When one thinks of design hubs, Orange County doesn’t exactly come to mind. One is more apt to conjure images of Italy, New York, or Scandinavia. However, the O.C. is quietly the home to a diverse cluster of notable design firms. To some insiders, these firms comprise Orange County’s “design corridor.”
Irvine, for example, is home to some of the most prolific car design studios in the United States. Calty, Toyota’s design and R & D wing, is responsible for developing the next generation of Toyotas and Lexuses. The bestselling car in the United States, the Toyota Camry, is designed right here in Southern California. Drive south on the 405 freeway, and you will bump into the design offices of Toyota’s competitor, Mazda, which recently unveiled its Nagare concept. It showcases the new surface language and vision of Mazda cars in the near future.
And Fullerton-based Hyundai, which is rebuilding its brand around design, took home the Car of the Year award at the Detroit Auto Show for its new luxury model, the Genesis. Not a bad turnaround for Hyundai, which has traditionally been associated with cheap quality and bad design.
Cypress is home to Vans headquarters. Vans is a premier skate and surf lifestyle brand, best known for its checkerboard patterned shoes. The Vans products are worldwide, but all the designs emerge from the small teams of designers who are based in the Cypress headquarters. Employees can be seen zipping up and down the office hallways on their skateboards and rollerblades, wearing T-shirts and distressed denim. Not your typical corporate environment! Van’s Cypress HQ is also famous for its large indoor skate park, where avid skateboarders are invited to try out Vans’ newest skateboarding products.
Another cluster of design firms can be found just beyond South County. San Diego County is home to three types of design firms. Most notable are the design centers of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. Keep an eye out for the black-taped prototypes of these brands’ newest concepts prowling the 5 freeway. Second are design boutiques such as DD Studio, Vapor, GaddLight and Ziba. The stuff that spawns from these design houses are of the industrial type – medical devices, audio and electronic equipment, syringes and other industrial installations. These are not the flashiest and most colorful of stuff, but they are the types of designs that save lives, improve hearing and make medical tools less intimidating for the people who need them. Finally, the Carlsbad area is home to a large congregation of home-improvement design firms. For example, Gomolka, Integration and Dugmore offer landscaping and glasswork solutions for luxurious, modern living.
The design that happens in the O.C. is not the flashiest stuff, and there is no integrative aesthetic or identity that ties them all together. Maybe that’s why the O.C. design corridor is so low key. But these firms, and the dozens of other O.C. design studios that went unmentioned, are quietly developing products and brands that not only impact local denizens, but the entire world.