Found by James: Interestingness As a High Art

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Content and commerce are colliding in fascinating ways, and not just on the high end. A good example: independent design blog Found by James. The creator, James, travels the world, writes about the interestingness he finds – and brings back some treasures for his own online shop. The results are a fascinating collection of one-of-kind, quirky and beautiful items that are a travel voyeur's dream.

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka Swiss Miss) first brought this site to our attention as part of the SAY 100 design channel. Since then we've been eagerly following James' work and carefully curated collection of things. We caught up with James (no last name) by email and asked him to tell us more about more about where he finds his coolest stuff, the most popular things he sells - and who's in his top 10 for independent design publishers.

The bio on your site is very mysterious. Who are, where do you live and what you do? My joy with Found by James comes from sharing the remarkable things I see and experience on my travels with others. But other than that personal touch and personal perspective I give on Found by James, I do not think my personality is or should be as interesting as the things I present online. It’s the products and projects there that matter. I'd rather stay independent and anonymous.

What do you find? Mostly, the things I find are not the things I was looking for initially – that’s what makes my journeys so exciting. I find unique art and design objects on my travels, which I offer for sale in my shop. The second part of my site revolves around my notes. These notes, or travel bloggings, describe the stories around the products, resulting in various tales of what I encounter both on- and offline. Recently I added a third part to these two: interviews. I started this series because I meet inspiring people by visiting exhibitions, shops, events etc. As a source of inspiration for myself and for Found by James visitors, I ask these individuals about their work, their background and their perspectives on life.

How did you get started? For many years I shared my travel experiences with a group of close friends. I wrote them notes, sometimes accompanied by a little souvenir. It’s nice to put a certain amount of personal effort in these things, I think. At least my friends were always pleasantly surprised to see the chunk of impersonal (group) e-mails they received daily alternated with something that was selected and hand-written, just for them.

Mainly out of that positive feedback from my friends, and their growing interest in ‘where it is I find all those things’, I started to realize more and more how privileged I am as someone who gets to travel the world freely, and that my small-scale curating of art and design was the subject of some appreciation. To investigate how I could build on that, I started talking to two friends who knew and know a lot more about the Web and Web shops than I did and as a result, Found by James was born.

How do you decide what to sell? I find remarkable design and art objects, from all over the world. When permitted by free space in my suitcase – I like to travel light – I bring a number of those objects home with me. I try to avoid letting Found by James become too much of a logistic hassle, and I also think small runs of products suit the personal approach I try to employ. After all, the limited availability of the products turn them into more precious objects to the buyers.

Who's in your Top 10 for Design? I love sites like (in no particular order):

But Does It Float

iGNANT

TrendTablet

Freunde von Freunden

TRIANGULATION

Manufactum

Monocle

RR

22tracks

You’ve worked with really interesting designers. How do you meet these people? Curiosity. When I’m at an exhibition and the work enthuses me, I’ll approach the artist. If the connection continues when I talk to these people (whose work intrigued me), I try to go to an in-depth talk about their work. Collaborations, either short-term or long-term ones, sometimes grow as a result of that.

My meeting and work with Rop van Mierlo serve as a very good example of this. I think the fact that our project really sprung from our mutual heart-felt belief in his art led to not only a great working experience for the both of us, but also to a successful project – the exclusive Housecat posters he made sold out on my site within a week!

What are some of your current favorite things in your collection? I love the Pocket Pencil. It’s a good example of the kind of thing I like; it’s so strong in its simplicity. Another favourite of course is the Housecat poster that Rop van Mierlo, now the winner of a Dutch Design Award, exclusively made for Found by James. The symbolic value of objects like the Time Rings Puzzle or the Standard Time clock also makes them important objects to me. Each object has a story and experience attached to it. Every now and then though, something that touches me with a story like that does not get the attention it deserves in my eye. That goes, for example, for the beautiful personal tale behind the Potente di Fuoco book by Ericailcane.

What's your design view on the world? My design view on the world – that is a difficult one. If I may borrow the eloquence of someone inspirational; I relate very much to the vision of Dieter Rams who says: ‘Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.’

What are your all-time most popular posts? That would be this one.

What are some of your most prized personal treasures and why? Finding a vintage Bauhaus Bauspiel in Basel brought me back to my childhood. Explaining why may require a bit of background information. I am very happy my family thought me to be careful and considerate when it comes to aesthetics, or beauty in all its shapes and forms. By surrounding me with aesthetic and meaningful things from a young age, they instilled in me a responsible attitude towards design. Very often nowadays, I see a sort of carelessness in the world that leaves little room for that attitude; but I still get pleasantly surprised. In one of those cases, it was very exciting to me to find a re-edition of the Bauhaus Bauspiel at Le Bon Marche in Paris, a few months after I found my vintage one.

Follow James on Twitter @foundbyjames