temporary parks of these spaces by having seating and other elements that could be installed. We designed a product that could be easily removed. It would green up an area very quickly,” says Sienkowski. The seats were created to be filled with dirt and various types of plantings, yet substantial enough to sit on. When the space is ready to be built upon, the dirt and organic matter can be scattered on the site and the framework taken away and reused elsewhere.  
 
Overall, 2B is a collective of tinkers and thinkers, exploring the possibilities of industrial products to create new concepts and help evolve existing objects to enhance the appearance and user experience. “Everything here is a group effort," says Sienkowski. “We’re not really that interested and we don’t feel comfortable designing cell phones or spaceships, but most everything in between. I look at design as a business tool. Every business has a problem. We look at a way to bring what we know about technology to the table about some of these problems. Designers are really the liaison between the user and the manufacturer. We speak the manufacture’s language and we have to learn to speak the user’s language.”
 
Audria Larsen is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and professional entertainer. Her work has appeared in Rapid Growth Media, Revue Magazine and Michigan Blue Magazine. She is the founder of Audacious Hoops, Grand Rapids’ original “hula” hoop company and produces a myriad of art and entertainment ventures.

Photography by Adam Bird
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