Rob Forbes is best known as the founder of the much beloved modern shop Design Within Reach. What people may not know is that Forbes has an abiding love of urban design, mobility, and most especially, bicycles. Forbes's newest venture is called Public and it's all about enabling and encouraging these passions. We talked to Forbes about mission-driven business, carlessness, and amateur modeling.
Since you are best known for founding DWR, a shop that specializes largely in products that help people sit at home in style, what inspired you to launch a company that gets people out in public space and moving around? I became very involved with urban design while heading up DWR. It’s all part of the same mission to improve the quality of the spaces we inhabit. And bikes are really just chairs on wheels. I’ve been a biker all my life, but seeing the youth urban bike movement of the last few years really got me to rethink the purpose and beauty of bikes in the city. My many trips to Europe and paying attention to people like Jan Gehl, Jeff Speck, Gil Penalosa, and David Byrne have also been influential.
From reading your sites, it's clear that ending car dependency is one of your personal passions and missions. Obviously there are many targets people choose for their environmental activism, why is yours the car as opposed to, say, building design or manufacturing? It’s less about being anti-car than it is about being pro “smart modern transportation.” The US is simply way behind the rest of the modern world with respect to urban transportation design. In building or manufacturing design we have many examples of excellence in the US. Name one excellent example of modern transportation design here.So Public sounds like it's as much a campaign for change as it is a retail company. How would you describe the business in terms of its mix of product and purpose? Hopefully there will be a seamless connection between the products and their purpose. Like a bike – it’s equally both.What are the bikes and gear going to be like? Who is designing them? What's the driving style or inspiration? We are designing the bikes and about half of the gear. The inspiration is largely northern European, very Dutch and Danish centric. Japan Germany and the US all play a part.I see that you've put out a call for models. Should Dwell readers apply? Most definitely. And please hurry. We’re on deadline.