Gensler’s Ken Baker Says No to Knockoff Designs

For Ken Baker, managing principal of Genslers North Central region, there are clear lines when it comes to identifying authentic design—either its an original piece, or it’s not. “Our firm has a policy that we don’t do knockoffs, we don’t specify knockoffs, and we don’t create knockoffs,” the designer says.

Baker is uniquely positioned to ensure these policies are strictly followed given his leadership role in the firm’s product development practice. Working closely with manufacturers to create custom pieces for various projects, Gensler’s team ensures that each design is original. “We need to be vigilant when creating new product,” he says. “We do our due diligence to make sure we’re not inadvertently using details that another product has and we’re constantly adding oversight on that.”

Given the impact and size of Gensler, which currently employs more than 6,000 designers across 53 offices, the firm’s policy regarding authentic design has a vast reach. “Our designs are well in alignment with what is a stated in our compliance policy, but mistakes get made and when we find out, we fix it right away,” Baker adds.

This mindset aligns with the mission behind Be Original Americas, a nonprofit that stresses the value of original craftsmanship with the help of committed partners, such as Gensler. The group, cofounded by Beth Dickstein of BDE along with David Rosenkvist, chief commercial and creative officer at Louis Poulsen, works to protect authentic designs and actively stop the spread of knockoffs while offering resources to members, from designers and architects to newly established makers. “We open our doors to Be Original Americas,” shares Baker, noting that the firm has invited members and board members to host talks and mentorship programs. “It’s something we believe in as a firm and it’s something I believe in as an individual, and we have compliance issues built around it,” he continues.

Ken Baker in a red shirt and black jacket
Ken Baker, managing principal of Gensler’s North Central region.

How Be Original Americas Advocates for Authentic Design

Baker’s work in the field spans nearly five decades, after discovering architecture at a career fair in Sunday school. As a kid, he was always creating with toys like Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets, and quickly became fascinated with architecture and design. Though he owns a Victorian home today, his elegant and contemporary designs reflect the needs of each client. “I’ve been designing since 1980, and I joined Gensler in 1996,” he shares. “I’ve been very involved in the whole process of creating workplaces for our clients, especially for large banks, law firms, and corporate headquarters.” That full circle approach led Baker to get involved in product design, finding unique solutions for each project. At Gensler, designers have the opportunity to partner with manufacturers, entering into a business arrangement just like they do on designed projects, to develop the most fitting solution.

Still, budget remains a barrier to specifying original designs, especially when it comes to furniture and finishes. “There’s always this temptation to save some money here and there but, again, we are advocating that specifying copies is not allowed,” says Baker. “You’ve got to go with something that fits in the budget—not by copying something else.”

To further the work of protecting design intellectual property, Baker says firms need to mandate that employees specify from trusted manufacturers, such as those recognized by Be Original Americas, and avoid knockoffs. As for relaying that information to clients, it requires some sensitivity. “It all has to be handled really appropriately. You have to know how to have the right kind of discussion and let the client know why we feel that way,” asserts Baker. “I go back to the idea that we wouldn’t want our designs replicated in the marketplace by somebody else and most businesses and manufacturers feel that way too.” Even if a replicated design looks similar to the original, the performance element cannot compare, he adds.

As an organization, Be Original Americas acts as an advocate for authentic design and also works to actively stop copies from entering the U.S. market. “My involvement with Be Original Americas gives us insight into what we’re all doing,” says Baker “We know there are companies doing great things and we want to work together. I think the mission statement for Be Original Americas is very clear and simple—no knockoffs—and we believe in that.”

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A reception area designed by Gensler
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Sidley Austin’s London office by Gensler.

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