Like a timeless faucet, Tony Spangler has staying power. In 2019, the veteran industrial designer will celebrate 40 years with Delta Faucet. We talked to Spangler about the changes he’s seen in the past four decades and the work that’s propelling product design into the future.
How did you become an industrial designer for Delta Faucet?
I started out with Delta Faucet in 1979 as a draftsman. Draftsmen created the 2D drawings that described the parts we were manufacturing. This is back in the days before CAD (computer-aided design). As time went by, I ended up doing more of the industrial design work. Gradually, that morphed into a full-time job.
In the past 40 years, how has the design process evolved?
There have certainly been a lot of technological changes. Early on, when we made 3D models, we made them all by hand. Now we build models in software, and the process is much faster. But I think the older pencil-and-paper skills are still important. Being able to draw and visualize, even in 2D, is paramount. We generally start out sketching with a pad of paper, and then, as those ideas begin to become more defined in our mind, we’ll move on to building a 3D model.
Delta industrial designers meet weekly to exchange ideas, which eventually lead to the development of new products.
Where do you go for design inspiration?
We follow trends and industries worldwide—everything from fashion design to interior design to architecture to product design. We make it a practice to get out and travel to see things in the country and out of the country, at large trade shows, and when we can, we get out for exploratory trips—museums, exhibits, things like that. We have a large stock of magazine subscriptions on manufacturing practices, interior design, architecture, general art and fashion. We watch the world.
“It’s concept work … that moves you forward.” Delta designer Tony Spangler marks up a dry-erase board during a brainstorm session (left) and demonstrates the Sphere Concept Faucet (right), a prototype that debuted in 2017 at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Speaking of design inspiration, can you tell us about the concept that Delta is preparing to unveil soon?
“The Senses: Design Beyond Vision” exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (open through Oct. 28, 2018) is based around the senses, and so is the piece we’ve been working on. Sight is a very important sense in the products we make and the environment that we live in, but so is sound and touch. We want to turn over the notions of what a bathroom environment must look like. The design that we’re presenting will highlight the relationship that we as people have with water and also the ways that we can control water to evoke feelings, memories, nostalgia.
Why are concept designs like this important?
It’s concept work, really, that moves you forward. Not only is it good for us as a company, but it’s also good for designers creatively and intellectually to push way out beyond whatever is rational or reasonable. You learn things that propel your craft. It’s also a nice change of pace from regular production-type work. It keeps you fresh.
Tony Spangler and his industrial designer colleagues discuss faucet inspiration at Studio i3 at the Delta headquarters in Indianapolis.
What Delta product or innovation are you most proud of?
I worked on one of the first really traditional-looking lines for the company. And we were one of the first U.S. companies to bring the pull-out and pull-down kitchen faucets to prominence. I was fortunate to work on several of those, and that feature has become a mainstay of the kitchen category now.
What do you do for fun?
Making things. Studying things. At the moment, I’m embarking on generalized 16th-century studies, with a central emphasis on clothing. But to study clothing, you need to understand cloth and cloth production and sewing techniques and tools, which in turn takes you to the availability and cost and value of cloth itself. My wife, Sarah, and I also do medieval living history. We investigate daily life in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance—woodworking, sewing, food, sculpting, gardening. We hang out with the people who know how to raise chickens and how to make cheese and how to make all kinds of leather goods. We’re not really interested in any particular Earl of So-and-so or the King of Whatever, but we would like to know how he made those shoes.
Tony Spangler is one of many full-time designers at Delta. Click these links to meet fellow industrial designers T.J. Eads and Maris Park.