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Design Collaborative: A Perfect Equation

February 24, 2010

I was introduced to the work of designer Jhane Barnes years ago at NeoCon®, and I was taken by her creativity and breadth of talent. In writing this article, my appreciation for her work has increased as I have learned that math—my least favorite subject in school—serves as an integral part of the equation behind her design success.

Part of Barnes’ storied history in the industry includes a long-term relationship with Tandus—a collaboration that has resulted in the creation of multiple and very successful carpet designs that are used in virtually every facility type.

“We began our partnership with Jhane about 15 years ago,” says Tom Ellis, vice president of marketing for Tandus. “During that time, we have worked together to bring 20 designs to the market in our tile and Powerbond® lines.”

Ellis says that the company was obviously attracted by Barnes’ design expertise, but other factors were also important. He notes that Barnes was the right fit culturally and that company officials liked her methodology.

“We started working with Jhane about the time carpet tile in the commercial sector was coming into its own,” explains Ellis. “Jhane had a vision for the use of color in carpet and saw great opportunity for new designs, which matched the thinking of many within the company.”

The Design Process

Barnes’ corporate identity, above, was inspired by the design of one of her shirts and subsequently resulted in the Brainstorm and Mental Block carpets for Tandus.



According to Ellis, part of Tandus’ focus is to give clients a choice when it comes to a carpet’s yarn system, construction and maintenance qualities ... in addition to patterns and colors. Because of this, Barnes’ designs are available in both carpet tiles and Powerbond, a hybrid resilient closed-cell cushion sheet flooring that marries the durability of hard-surface flooring with the appearance and style of a soft surface.

Barnes created the first random tile in the marketplace through Tandus, and Ellis notes that many of her designs manufactured in Powerbond look just that way (random) when they are installed on the floor. In reality, however, a great deal of work and investment went into creating that random look.

“Jhane brings a textile eye to carpet design and to the development process,” says Terry Mowers, Tandus’ vice president and chief creative officer. “Her training in textile structure is very important and helps her to bring an invaluable quickness to the development process.”

Mowers notes that Barnes was a strong advocate when the company began discussions to invest in new machinery that would enable Tandus to offer 6-foot, full-width repeats to its customers. The investment in the Stratatec™ FRS machines (Tandus now owns four at a cost of $2.5 million per machine) has been a key component in “unleashing Barnes,” as Ellis says, by giving her greater design options.

One of Barnes’ designs for Tandus is Aftermath II, the second generation of the original Aftermath design. The pattern was influenced by the work of mathematicians Euler and Fibonacci and includes graphic renderings of Euler’s Phi function and Fibonacci’s famous number sequence. Five different yarns, four two-ply and one space dye, are used to create each of the 13 colors in each colorway. The product is available in 24-inch and 36-inch tiles and Powerbond sheets (6 foot by 100 foot).

Math routinely comes into the equation and is the basis for all of Barnes’ designs for Tandus. Two mathematicians, William Jones and Dana Cartwright, work for Barnes and write software that enables her designs to be based on a set of rules. Jones and Barnes met at a conference nearly 20 years ago when he showed her software that was used to generate patterns—and their partnership has been ongoing since.

Barnes says that she does not literally draw the designs for her carpets. “Rather than drawing, I create the circumstances under which the design appears,” she explains. “It is related more to computer algorithms than to artistic drawing. An algorithm is a collection of rules that define a process that ultimately has a predictable result. Bill and Dana take my ideas and translate them into a software program that serves as my design tool.”

Extensive collaboration between Barnes, Jones and Cartwright has taken place over the years as they developed how to use the quadratic equation, for example, to generate color schemes. In the case of Box Study, the design technique was used to create a design that features small squares within a larger random-patterned checkerboard design that appears orderly to the eye.

Brainstorm, like other Barnes designs, is very random, but has a softness to the pattern of interlocking squares and rectangles. Barnes’ software program facilitated the process and allowed her to manipulate the original design more easily than other tools. The resulting two-tone design, which comes in 14 colors, is sophisticated and usable in multiple markets and facility types.

“Brainstorm originated as a shirt and was subsequently transformed into my corporate identity,” says Barnes. “Terry Mowers saw a poster of the identity in my office and wondered if we could develop the design into a carpet, which we did in the form of Brainstorm. I have since taken the design and used it again in another shirt. It has come full circle.”

Barnes’ vision is simple. She believes that if a design looks good from a distance it should also look good up close. To achieve success from both vantage points, she uses the capabilities at her disposal—her own creativity, mathematically-based software, and Tandus’ manufacturing equipment—to produce designs that raise the beauty of randomness to something that can be appreciated by everyone.

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She was formerly a marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at